Achari Chicken. The name of the dish gives the flavors away. It’s spicy, zesty and smells as fragrant as the Achar pickle we all love to add to our less spicy food–I’m thinking this masoor daal chawal recipe.
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Achari Chicken has all the same components and techniques of cooking a really good Karahi. The thick masala is made with onion and tomato (although many recipes omit the tomato) and yogurt is added as a tenderizer. Yogurt is key because it balances the tartness from the pickling spices and cuts down on the zesty element a bit. We’re using spices that go in your favorite achar including fennel (saunf), mustard, nigella (kalonji) and fenugreek (methi dana) seeds. When coarsely crushed (minus fenugreek), they release the aroma and flavor that add that authentic Achari taste to the Karahi.
Can I substitute the Spices?
The short answer is no. If you look at the ingredients printed on a jar of Achar Pickle, you’ll notice it calls for the same set of spices. I try to be as close to that list as possible. The ingredients should be relatively easy to source if you have a South Asian grocery store nearby. Also, the spices are MUCH cheaper at a South Asian store; the local stores seriously rip you off for the quantity they sell. I would recommend making a trip and getting a pouch of fennel, nigella, mustard, fenugreek, turmeric and kashmiri red chilli. These may be harder to find at your local stores anyway and will last you a very long time because they’re used sparingly but have a very profound and noticeable flavor.
Can I marinate the meat beforehand to save time?
Absolutely! A lot of recipes will have you marinate the chicken or beef in yogurt and spices beforehand and you can definitely do that with this recipe as well. I make my Karahi a few different ways and truthfully, all the recipes call for yogurt that you can use earlier on in the dish and prepping process. If you look at my Chicken Karahi, my Special Chicken Karahi and my Boneless handi, you will see how I use yogurt in different stages of the cooking process. In my very popular Chicken Karahi, I add yogurt + the spices almost immediately after I add the chicken without allowing the chicken to change color. This is similar to how you would marinate the chicken before hand. In my Boneless Handi, another recipe that got really good feedback, I use yogurt in a similar way but in that recipe I prepared the tomato and onion masala before adding the chicken (I love this technique). In my Special Karahi, I add yogurt at the last step after the chicken has cooked completely and have to admit I love how the Karahi gets a more full-bodied flavor. I picked this technique from YouTube videos of streetside dhaba restaurants and noticed how they always added yogurt towards the end of the dish. I would recommend recreating some of my other recipes and deciding what you like doing more.
How can I get the oil to separate from the Karahi?
For a Karahi, or pretty much any curry made in South Asia, the oil must separate. With the right quantity of oil and a good amount of stirring on high heat (called “bhoonna”), the oil should separate within a short time. If it doesn’t separate and you’ve been at it for a while, the culprit may just be that you don’t have enough oil to begin with. Skimping on oil will result in a Karahi that just didn’t reach its full potential. I can understand health reasons may require us to make some tough choices and unfortunately, a Karahi just needs a good amount of oil. I always say to add enough oil and then make sure that when you serve you strain the masala a bit. Shake it gently to not plate out too much oil.
Achari Chicken Recipe
Achari Chicken Masala (to coarsely grind)
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
Achari Chicken Masala (to be added to the above ground blend)
- 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds remember to NOT grind this by mistake; this releases a rather bitter taste when ground
- 2 tsp whole round red chilli
- 1 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
- 1/4 tsp regular red chilli powder you can increase this to 1/2 tsp if you like lots of heat
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup oil (cooking+mustard oil) I use 1/4 cup regular canola and the remaining mustard oil
- 1/2 tsp nigella seeds
- pinch of cumin and mustard seeds
- 1 red onion chopped
- 1 tomato chopped
- 2 tsp ginger and garlic paste
- 1 tsp tomato paste
- All of the Achari Masala mix
- 1 cup water if using an instant pot, 1/4 cup is more than enough
- 500-750 grams whole chicken pieces ask for the Karahi cut at your South Asian meat shop. You can also use boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into medium chunks
- 1/3 cup beaten yogurt remember to beat the yogurt to prevent it from curdling
- First, prepare and set aside the Achari masala. You only need to coarsely grind the first three ingredients and then add the remaining spices to that mix.
- To make the Karahi, add oil to your pan. Once hot, add in the nigella, cumin and mustard seeds and allow them to crackle, about 30 seconds.
- Next, add in the onion and fry on medium heat until golden brown. Take your time with this.
- Next, add in the tomato and continue stirring for a couple minutes on medium high heat. Pop the lid on for 5-6 minutes and let the tomatoes break down.
- Add in the tomato paste and mix really well.
- Sprinkle in all of the Achari masala and sautee really well for 2-3 minutes to release the flavors of the spices. If the masala begins to stick, add a splash of water.
- Next, add in the chicken and stir to coat it well in the masala. Stir for a couple minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink.
- Then, pour in water and let it come to a boil before covering with a lid. Let the curry cook on low to medium heat for 25 mins.
- Remove the lid, and increase the heat to high to help the water evaporate if there is any. Continue stirring the Karahi on medium to high heat until the oil separates. This can take anywhere from 8-15 minutes.
- Once the oil has separated, add in the yogurt and mix well. The Karahi will look a bit white but don't worry. Pop the lid on, turn the flame a bit lower and let the Karahi simmer for another 10 mins.
- At this point, it should look perfectly done with a deep rich color and the oil should have separated. Garnish with julienned ginger and green chillies and serve with naan.
- If there is plenty of water in the Karahi after 25 mins, simply turn the heat to the highest setting and stir until the water evaporates. You will have to keep an eye on the Karahi and make sure to lower the heat a bit once you notice the water has evaporated. The oil should slowly start to separate and you'll see the edges of plan shimmering with oil. This does come with practice but I hope this tip helps.
- Alot of recipes call for marinating the chicken with the yogurt and spices and you can certainly do that if you'd like. However, I have always made Achari Chicken Karahi this way and it's perfect. One less bowl makes me a happy cook!
- DO NOT grind fenugreek seeds (which is methi dana). When creating this recipe, I made that mistake and the tartness was overwhelming.