Karl’s Buttermilk Chicken Curry

This is a meal that started with a bottle of pickles. Jan went to the Maker Faire and came back with a jar of McVicker Pickles curried cauliflower. Chicken curry seemed like a good dish to go with them.

Karl’s Buttermilk Chicken Curry

Karl’s Buttermilk Chicken Curry

I have made chicken curry before, but this time I decided to experiment. Last time, I just tossed raw chicken into the simmer sauce. This time, I thought that using a Southern (U.S.) technique of buttermilk marinade might prove interesting.

One problem with marinating chicken in a wet marinade is that it is difficult to get a rich tasting fond, without leaving the chicken pieces to overcooked and dry by the time the dish is finished.  Cook’s Illustrated solved this problem in their recipe for Coq au Riesling, by removing the skin entirely and then browning it separately. They then cooked the browned skin in the simmering sauce get the well the developed flavors of the caramelized skin—fishing out and discarding the soggy skin when they were ready to serve.

My recipe called for one half cup of chicken stock and I hate using powder or using only part of a can of broth. I took C.I.’s idea one step further by including the chicken bones and any scraps and using them to make a first the fond and then a rich stock in the pan. This change also removed the necessity of picking the chicken bits out of the sauce.

An Indian main dish leads to Saag Paneer as the side vegetable—this is my family’s favorite Indian dish, to the point where I do not even experiment with the recipe—much— any more. I had thought to make a rice side dish, but in looking at recipes I decided that I would try to make roti—an Indian flat bread.

Note: I finally remembered to take out my sister Karen’s Pear chutney to serve with the meal. It was a perfect complement to go with the curry.

After Dinner Note: While the roti were not bad, we all really missed the rice to soak up the marvelous curry sauce.

Karl’s Buttermilk Chicken Curry


1 whole chicken


1 tsp. cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 tsp. coriander seeds, toasted and ground

1½ cup buttermilk
¼ cup onion, micro grated
1 Jalapeño pepper, seeded and micro grated
1 Tbs. fresh ginger root, micro grated
3 cloves, micro grated (about 1 Tbs.)
1 Tbs. curry powder (my preference is for mild, rather than super hot)
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. Kosher salt

2 tsp. cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 tsp. coriander seeds, toasted and ground

2 Tbs. chicken grease (you may use ghee or vegetable oil)
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp. Kosher salt

1 Jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
2 Tbs. tomato paste

6 cloves garlic, micro grated
1 Tbs. fresh ginger root, micro grated
20 curry leaves, chiffonade

1 Tbs. curry powder (my preference is for mild, rather than super hot)
1 Tbs. paprika
¼ tsp. Indian chili powder

3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
½ cup homemade chicken stock (see directions or low sodium chicken broth)

2 tsp. garam masala
¼+ cup fresh cilantro, minced
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice


Note: Marinating the chicken should be started in the morning, or preferably the night before, for the best flavor and tenderness.

1. Remove the skin and bones from the chicken and cut the meat into medium large sized bites.

Tip: Cut into one inch pieces.

Note: It was a small chicken and—knowing my family—I threw in six extra chicken thighs.

2. Put the meat in a gallon plastic bag and reserve the scraps and skin.

3. Put the cumin and coriander in a small dry skillet and toast them for two minutes.

4. Let the seeds cool, grind them to a powder and reserve.

Tip: I use a dedicated coffee grinder.

5. Put the cumin and coriander powder, buttermilk, onion, Jalapeño, ginger, garlic, curry, paprika, and salt in the gallon plastic bag with the chicken and mix well.

Tip: Use a micro plane to grate the onion, Jalapeño, ginger, and garlic. Simply putting them in a blender—especially for the ginger—does not break up the ingredients into a smooth enough paste—I have had complaints about “grainy” sauce.

Note: For the Jalapeños, hold the pepper skin side up on the micro plane—the skin is actually tough and thick enough to protect your fingers from the micro blades—and scrape the flesh away from the skin—discard the skins.

