Konkan Black Pepper & Coconut Curry

After a forage through my freezer tonight I managed to cobble together 1kg of chicken thighs from various half opened packets and unlabelled bags of ‘meat’. After a few days of no spice for whatever reason, my body was craving the hit of spice. After another brief scout of the cupboards and fridge, I settled on this dish. It’s an unusual curry in that most of the heat doesn’t come from chilli, but instead black pepper. Before chilli populated India from Central & South America, black pepper was used to give food a kick. I do love using pepper in this way – it is a really interesting, intense spice that leaves a long hot lingering hit. The coconut milk dampens the heat a little, but we’re till left with a rich, spicy sauce that really is quite magnificent. A word of note is to really spend the time with the first half of the recipe. The intensity of heat and roundness of flavour is much improved when you spend the time reducing the onions and spice – if you short cut it, it’ll affect the flavour.


2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon mustard seeds

2 tablespoons coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
3 cardamom pods (lighly bruised to open slightly)
1 stem fresh curry leaves (about 20)
2 whole dried chillies
1 onion (finely diced)
4 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
1 teaspoon fresh ginger (finely chopped)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon Kashmiri chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 large tomato (diced)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons palm sugar (or brown sugar)
1kg chicken thigh fillets (cut into bite sized chunks)
250ml coconut milk

In a pestle & mortar, pound together the peppercorns and mustard seeds until ground (not too finely). Set aside.

Heat the coconut oil in a large pan over a medium heat until hot. Add the cumin seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, curry leaves and dried chillies. Let them splutter and sizzle for 30 seconds before adding the onion, garlic and ginger. Stir well for 2-3 minutes. Splash in about 1/4 cup water and sizzle for a further 2-3 minutes until the water has evaporated and the onions are frying again. Repeat this process of adding water and reducing for about 10 minutes.

Add the ground turmeric, cumin, coriander, chilli powder, garam masala and the ground pepper/mustard and stir well. Add 1/2 cup water and stir again. Like before, let this mixture reduce until almost dry then add 1/4 cup water. Stir constantly to avoid sticking.

Add the tomato, salt and sugar and another 1/4 cup water and reduce again. Repeat this process of water and reduction, like before, for about 20 minutes until the paste is thick and smooth and the oil begins to separate.

Now, Add the chicken and turn up the heat. Stir fry for 10 minutes before pouring in the coconut milk and about 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer gently, uncovered for 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce thick and unctuous.

Serve with lots of fluffy basmati rice.

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