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When you want to cook "Indian chicken", what combo/proportion of spices?

I normally eyeball all of my spices and never measure a thing. However, I have found with my indian food, that for some reason, my intuition is off. I wanted to make indian chicken the other day to add to a salad and was simply planning on making a spice rub and then sauteing the sliced chicken in a pan.

The spices I have are the following: Curry powder, garam masala, mustard powder, cumin, cinnamon, cardamon, Kashmiri chili powder....

I used all except the cinnamon but it just didn't taste right. I pretty much used equal portions of everything since I just wasn't sure. These spices are so strong that they have to be in the right combo to make it work. Any ideas on the proportions? This was also my first time using the kashmiri chili powder.

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  1. Personally, if you used all those spices together, you went 'way too far into Spice Overkill!

    I would have chosen Curry powder, OR Garam Masala, OR Kashmiri chili powder. Each of them is a specially blended mixture of spices intended to be used on its own. I sure wouldn't blend all of that stuff together!!!!

    I make Chicken Garam Masala, by dusting the pieces with that blend -- put 1-2 tablespoons of spice in a zip top bag, add the chicken pieces (say 4-6) and shake to coat. Then brown the chicken in just a tablespoon or so of oil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer with say a cup of water or broth for 20 minutes. I *might* add chickpeas, or lentils or vegetables to the skillet at that point to make a whole meal..

    1. For a quick Indian Chicken I would suggest using either the curry powder or the garam masala and adjusting the heat to your own taste with the chili powder. Both curry powder and garam masala cover a wide range of spices depending on who blends them, and of course price, so it is difficult to give proportions for those. Garam masala in particular is very much a matter of personal taste so I tend to blend my own rather than purchase it. If I want to put together a quick spice blend for an Indian type dish I use 1 part each of ground cumin, cardamom and coriander, 1/2 part of ground fenugreek seed and 1/4 part of ground chili. Hope this helps.

      1. Before your trial and error yields the best results that you like, I have some recommendations for you:

        First and foremost, if it's British curry powder, throw it away. A garam masala or any other masala will be better in almost every case in my experience. Most of the things labeled "Curry Powder" smell funny, and taste even funnier. Muddy, brown, just yuck. Save the curry powder for ppl who think it's exotic Indian food. If I went to an Indian Restaurant, and tasted (or smelled) anything that had that nasty yellow powder in it, I'd leave right away. It's just not right.

        Second - sautee the chicken, let it rest, and THEN slice it.

        Mustard powder might not be what you are looking for here. You might be wanting to use toasted mustard seed (I generally use black ones, toasted in oil until they begin to sputter to add a nutty flavor to my dishes.)

        1 Reply
        1. re: gordeaux

          like the above, I would start with the garam masala. taste it and see if you think you would like more cumin, cardamon or cinnamon flavor (all are normal constituents of this mix). If so, you can add some in. The garam masala should not be chili spicy - you might want some more black pepper. You also want some salt, of course. The kashmiri chili powder in theory should not be spicy - its mainly for color, so taste and then add as much as you like.

          Id leave out the curry powder and particularly the ground mustard altogether., but if tcurry powder is the flavor you prefer, Id start with tasting that as my base process and possibly adding some cumin and chile, avoiding the rest.

        2. I bought the garam masala, curry powder, and mustard from an indian grocery store. What can I use the curry powder for then? I have so much of it!!!

          1 Reply
          1. re: cups123

            There's nothing wrong with using curry powder so long as it's a good mix to start with and is reasonably fresh. Yes, it's a British invention, but it's nothing other than a mix of spices that are traditionally used in Indian cooking - typically cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, and clove, often colored yellow with turmeric. If your powder has an unpleasant musty smell, or if it just smells dead, pitch it. Otherwise, even though you may eventually start grinding and mixing your own spices, you might as well use the stuff you already have. Here's a recipe to start with.

            Thoroughly brown a cut-up chicken (or chicken parts) in oil or ghee in a large, heavy pot that has a lid. Work in batches if necessary.

            While the chicken is browning, coarsely chop a small onion and a few cloves of garlic and slice a thumb-sized chunk of ginger against the grain. Pop the onion, garlic, and ginger in the blender with a little water, and blend until you have a smooth, fairly thin paste.

            Remove the chicken from the pot. Add more oil or ghee if necessary, and then add the paste and fry it, stirring constantly, until the moisture evaporates and it just begins to brown. Stir in a tablespoon or so of curry powder (or to taste) and cook for a few more seconds. Reduce heat to low and stir in a cup of greek-style yogurt a tablespoon at a time, fully incorporating each addition before you add the next one.

