This Chicken Karahi Recipe is hot, spicy and finger-licking good. Paired with homemade naan it's one of the tastiest comfort foods that you will ever eat!
Packed with 34g of protein and about 4g of carbs, it's a keto lovers dream.
I first saw Chicken Karahi on a menu as a child and to be honest, I wasn't really sold. The dish looked like an ordinary chicken curry with well, not a lot of sauce. Other tried and true menu items like Chicken Biryani and Chicken Tikka were calling my name.
I wanted to make the most of the very rare treat of getting to eat at Dhaka Club, Bangladesh's most famous private club, known for its incredible ambiance and delicious food. Ordering something that might be a disappointment was not a risk that I was willing to take.
But then I noticed that everyone else in my family, including my father, Abu (a huge foodie) was enthusiastically ordering it. A famous baburchi (chef) was cooking that night and everyone was intrigued to try his signature dish. So I said that I wanted to order it too. My mother, Amu, immediately said that it was probably too hot for me, so of course, I insisted.
The Chicken Karahi was absolutely wonderful! Amu was right of course, it was really too hot. Despite my watering eyes, I could not stop eating it.
Everyone at the table was laughing at each other as they tried to pretend that the heat did not affect them. I watched in awe as Abu calmly smiled while eating multiple servings - unlike everyone else who were trying to hold back rivers of tears, which were pooling into their plates.
After a while I figured out the perfect way to survive and still eat this incredibly tasty dish - a very little Chicken Karahi with a tiny bit of sauce and a whole lot of naan to temper the heat.
A big glug of soda helped.
Over the years, I have been making this Chicken Karahi recipe at home for family members especially my brother, who preferred a customized version with less heat.
This Chicken Karahi Recipe is my perfected version using locally sourced ingredients in the U.S., and of course tips on how to adjust the heat!
What is Chicken Karahi?
Chicken Karahi is a spicy, hugely popular curry from North India and Pakistan. The dish is also known as Chicken Kadai, Korai Chicken or Murgh Karahi depending on the region, and as Karahi Gosht when made with lamb, beef or goat meat. The term karahi/korai/kadai refers to the wok-like pot used to cook the chicken.
Among Karahi curries, the Pakistani Chicken Karahi version is the spiciest and most famous. In addition to being one of the most popular menu items in Pakistani restaurants it is also one of the most sought after street foods in Lahore.
Why make this Chicken Karahi Recipe?
- Incredibly fast and easy - takes just under an hour from start to finish - most of the time is unattended.
- Huge flavors - very different from a basic curry.
- Customizable recipe - many people may not even try Chicken Karahi in restaurants because it is too spicy.
- Authentic recipe - tastes as good as the local version.
- Uses local ingredients - no need to hunt down any exotic ingredients.
- One pot meal - easy clean-up.
Chicken and sauce
The chicken pieces in this recipe should ideally be bone-in, skinless, chicken thighs and legs. Boneless chicken breast is best avoided because chicken breast tends to dry out. Bone-in dark meat tends to retain more juiciness and create a more meaty sauce.
Ghee is a clarified butter, where butter is simmered until all the water is gone. Ghee adds a distinctly nutty, buttery flavor to Chicken Karahi.
Sometimes, when I don’t have ghee on hand, I just simmer a stick of butter in a saucepan over medium to medium low heat until it transforms into ghee. The butter transforms into ghee when the melted fat turns clear and there are brown milk solids at the bottom. Half a stick of butter is all you need for this recipe. I usually sieve extra ghee into a clean, dry jar with a tea strainer for later use. Allowing the milk solids to reach a darker brown color results in a more intense, nuttier flavor.
That being said, you can substitute the ghee with butter, coconut or mustard oil.
Vegetable oil is combined with the ghee to keep the dish as light and airy as possible and maintain a high smoking point during the frying process.
The fresh ginger, garlic and sliced onion adds texture, flavor and a sweetness to the sauce. I like using minced ginger and garlic because it adds a more intense flavor and chunkier texture than paste.
Garlic or ginger paste or blended ginger garlic yields a smoother sauce, less chunky sauce.
