Sri Lankan Chicken Curry


In keeping with my fascination of curry, this one is a lovely spicy one. It’s really aromatic and permeates the furthest reaches of the house, not to mention street. I could smell it from about 200m away. Delicious. It’s not unlike the Lamb Madras Curry which is one of the faves of the household. A little less complex, but still packs a punch.


1kg chicken thighs
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced ginger
salt & pepper
2 teaspoons Sri Lankan curry powder (see below)
1 teaspoon chilli powder
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 fresh curry leaves
2 onions (sliced)
1 x 2.5cm cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods (split)
1/4 teaspoon crushed cloves
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 medium tomato (chopped)
240ml coconut milk
1 teaspoon brown sugar

6 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 x 5cm cinnamon stick (crumbled)
4 cloves
4 cardamom pods
5 dried curry leaves
2 dried red chillies
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon long grain rice

(heat all the spices in a dry pan for 1-2 minutes until aromatic. PLace in a grinder or in a pestle and mortar and grind to a fine powder – this will make much more than you need, but it stores for months in an airtight container)

Mix together in a large bowl the lemon juice, crushed garlic, ginger, salt, black pepper, curry powder and chilli powder. Cut the chicken thighs into halves and then add them to the mix, coating well. Cover and leave for at least 30 minutes.

Once marinated, heat the oil in a large saucepan add the fresh curry leaves and fry for 1 minute. Then add the onions and cook for 4-5 minutes until lightly browned and soft.
Add the chicken pieces and cook for 5 minutes, stirring. Add cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, tomato paste and 250ml warm water, mix very well, then cover and cook on a low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the coconut milk, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and cook for a further 15 minutes stirring occasionally, add the sugar and taste for salt. Add a squeeze of lemon juice of you feel it’s neccessary.

Plain boiled rice or some roti bread or both if you’re greedy like me.

  • amanda

    okay so im a student and i recently moved out. even though i am srilankan, i can only cook 2 minute noodles 🙁 so Im giving this a go tonight to impress the boy friend. im sure it’ll work, as I’ve seen the ingredients being used by my mum. im so done with take out. time for some home made curry :0 yaaaaaaaaaaaaay here goes! wish me luck!!!!

  • Chris T

    This was one of the best curries i’ve tasted. I have to confess to adding a little more of the curry powder mix (about double), and leaving out tomato paste (puree in England I believe). Great website, have tried a few recipes now, . I assume that the recipe calls for boneless skinless chicken thighs. Currently cooking your Sri Lankan Pork Curry, keep up the good work!. All the best, Chris

    • Cheers Chris,

      We get boneless and skinless chicken thighs here in Australia very easily, however I know they’re not as readily available in the UK for some reason. It’s a shame – I use them over any other cut, pretty much for every chicken dish. I’m sure they’ll catch on soon.

      Enjoy the curries!

  • Jonathan A

    Just completed the recipe, will be serving to some Sri Lankan friends shortly but I have already tried it and it is very good and pretty simply to make as the ingredients are all readily available.
    From what I remember, the flavours are the same as a Sri Lankan curry cooked by Sri Lankans so I am sure they will like it. The only things I amended were adding some Peri Peri Sauce and 2 extra hot chillies when frying the chicken to give it a kick that suits my palatte.
    This being as good as it is with really nice flavours was a real surprise as often curry recipes can be a little bland even in the books so thankyou for sharing the recipe.

    • Glad you enjoyed it. I remember spicing it down for this recipe. I always have a garnish of chillies on hand to pump up the heat – which is definitely suits my palette too.

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  • Good recipe – it’s similar to mine and I grew up with this food. Watch out for the tomato paste though – it can impart a needlessly sweet taste. Try regular tomatoes instead. I like to add a little mustard seed as well.

  • Cameron Scott

    Excellent recipe on your very entertaining site and better balanced than many recipes found in respected Indian cookboooks. Keep up the good work!

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