            Put the chicken back in the pot, return to simmer, cover, and cook for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding water as necessary to keep the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

            Serve with rice.

          2. Is there an ingredient list on your curry powder and garam masala? If there is, you will see that these overlap, and already contain the others.

            Garam masala (literally 'warm mix') has spices like cinnamon and cardamon which are considered 'warming', and is most often used to freshen flavors at the end of cooking. It may also contain less expensive spices like cumin and corriander. It is rarely very hot.

            Curry powder can vary all over in its spice profile. Some are quite hot (esp. Madras style), others mild. If bright yellow it has quite a bit of turmeric. Fenugreek (with a maple like arroma) is more likely found in curry powder than in garam masala.

            Also what flavor are you aiming for? Are you trying to copy something that you've had at a restaurant? Without knowing that, and without knowing the ingredients of your mixes, it is hard to be more specific about how to use the ones you have.

            Indian stores carry a number of mixes, either in powder form or paste, for specific dishes, often regional specialties. In the past regional and home cooking was quite idiosyncratic, each family having their own traditions and preferences. If they didn't use their own spice combinations, they bought mixes from their favorite vendor in the bazaar. The modern commercial mixes allow people in one part of India to copy dishes from other parts of the country. A packaged mix, whether labeled curry, garam masala, or roghan ghosh, tandoori mix, or something else, can be useful and good, but it isn't standardized. Nor is there a standardized 'indian chicken' flavor (especially not for a simple sauteed chicken).

            3 Replies
            1. re: paulj

              I totally agree. I probably shouldn't have bought such a large bag and just made my own mixture. It is a yellowish orange color.

              I guess its hard for me to describe taste as I can't delineate between the various taste contributions of the spices.

              For the salad I was trying to replicate a tandoori chicken I had tasted in a cafe that they put over a bed of greens, etc. I honestly can't tell you what it tasted like more specifically, just had a yummy indian flare.

              1. re: cups123

                As Madhur Jaffrey puts it in her biographical 'Climbing the Mango Trees', until the Partition most middle and upper class Indians ate at home, with only a few select items being bought in the bazaars. Then Punjabi Hindu refugees poured into Delhi from Pakistan. "They carried their tandoors with them so they could cook along the way. One such family that fled all the way to Delhi had decided to open Moti Mahal and offer is plain village cooking to a city of culinary sophisticates. The rest, as they say, is history.'

                You should be able to find tandoori chicken spice mixes in the Indian store. While I have some powders, I lean toward the pastes in jars. Pataks is a UK brand that has been around for a long time. One thing to be aware of is that tandoori marinade typically includes yoghurt. One part of tandoori flavor that you will have a hard time duplicating is the high heat of the clay oven.

                1. re: cups123

                  The tandoori marinade in one of of Madhur's earlier cook books includes:
                  onion, garlic, fresh ginger, lemon juice and yogurt.
                  This spices include (all ground)
                  coriander (1T),
                  salt (2t)
                  cumin, turmeric, garam masala (1t each)
                  mace, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper (1/4t each)

                  It should be easy to find other tandoori recipes, but this should give you a sense of the proportions.

              2. I'm of Indian descent, and I think your intuition may be off because you're using a traditional Euro/American approach An easy Indian way to make chicken is to use a marinade of yogurt with lemon, garlic, chiles or tomatoes and...just go with what you like. Marinate it, heat up the grill and cook it on the grill. (If you use a grill, add spices to the marinade.)

                If you want to cook it on the stove, use a few more steps. In a food processor, make a chunky "salsa"of tomatoes, onions, fresh chiles, and and few spoonfuls of yogurt and maybe a little cream. As for spices, try approx. 1-1/2 tsp. of garam masala, 1/2 tsp. of mustard powder and the chili powder to taste. At this point, your intuition will probably work as always.

                Heat some oil in a skillet, and when it's hot, put in a small amount (1/2 tsp. or less) of cumin, coriander and black mustard seeds. (Stand back, because they pop.) You can also put in onions and fresh chiles and brown those, if you have them. Put in the marinating chicken and brown a bit (it won't really brown b/c of the sauce.) Then lower the heat and put in the tomato/yogurt mix and cook on low heat in the stove or oven.

                Top with sliced onions, lemon and/or fresh cilantro. In my experience, "dry" chicken is made in a Tandoori oven (or grill.) Otherwise, it's usually a chicken curry like this. Hope this helps. Good luck!