A 30-Minute Chicken & Potato Curry to Warm You on a Wintry Weeknight

Columnist Chetna Makan shows us how to maximize flavor in minimal time.

December  5, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten; Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog; Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis

On your mark, get set, bake! Food52 contributor and Great British Baking Show contestant, Chetna Makan, is here to give us the lowdown on the kind of food she makes at home: simple, Indian-inspired weeknight wonders, showstopping sweets, and so much more.

A plate of nourishing, delicious food at the end of a long day at work is something we all want, whether we’re cooking just for ourselves or for our families. It is that very plate of comforting food that can wrap up even the most exhausting day nicely.

I tend to cook a lot during the week—some nights with more time on my hands than others. It’s often that I don’t have the energy or the time after work to make something elaborate, which is why a lot of my cooking is about quick recipes, but still keeping it balanced and delicious.

This is why I’ll make big batches of lentils or pulses over the weekend to store in the fridge; they're then good to go as the base of our meals throughout the week. (They keep well in an airtight container for 4 to 5 days.) And I usually keep chicken around, too, as it cooks very quickly and can take on all sorts of different flavors.

My husband is not a big fan of chicken, though I tend to enjoy it. And I have two young kids who are fairly good with all my cooking experiments, but most of all love a warm, spicy meal, especially in the winter. This means I often turn to curries, whether made with vegetables or another kind of protein, as they’re easy to cook in big portions and freeze really well for future hurried weeknights.

All curries are different, depending on which region of India they are from. Some can have a thick, creamy gravy, and some a light sauce; some start with a paste of aromatics or coconut, and some with heady spice blends that are toasted and ground especially for the curry. There are curries that need to be slow-cooked for hours, to either let the meat become really tender, or to allow the beans or pulses to plump up and soften. All of this can be time-consuming, so I wanted to think through a different, much quicker way—a way to get curry in a hurry.

To keep everyone in my family happy, and get dinner on the table fast, I make this chicken and potato curry. Not only is it absolutely delicious, it’s ready in just over 30 minutes—with hardly any prep!—thanks to a few tricks for maximizing flavor in a short amount of time. For me, this chicken curry is a pantry meal, too, requiring a handful of spices I always keep around, and only some fresh chicken to get me going.

It starts by toasting a few whole spices, a technique I love and employ often. It adds an unparalleled depth to the curry’s base without the effort of creating a special ground spice blend, or cooking down any kind aromatic pastes. The whole spices here—cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, and a bay leaf—speedily release their flavors once they start to sizzle in hot oil. Then, when you begin to cook the onions in that spice-infused oil, they too soak in all the lovely aromas and add even more complexity.

In addition to taking on the flavors from the spices, the onions need to be cooked well to create flavor of their own, ideally turning a deep golden brown color and becoming extremely fragrant (this is key to a good curry). They take just about 10 minutes on medium heat to get there—especially helpful on nights when you’re short on time—but you can let the onions cook on low heat for even longer, so they develop even more flavor. The garlic and tomatoes, which are added next, also need to be cooked for a few minutes, so that the tomatoes get soft enough to break up and become sauce-like. And while the tomatoes are cooking down, you can easily prep the chicken and potatoes, cutting them into roughly 1-inch and ½-inch cubes, respectively. At this size, the potatoes will cook in record time.

In addition to the whole spices we roast at the beginning, this recipe uses a few powdered spice blends (garam masala, chile powder, ground turmeric) to add another dimension of flavor. Unlike whole spices, the powdered spices don't need to be roasted or cooked for long. In fact, if you add them early on with the onions, they might burn and overpower the rest of the flavors in the curry. Instead, the spices are simply added to the cooked tomato and onion mixture, followed by cubes of quick-cooking boneless, skinless chicken and russet potatoes, which are then left to simmer. Once the chicken and potatoes are cooked until tender—10 to 15 minutes later—you’ll finish this curry with a splash of heavy cream and a handful of chopped cilantro, for a bit of richness and a punch of herby brightness.

While chicken and potatoes are a reliable starting point for this curry, they’re just that—a starting point. For example, I love the ease and speed of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but if I were making this on a day when I had a bit more time, then I would definitely use whole chicken thighs on the bone; it intensifies the flavors of the curry with slowly rendered and stewed chicken fat. Alternatively, you could use meat like ground beef or lamb (which will cook very quickly, as the boneless, skinless chicken does), and vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, peas, and green beans would be great here in place of the potatoes.

This curry is great served with some rice or any flatbread of your choice, like chapati, paratha, or naan. I like to serve this with some piping hot chapatis and a dollop of cooling yogurt. With a sprinkle of salt and cumin powder on top of the curry, even my husband will go in for seconds.

What's your favorite wintry weeknight dinner? Let us know in the comments.
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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Sauce G. December 6, 2019
I love you recipes. The Potato Sauce looks yummy. Did you ever use Jade Bridge Sauce?
Bianca O. December 5, 2019
nice recipe, i like it