The scene of cooking Indian food in the film “The Hundred-Foot Journey” keeps flashing back to when I was cooking this Chicken Varuval.
This movie centered on the cultural clash between the two rival restaurants in a sleepy French village, one being French and another Indian. You can feel the intensity of the heat drifting from the Indian restaurant while admiring the elegance and refinement of French cuisine with the artistic plating.
Ready to take a bite of this South Indian cuisine with an intense flavor? Here is the Chicken Varuval you can take on, and be ready to withstand the fiercely hot spices permeating your palate down to your throat.
The authentic flavor from the Tamil Nadu
Chicken Varuval (spicy dry-fried chicken) is a dry chicken curry from the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu in Southern India.
This is my favorite Indian dry curry dish. I always enjoy having it whenever I think of having some very authentic Indian flavor. The Malaysian version is close to the original Chicken Varuval Chettinad with some minor alterations. The following recipe is based on how Malaysian Indians prepare Chicken Varuval, using a small amount of Malaysian meat curry powder.
It has an intense flavor of herbs and spices since it is fried until nearly dry. Suppose you have tried rendang beef, butter chicken, chicken tikka masala, or other similar curries with gravy. In that case, you will find that Chicken Varuval is jam-packed with the complex flavor of herbs and spices more than any curry with sauce.
Chettinad cuisine is one of the spiciest and most aromatic cuisines in India. It is renowned for the use of fresh ground herbs and spices. Chicken Varuval is one of the most popular Chettinad cuisines. The combination of fennel seeds, cumin seeds, dry chili, and coriander seeds create the unique aroma & flavor of this dish.
Ready to try?
This spicy fried chicken goes well with rice, bread, or other traditional accompaniments such as dosais, appams, paratha, and idlis. It is also a typical side dish for steamed rice.
And it is quick and easy to prepare– three simple steps and nearly foolproof.
Let’s take a look at how to make it in detail.
Step 1- Marinate the chicken.
This step is critical, and you should not skip it.
Since the chicken chunks are cooked for less than half an hour, the herbs, spices, and salt flavor may not have enough time to penetrate into the inner part of the chicken, especially for the larger pieces. On the contrary, wet curry with gravy has no such problem as it is stewed much longer. Therefore, marination will ensure the thicker part of the chicken chunks is equally well seasoned.
I like to add all the salt required for the recipe to the chicken. Part of the salt from the marinade will eventually mix with the onions, tomatoes, and other spices, so you should not worry that it will turn out too salty. This method is more useful to ensure the inner part has the right level of saltiness. You need to marinate it for at least an hour, although even overnight is harmless.
Chicken Varuval Malaysian style
Chicken Varuval Malaysian style uses a marinade that includes meat curry powder. Most of the authentic variants are without this item. This Malaysian curry powder improves the overall flavor with its complex mix of herbs and spices. Other ingredients like turmeric powder, salt, and ginger garlic paste are similar to the original version.
I have seen some people not marinate the chicken. The raw chicken chunks are added directly to the herbs and spices in the pan. While this is an easy way to prepare Chicken Varuval, marination will improve the flavor of the chicken.
You can use chicken breast meat or bone-in chunks. Bone-in chicken tastes better as the bone improves the flavor during cooking. It is up to you to decide whether to leave the skin on or not. It is entirely your preference.
Step 2. Prepare the masala powder
The signature flavor of Chicken Varuval is the result of the combination of a set of aromatic spices. The spices I used in this recipe are cinnamon sticks, green cardamom, cloves, fennel seed, coriander seed, cumin seed, black peppercorn, and some dry red chilies.
These whole spices are best toasted lightly on a pan over low heat without oil. Toasted spices are not only more aromatic, but it is also dryer and easy to grind into powder.
You can use a mortar and pestle to grind it, but it is quicker with an electric spice grinder to turn it into a smooth paste.
Freshly ground spices are more aromatic than ready-made ground spices. If you use them, skip the toasting step and add them directly to the sauteed onions and tomatoes. To simplify the work, you may consider using coriander powder, black pepper powder, and cumin powder. Please ensure the spice powder are fresh with a long expiring date.
Step 3. Cooking the chicken
Cooking Chicken Varuval is simple.
- Start with sautéing the red dry chili and curry leaves in vegetable oil for half a minute. Then add the finely chopped onions and keep sautéing until the onions turn translucent and the raw smell disappears. It will take a few minutes.
- The next step is to add the chopped tomatoes, the ground masala, and the marinated chicken.
- Keep it low flame and let the chicken simmer; cover with the lid. After about ten minutes, the chicken will start to cook, and the juice will flow freely. The chicken will be braised in its gravy and the chopped tomatoes for another five to ten minutes until it is almost dry, and the masala will start to cling to the chicken. You can remove the lid at this stage and occasionally make a few stirs, as the chicken may stick to the frying pan.
