Chicken Ceylon is a curry that was once all the rage in British Indian restaurants, it is generously spiced & has a silky coconut milk sauce.
This recipe is a take on a British Indian take on a Sri Lankan chicken curry and features a homemade curry powder and plenty of heat that can be tailored to your sensibilities.
Sri Lankan Inspired Chicken Curry
British Indian curries that inspired my love of Indian flavours are often curious beasts, but I love them.
Ceylon is the former name of Sri Lanka.
Despite not being called its former name since the early 70’s, way before my journey with Indian flavours started, a version of chicken Ceylon existed on menus well until I left the UK in the mid 00’s.
This is my version based on my memories, fused with my flavour preferences and some nods to traditional Sri Lankan chicken curries.
Most of my curry recipes are tinged by my upbringing in Birmingham.
Whether the dishes I remember were from the south of India like Goan-influenced mackerel curry or pork vindaloo or “oop north” like my Punjabi-influenced achari chicken or Bengali dum aloo, they were almost certainly cooked by the Bangladeshi or Pakistani diaspora in Birmingham.
That has very much coloured my experience and tastes, Brummie Indian curries are very different to those from Manchester or London!
I create my own small batch Sri Lankan influenced curry powder for this recipe to add stronger hints of fennel and fenugreek.
The sauce features loads of wonderful curry leaves and the spice is tempered with coconut milk, and it is very similar in style to my South Indian coconut chicken curry.
You’ll love this curry, it has been appearing a lot on my table in recent weeks!
Frequently Asked Questions
How hot is this curry?
Whilst the measure of “spiciness” is an absolute our tolerance to spice definitely isn’t. One person’s raging inferno is another gentle tickle.
I consider this to be a moderate to hot curry, if you look at the amount of chilli involved and think “eek”, then you should scale it back. Likewise, do not be afraid to add more if you think, meh!
Can I use regular chilli powder rather than Kashmiri chilli powder?
Kashmiri chillies are relatively mild and good Kashmiri chilli powder should add colour and flavour and not lots of heat.
However, I have used some chilli powders and purport to be made from Kashmiri chillies that have blown my head off.
Try and use Kashmiri chilli powder if possible, I have taken to using the TRS brand of late. It is readily available here and has a good flavour.
Can I use curry powder?
Yes, I essentially make a homemade Sri Lankan or Ceylon curry powder at the start of this recipe.
Feel free to sub for 1-2 tablespoons of Sri Lankan curry powder. Naturally, the flavours will differ greatly and I can’t vouch for whether that is for good or bad.
Do I have to use mustard oil?
No, you could use anything from ground nut oil, to vegetable or sunflower oil. But consider adding mustard oil to your “Indian” pantry its impact on recipes is subtle but marvellous!
Can I use dried curry leaves?
As far as I am concerned they are a waste of money and taste of very little. Fresh curry leaves are available in many Indian stores and online, they are cheap and will freeze for months!
I’ve served my chicken Ceylon curry here with my homemade chapatis, because… well curry and flatbreads just work!
Rice is always a great option for a curry, I usually opt for plain rice but you could add pilau rice is awesome too.
Relatively speaking this is a light curry which allows me to indulge in my absolute favourite way to start an Indian-influenced meal.
I only name-check brands of equipment if I think they make a material difference to a recipe. If you have any questions feel free to ask them in the comments section below the recipe.
- Wok, I use a large carbon steel wok.
- Kicthen knife.
- Chopping board.
- Weighing scales and or measuring cups and spoons.
- Pestle and mortar or spice grinder.
- Stirring and serving spoons.
This spicy Ceylon chicken curry is an ode to an old-school British Indian restaurant curry from yesteryear that I have sprinkled with my modern cooking sensibilities.
- 300g (11oz) Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs
- 75g (2 Medium Total) Banana Shallots
- 3 Green Chilli Peppers
- 30g (thumb Sized Piece) Ginger
- 4 Garlic Cloves
- ½ Tsp Cumin Seeds
- ½ Tsp Coriander Seeds
- ½ Tsp Fennel Seeds
- ½ Tsp Black Peppercorns
- ¼ Tsp Black Mustard Seeds
- ¼ Tsp Fenugreek Seeds
- 4 Cloves
- 1 Tsp Ground Turmeric
- 1 Tsp Kashmiri Chilli Powder
- ⅛ Tsp Green Cardamom Powder
- 2 Tbsp Mustard Oil
- 12-18 Curry Leaves
- 1 Large Stick Cassia or Cinnamon Bark
- 1 Tbsp Tomato Concentrate
- 125ml (½ Cup) Water
- 200ml (7oz) Tin Full Fat Coconut Milk
- ½ Tsp Salt
- ¼ Tsp Sugar
- Lime Juice to Taste
- Cut the chicken thighs into bite-sized strips.
- Cut the shallots in half and peel them then dice them as finely as you can.
- Cut the green chilli peppers in half lengthways.
- Peel and grate the ginger.
- Peel and mash the garlic cloves.
- Heat a dry wok over a medium heat and toast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, black peppercorns, black mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, and cloves for 1 minute or until they become fragrant.
- Transfer the toasted seeds to a pestle and mortar or spice grinder and grind them to a fairly fine powder, then mix in the Kashmiri chilli powder, ground turmeric and cardamom powder. Set this aside.
- Return the wok to a medium-high heat and add the mustard oil followed by the diced shallot, curry leaves, cinnamon stick, and slit green chilli peppers, then cook for 2 minutes stirring constantly.
- Throw in the garlic, ginger and tomato puree and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly and mashing the tomato puree as you go.
- Add the chicken and cook until it is nicely coated and the chicken has started to colour, the aim is not to sear the chicken.
- Add the curry powder that we finished in Step 7 and mix to combine everything together.
- Pour in the water and add the salt and sugar, turn the heat to low and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
- Add in the coconut milk, stir and cook for another 10 minutes on a low heat
- Finish the curry with the lime juice, add more or less to your tastes.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 669Total Fat: 48gSaturated Fat: 23gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 22gCholesterol: 183mgSodium: 929mgCarbohydrates: 28gFiber: 6gSugar: 8gProtein: 42g
Calorific details are provided by a third-party application and are to be used as indicative figures only.