In the summer, I love using sweet Campari tomatoes in this recipe - but any type of ripe, fresh tomatoes will do. The tomato is added for body and flavor. Once in a pinch, I just used a tablespoon of ketchup and it tasted delicious. Tomato puree works as well.
If the tomatoes are not sweet, add a dash of sugar or sweetener at the end to brighten the flavors.
Jalapenos add heat and flavor. If you want to reduce the spice level reduce or omit the jalapenos or replace with chopped green bell pepper.
Spice Mix & Garnish
Ground spices such as coriander powder, cumin powder, red chili powder and garam masala powder create the curry base for the sauce. The chili powder adds heat so the amount can be adjusted based on your preference.
You can use 1 teaspoon of curry powder as a substitute for the cumin and coriander powder. When substituting curry powder, I usually use about half the amount because the flavor is very potent and can overwhelm the light garlic-ginger flavor of the sauce – you can always add more later.
If you decide to omit the chili powder, you can still get a lot of flavor and the lovely red color by using paprika.
Traditional spice variations include using roasted or fried whole spices such as bay leaves, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, coriander seeds, fennel seeds and dry fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi) early in the cooking process. Some cooks dry roast the whole spices then grind them into a fine powder to maximize flavor.
Green chili, the regional chili pepper is traditionally used in Karahi Chicken and gives the dish more heat and a very tasty flavor. Unfortunately I was unable to find green chilies in my local grocery store so I used red serrano peppers. You can also use green chili paste, red thai chillies, dried red chilis or red chili flakes for this portion of the heat element.
White vinegar is the secret ingredient in this recipe. The acid helps transform the taste to a flavor that is distinctly different from a regular curry. White vinegar can be substituted with apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar.
In a pinch, lime or lemon juice can also be substituted but is not traditionally used as it is milder and less acidic. About twice the volume of white vinegar is needed when using juice substitutes, adding more liquid to the recipe.
Cilantro (fresh coriander leaves) is a delicious garnish that also adds a wonderful herby flavor. Red serrano peppers, onions and ginger are other garnishes that upgrades this dish to epic level. Other popular garnishes include red chili flakes and fresh green chillies.
Mix the spices. Combine all the spice mix ingredients and set aside.
Fry the spices. Heat the ghee and vegetable oil in a wok or large skillet on medium high heat. Add the sliced onions and sauté until transparent about 2-3 minutes. Add the minced garlic and ginger and sauté until lightly toasted. Add the spice mix. Fry the spices until the oil separates and floats to the top. Add the tomatoes and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
Cook the chicken. Add the chicken and mix thoroughly with the spices. Lower the heat to medium low and cover. Cook for 35-40 minutes. Stir the chicken occasionally to ensure that the chicken cooks evenly. Remove the cover to allow the sauce to evaporate if it looks too watery. There should be about 2 cups of sauce once you are done. Add the serrano chili peppers and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste for salt.
Garnish with the ginger, onion and cilantro leaves and serve immediately.
Tips on making the best Chicken Karahi
- Use very little water. The chicken will naturally release water once it begins to cook so no water should be added to the sauce during the cooking process. A small amount of water is added to the spice mix to ensure it does not burn.
- Cover the chicken for first 10-15 minutes while simmering. Covering the chicken stops all the water from evaporating, helping the chicken to cook in a combination or juices and spices. After the sauce develops the cover is removed allowing the water to evaporate leaving a delicious, highly concentrated sauce.
- Don't decrease the cooking time. Some recipes decrease the cooking time so that the recipe is completed in a half hour. I have found that you lose a lot of flavor if you cook this recipe for a shorter time (less than a half hour).
- Use vine-ripened tomatoes. Having ripe, sweet tomatoes makes a huge difference to the quality of the sauce.
How to manage the heat
Below are some substitutes for the various ingredients which add heat to this famous dish. You can dial the heat all the way down by using all the substitutes or increase it using more. Red chili flakes are really goof for adding heat as the granules are easier to control. Add additional chili flakes when simmering the sauce so that it blends in. You can also garnish with red chili flakes.