- Since this is a dry dish, you will expect there is minimum gravy. Some people may want to add more onions and tomatoes, hoping to add more flavor to the chicken. This sounds logical, but the higher amount may not do any good to the dish, as excessive tomatoes and onions will hinder the masala from penetrating and clinging to the chicken.
- Add some chopped coriander leaves when it is nearly done. Now it is ready to serve with rotis, parathas, dosa, idli, or biryani rice.
Will deep-frying the chicken improves the flavor?
Some recipes suggest deep-fried or pan-fried the chicken pieces until golden brown before mixing them with the tomatoes and cooking further.
I have tried both ways, but there is no significant difference in taste. I assume the herbs’ intense flavor and spices adequately mask any aroma created during the frying process. I have abandoned the deep-fried/pan-fried step ever since.
Adjust the hotness of the Chicken Varuval.
The amount of chili in this recipe is based on the level of hotness generally accepted by the local community in Malaysia. It may be the level you want or too spicy.
If you want to reduce the spiciness without sacrificing the flavor of the chilies, remove all the seeds and the pith of the chilies before cooking; so even though you still use the same numbers of chilies, the level of spiciness is much lower.
The Chicken Varuval Recipe
This recipe is based on how the Malaysian Indian prepare Chicken Varuval, with the use of a small amount of Malaysian meat curry powder.
(A) For the Masala powder
- 1 stick cinnamon, , about 5 cm length
- 2 pods green cardamom pods
- 8 cloves
- 3/4 tsp fennel seeds
- 3/4 tsp coriander seed
- 3/4 tsp cumin seeds
- 4 dry red chili
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorn
(B) For the chicken and the marinade
- 1 kg chicken chunks, , bone on
- 1.5 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tbsp salt
- 2 tsp meat curry powder
(C) For the remaining ingredients
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 4 dry red chili
- 1 green chili
- 10 curry leaves
- 2 onion, , about 180g
- 1 tsp garlic, , minced
- 1 tsp ginger, , minced
- 1 tomato, , about 120g
- 1 sprig coriander leaves
- Place all the ingredient in (A) in a frying pan. Roast the spices over low heat until smell fragrant.
- Crush the spices with the mortar and pestle or the electric spices grinder. Set aside.
- Cut the chicken into small chunks, bone-in. Marinate for at least one hour with ingredients in (B).
- Heat up the vegetable oil, saute the dry chili, green chili and half of the curry leaves over low heat until fragrant.
- Add the chopped onion, ginger and garlic and saute until the onion turns translucent.
- Add the chopped tomato, the ground masala (from ingredient A) and chicken. Mix well.
- Cook for another 10 minutes or until the gravy is nearly dry.
- Add the remainder of curry leaves.
- Garnish with coriander leaves. Served.
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Serving Size:4 servings
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 1956Total Fat: 117gSaturated Fat: 34gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 59gCholesterol: 462mgSodium: 6379mgCarbohydrates: 82gFiber: 10gSugar: 17gProtein: 144g
This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 5/22/2019
Tuesday 16th of June 2020
i‘m a vegetarian and I substituted the chicken with mushrooms, tofu, carrots and potato and followed your recipe exactly and my family loved it. We ate it with coconut-milk-cinnamon rice and sweetpotato leaves stirfry. Big thank you:))
Tuesday 16th of June 2020
Hi Indra, The recipe is only served as a guideline, and happy to know that you make it happen by improvising it to become a vegetarian dish. Best regards, KP Kwan
Friday 27th of December 2019
Hi, what is the total cooking time for the bone-in-chicken to be thoroughly cooked? You have mentioned only 10 mins? Will appreciate your clarification on this. Thank you.
Saturday 28th of December 2019
I cook the chicken (cover) for ten minutes along with the tomato. After about ten minutes, the chicken will exude its juice itself. By then, I will cook it for another five to ten minutes by removing the lid so that I can stir it and let the gravy dry out quicker. Total is ten minutes (cover) plus five to ten minutes (open). The endpoint is when the gravy dried up and cling on to the chicken. It is a dry dish, not with plenty of gravy.
Monday 23rd of December 2019
Hi I notice that there is no water added to the chicken whilst it is cooking. How does the chicken cook without addition of water?
Will appreciate your input on this. Thank you.
Tuesday 24th of December 2019
Hi Nita, The onion, tomato and the chicken itself will exude liquid while cooking with the lid on. That is why I did not add water. YOu can take a look at the video embedded. Enjoy :) KP Kwan
Monday 4th of November 2019
Tried this today and it came out delicious. Thank you for the recipe!
Monday 4th of November 2019
Thank you and glad to know that you like this chicken varuval recipe.
Tuesday 17th of September 2019
It was so good! Thank you!
Wednesday 18th of September 2019
Thank you for trying this recipe!