This Dhaba Style Chicken Curry stands for every road trip we've had with our families. Same bold flavours, ready in under 45 minutes - it's hot and fragrant and is made with ground spices, onions and tomatoes. I've shared how to make this recipe in a traditional pressure cooker, instant pot and on the stovetop.
I think I've finally nailed it. This Dhaba Style Chicken Curry is SO good. Its legit, as close as it gets to eating it in a dhaba. Spicy, fragrant with spices, big, bold flavours and really juicy pieces of chicken.
Dhabas, for the uninitiated are roadside restaurants scattered all over the country, and their food is unique. Hell, the experience is unique and is one you must have. Small mud shacks, with only chaarpai's (rope and wooden cots) and a wooden plank for a table, you'll find them as you drive along the highway. They are usually patronized by truck drivers and budget travellers who are looking for food which reminds them of home. Growing up, the highlight of any road trip was a stopover at a dhaba for steaming hot, spicy dhaba style chicken curry, dal fry or dal makhani and tandoori rotis fresh from the oven to mop it all up. These soul satisfying meals will always be etched on to my heart!
Unlike my other recipes, this one's slightly time consuming because masala is ground and cooked till it's color changes. This is characteristic of most Indian curries, and the slow cooking process or bhuno is what lends dishes a unique flavor.
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Dhaba Style Chicken Curry
- 1 kg Chicken skinless, bone-in whole chicken cut into medium sized pieces (referred to as curry cut in India)
For the marinade:
- 2 tablespoons Ginger Garlic Paste
- 1 Juice of lime
- 1 tablespoon Salt
For the curry:
- ¼ cup Mustard Oil see note 2
- 4 medium Onions
- 10 cloves Garlic
- 1½ inches Ginger
- 3 - 4 Green Chilies use Serrano Peppers as replacement, adjust the spice as required
- 1 tablespoon Cumin Seeds
- 2 Bay leaves
- ½ Cinnamon stick Stick
- 4 - 5 Cardamoms
- 8 - 10 Peppercorns
- 4 - 5 Cloves
- 4 medium Tomatoes finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon Turmeric Powder
- 1 teaspoon Red Chili Powder optional; adjust the spice as required
- 2 tablespoons Coriander Powder
- 1 teaspoon garam masala Powder
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 1 tablespoon Ghee or Oil
- 1 tablespoon Butter
- 2 Green Chilies slit lengthwise
- ½ inch Ginger julienned
- 2 tablespoon Coriander for garnishing
- Marinate the chicken pieces with ginger garlic paste, lime juice and salt. Cover and set aside while you prep everything else
- Grind onions, ginger, garlic and green chilies to a fine paste with very little water. Set aside.
- Heat oil in a pressure cooker or a large heavy bottom pan. Add cumin seeds. Roughly pound all the whole spices (bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorns and cloves) and add to the oil.
- Once they start to splutter, add the onion paste. Cook the onion paste on a low flame, stirring occasionally, till it is reduced to a golden, brown paste and you see a thin layer of oil along the sides
- Add tomatoes, salt, turmeric powder, red chili powder (if using) and coriander powder. Cook till the tomatoes start melting, and almost form a paste.
- Add the chicken and garam masala and roast for a minute or two. Add 1 cup water.
- At this stage, if you are using a pressure cooker, place the lid and pressure cook on high till the first whistle goes off. Then reduce the flame to low and pressure cook for two more whistles and turn off the flame. If using a different kind of pressure cooker (without a whistle system), pressure cook on high for 15 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally.
- Simmer for 5-10 mins on high flame, if required, to thicken the curry (chicken leaves a lot of water). I didn't need to do this.
- If you are using a heavy bottomed pan, bring the curry to a boil, reduce the heat, cover with a lid and let it cook on medium heat for 20-25 minutes. Uncover the pan, and cook for another 10-15 minutes till the curry starts to thicken. Once the curry is ready, switch off the flame.
- Instant Pot Method:
- If using an instant pot, place the lid and change the vent to sealing. Pressure cook on high for 8 minutes. Release pressure manually. Simmer the curry for a few minutes to achieve the desired thickness if there is too much water.
- In another small pan, heat ghee and butter and add green chilies and ginger. Once they start to splutter, switch off the flame and mix the tadka (or tempering) into the curry. Top with coriander.
- Let the curry sit for 10-15 minutes before serving. Tastes best with rotis or rice.
- Bone-in chicken keeps the meat tender and juicy. If you don't have access to 'curry-cut', use drumsticks and thighs
- Mustard Oil is my oil of choice while making this curry because it adds that distinct 'dhaba style' flavour and smokiness. In a pinch, use any neutral flavoured vegetable oil. Olive oil or coconut oil are not recommended for this recipe
- Marinate the chicken before you start prepping anything else. The marinade tenderizes the meat and flavours it from within
- Add just enough water while grinding the onion paste. Too much water will increase the time it takes to brown them. Its okay if the mixture is not very smooth.