Storage and leftovers
This Chicken Karahi Recipe lasts for about 3 days in the fridge, when cooled to room temperature and stored in an airtight container. Like many curries, Chicken Karahi is better after 1-2 days because the flavors deepen and develop more flavor.
There are two ways to heat Chicken Karahi:
Microwave – most convenient: Put the Chicken Karahi in a microwave-safe container and heat for about 2 minutes. For larger amounts, stir the curry and reheat for 1-2 minutes again as needed.
Stovetop – great for larger batches: To reheat , place the cold Chicken Karahi in a saucepan with about 1 teaspoon of water. Heat it on medium-low heat and cover so that the steam heats the meat through, stirring occasionally as needed.
Each serving of this Chicken Karahi Recipe has about 294 calories, 33.6g of protein, 15.3g of fat, and 4.1g of carbohydrates.
This recipe yields approximately 8 servings. The nutrition information has been calculated using an online recipe nutrition calculator and is intended for informational purposes only. Please use it as a general guideline. If the nutrition information is important to you, you should independently verify it using your preferred tool.
Chicken Karahi recipes vary by both region and household. The most common variation is to substitute cubed beef, goat or lamb with chicken - a dish that is also known as Karahi Gosht. The sauce may also vary by region where some use more tomato and ginger, or different spices, than others.
This Chicken Karahi Recipe is fantastic as a comfort food with basmati rice, jeera rice, roti and homemade naan. It is particularly tasty when heavily garnished with red onions, julienned ginger and coriander with a drizzle of lemon.
A chilled jug of Mango Lassi is strongly recommended if you decide to serve a fiery version. Shemai – Creamy Vermicelli in Sweet Rose Infused Cream is the perfect choice for dessert.
For a keto-compliant meal, serve Chicken Karahi with a light cucumber or green salad on the side. Other tasty sides include curried cauliflower, sautéed spinach and roasted low carb vegetables like zucchini and red peppers.
Chicken Karahi FAQs
Compared to chicken curry, Chicken Karahi has a thicker, spicier sauce and tends to be hotter due to the presence of a large number of chilis.
A Karahi is the South Asian version of a wok and is typically used to shallow or deep fry meat, fish, vegetables and sweets.. Compared to a Chinese wok which has one long and one small handle, a karahi has steeper sides and a pair of small handles on each side.
Both Chicken Karahi and Chicken Korai are the same dish. Depending on the region, Chicken Karahi (Indian) is referred to as Chicken Korai (Bangladesh) and Chicken Kadai (Urdu).
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Finally, if you make this Chicken Karahi Recipe,
Please take a picture and tag me at @cloveandcumin on instagram!
I’d also love to hear how it went – please leave a comment and rate this recipe. I love hearing from all of you!
- 2 pounds skinless boneless chicken legs and thighs, lightly scored
- 2 Tablespoon ghee or butter
- 2 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 small onion sliced
- 1 Tablespoon garlic minced
- 2 teaspoons ginger minced
- 3 Campari tomatoes halved
- 2 jalapenos chopped
- ½ cup water
- 2 Tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
- 1 ½ teaspoon chili powder optional, to taste
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground, optional
- 1 ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 Tablespoons fresh ginger julienned
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro sliced
- 3 red serrano peppers sliced lengthwise into half or sliced
- Mix the spice mix. Combine all the spice mix ingredients and set aside.
- Fry the spices. Heat the ghee and vegetable oil in a wok or large skillet on medium high heat. Add the sliced onions and sauté until transparent about 2-3 minutes. Add the minced garlic and ginger and sauté until lightly toasted. Add the spice mix. Fry the spices until the oil floats to the top (bhuna). Add the tomatoes and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
- Cook the chicken. Add the chicken and mix thoroughly with the spices. Lower the heat to medium low and cover. Cook for 35-40 minutes. Stir the chicken occasionally to ensure that the chicken cooks evenly. Remove the cover and allow the sauce to evaporate towards the end, if the sauce looks too watery. There should be about 2 cups of sauce once you are done. Add the serrano chili peppers and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste for salt.