Chettinad Pepper Chicken (Koli Milagu Masala)

  • Serves

    serves 4


A signature dish of the South Indian city of Chennai, this spicy chicken recipe is adapted from one in Madhur Jaffrey's classic Flavors of India (West 175 Publishing, 1995). It's flavored with fennel seeds, curry leaves, and urad dal, the skinned split black lentils that are a popular ingredient in southern India. This recipe first appeared in our August/September 2014 special India issue.


  • 1 (2 1/2–3-lb.) chicken or 2-lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 14 cup canola oil
  • 3 tbsp. coriander seeds
  • 1 12 tbsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 12 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 12 tsp. urad dal (skinned split black lentils), rinsed, soaked 30 minutes, and drained
  • 10 fresh or frozen curry leaves
  • 3 Indian or regular bay leaves
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 stick cinnamon, halved
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 12 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 5 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
  • 1 large yellow onion, minced
  • 1 (2") piece ginger, peeled and mashed into a paste
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 2 plum tomatoes, minced
  • 1 12 tbsp. coarsely ground black pepper
  • 14 cup chopped cilantro
  • Cooked white rice, for serving (optional)


Step 1

Separate chicken into 8 pieces. Cut drumsticks, thighs, and wings in half; cut breasts crosswise into thirds—you will have 18 pieces of chicken.

Step 2

Heat oil in a 12" nonstick skillet over medium-high. Cook coriander, cumin, and fennel seeds, dal, curry and bay leaves, cloves, and cinnamon until dal are golden, 2–3 minutes. Stir in cardamom, turmeric, garlic, onion, and ginger; cook until slightly caramelized, 6–8 minutes. Add tomatoes; cook until broken down, 4–5 minutes. Add chicken and 1⁄2 cup water; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes. Uncover and increase heat to medium-high. Stir in pepper; simmer until slightly thickened, 3–4 minutes. Garnish with cilantro; serve with rice if you like.

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