- Cook the onion paste till it turns a deep golden brown in colour. Remember to stir frequently as it can easily stick to the bottom and burn. When you start seeing some oil separating from the sides, you know it's cooked
- Cook the tomatoes until they break down and the oil separates i.e., there is a thin layer of oil on top or the sides. The oil separating is an indicator that the spices have combined and are cooked through. It also indicated that the excess moisture has evaporated.
- Do not skip on the final tempering - it really elevates the flavour of the dish!
Ingredients for Chicken Curry
Here are the main ingredients you'll need for this recipe:
- Chicken: Bone in chicken cut into 2 inch pieces. Most Indian curries use the entire bird (thighs, breast, drumsticks)
- Ginger Garlic Paste: Fresh ginger and garlic in equal parts ground to a paste with a little water. Use store bought in a pinch but fresh adds more flavour
- Lime Juice: Acid helps tenderise the meat
- Mustard Oil: Key to getting that unique dhaba flavour. More pungent and add a smokiness
- Whole Spices: Cumin, Cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and bayleaf. Skip if you don't have but I recommend using them for that burst of flavour
- Ginger & Garlic: Ground with onions. Can be substituted with 1.5 tablespoon store bought or homemade ginger garlic paste
- Onions: Form the main base of the gravy and add flavour, density and thickness
- Green Chillies: Add heat and flavour. Use serrano peppers if you don't have Indian green chillies available
- Ground Spices: Red Chilli Powder, Turmeric Powder, Coriander Powder and Garam Masala. Homemade garam masala works best and should be added towards the middle or end of the cooking process to retain its aroma and flavour
- Tempering: The tempering uses ghee, ginger and green chillies and adds an additional layer of flavour once the curry is cooked
What makes this recipe so unique?
We were asking this question ourselves while trying to replicate that dhaba like flavour - How is it that common dishes taste extra unique when they come from a dhaba?
Here’s what we found - dhabas use more oil, ghee and butter to add richness and to cook the food faster, there's a natural smoky flavour because all the cooking is done on a really high flame or using firewood, they liberally use freshly ground spices wherever possible and finally, they end the dish with a sizzling tadka/tempering!
We’ve taken all this information and compiled it into one beautiful chicken curry.
How to make Chicken Curry
Check out the simple steps that go into making this beautiful curry
1. Marinate the chicken in ginger garlic paste, lime juice and salt. This adds flavour from within and the acid helps tenderise the meat
2. Grind ginger, garlic, green chillies and onions to a paste with a little water. This becomes the base of the curry
1. Pound spices roughly with a mortar pestle to break them down and release their flavour
2. Saute them in hot oil to temper them
3. Brown the onion paste in oil that's tempered with whole spices. This is a slow cooking process where the onion paste is sauteed on a low flame till it changes colour and becomes a deep golden brown. You'll see a thin layer of oil floating on the top and the sides - thats when you know its cooked through and isn't raw anymore
4. Cook tomatoes and spices for a few minutes till the tomatoes become pulpy soft
5. Roast the chicken along with garam masala in the onion tomato mixture, tossing it for a minute or two till the gravy coats all the pieces
6. Pressure Cook for 15 minutes. If using a traditional pressure cooker, start on high heat and after the first whistle, reduce the heat to low. Wait till you hear two more whistles and then turn off the flame. Let the pressure release naturally. To make instant pot chicken curry, pressure cook on high for 8 minutes
7. Temper julienned ginger and slit green chillies in butter and ghee.This adds an extra layer of flavour and gives it a nice hint of ginger
8. Serve chicken curry with tempering poured on top. Sprinkle some chopped coriander for freshness and flavour
Richa's Tips to make the Perfect Dhaba Chicken Curry
- Always marinate
This cannot be stressed enough! Flavour, seasoning and tenderising - that's what this does!
- Brown the onion paste
Don't rush this process. Browning onions slowly well gets rid of any raw smell and flavour. You'll know its done when you see a little oil separating on the sides and the colour changes to a deep golden. This, in addition with the herbs, spices and tomatoes create the perfect balance.
- Don't skimp on oil
There is a fair amount of fat in this recipe in the form of oil, butter and ghee. Don't skimp on it or the flavour will get compromised.
- Always use quality garam masala
I always recommend homemade garam masala. But even if using store bought, make sure its not more than a year old. Add it just before cooking the chicken so that it retains its freshness and aroma
- Perfectly cook the chicken
Follow the time and technique according to the recipe. But if you’re still in doubt, use a meat thermometer. The internal temperature of perfectly cooked, safe and ready to eat chicken is 75C/165F.
- Do not forget the tempering
This tempering makes me swooooon! I’m not kidding one bit, it gives it that extra kick along with the richness from the ghee.
I hope you guys enjoy this recipe as much as I do, it’s truly one of my favorites! And like all curries, this tastes even better the next day, so no need to worry about leftovers 😉