6. Marinate the chicken for at least 6 hours—overnight is better.

7. While the chicken is marinating, put the skin and bones in a large, lidded, dry pan over medium high heat.

Tip: The chicken fat will quickly render enough to grease the pan.

8. Fry the chicken scraps until they are well browned and a good fond has developed on the bottom of the pan, 15-20 minutes.

9. Remove the skin and bones to a bowl and pour the grease into a cup.

Note: Do not clean the pan!

Tip: You will be using some of this schmaltz later, but you can save the rest for other uses.

10. Add 2 cups of water  to deglaze the bottom of the pan.

11. Return the skin and bones and cover the pan.

12. Simmer the chicken bits for 20 minutes, over low heat.

Tip: Turn the pieces that stick out of the liquid occasionally to get all of their flavor.

13. Remove the chicken bits and reduce the liquid to half a cup.

Tip: You may freeze the back and neck to add to a chicken stock pot and discard the fat, skin and meat-less bones.

14. Strain the chicken stock and reserve it later.

15. Two hours before dinner, heat the two tablespoon of the chicken grease in a large skillet over a medium high heat.

Tip: You may use ghee or vegetables oil, if you wish.

Note: Remove the marinating chicken from the refrigerator and set the bag on the counter to warm to room temperature.

16. Add the onions and salt and sauté the onions until they are well caramelized, about 10-12 minutes.

17. Add the chopped Jalapeño and tomato paste to the pan and sauté for two minutes more, until the peppers start to soften and the tomato paste has darkened.

18. Add the garlic, ginger, and shredded curry leaves to the pan and sauté one minute more, until fragrant.

19. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and sprinkle the curry powder, paprika, and Indian chili powder.

Note: Indian chili powder is whole ground chilies—seeds and all. It is very flavorful, but also fairly spicy—a little goes a long way.

20. Stir in the tomatoes and chicken stock, scraping any vegetables fond from the bottom of the pan.

Tip: If you did not make the stock, you may use one half cup of chicken broth.

Note: To prepare the tomatoes: Wash them and remove any stems. Leave the tomatoes whole, but cut an X across the tomato, on the side away from the stem—this gives you an easy starting point to peel the skin away from the fruit. If you prefer de-seeded tomatoes, scrape the seeds into a sieve over a bowl after you have peeled them. Press the “jelly” through the sieve and add the chopped tomatoes to the bowl. Discard the seeds.

21. Bring the sauce to a simmer, reduce the heat, and cook for twenty minutes.

Tip: Do not add any water or broth, even if it looks like the sauce is drying out too much. If you are afraid the sauce might scorch, reduce the heat further.

Note: When you add the chicken pieces they will release enough moisture to thin the sauce. Any additional liquid risks making the sauce “soupy.”

22. Drain as much liquid from the chicken as you can.

Tip: Put the chicken in a large sieve and let as much of the liquid drip out as you can.

Note: The whey in the butter milk will have separated from the solids, between the wet marinade and the juices released by the chicken during cooking the sauce will be at risk for being too thin.

23. Stir the chicken into the sauce and cook, stirring occasionally for ten minutes.

Tip: I had a decision to make at this point. Even though I was using my largest sauté pan, looking at the sauce and chicken I knew that it was not going to be big enough. I pulled out my smaller Dutch oven (4 Qt.) and transferred the sauce to it before adding the chicken.

Note: When you put raw chicken into a pot of hot sauce the proteins—lipoproteins—in the juices clump together to make an unattractive scum on the surface of your dish. This is purely an aesthetic concern in clear broths, it does not change the flavor of the dish.  With this dense sauce, it is not a concern here.

24. Stir in the garam masala and continue simmering for 5-8 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked through.

Tip: Garam masala is a fragrant finishing spice blend.

25. Stir in most of the cilantro and the lemon juice.

26. Transfer the curry to a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining cilantro.

Tip: You may also garnish the curry with a splash of buttermilk.

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Filed under California Fusion, Chicken, Main Dishes, Poultry, Stews

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