My recipe came out weirdly bitter and terrible and I don't know why

I've been cooking an Indian recipe for chicken in cashew sauce and something's gone wrong. The recipe calls for pureeing 2 onions, garlic, tomato paste, cashews, garam masala, chili powder, lemon juice, tumeric, salt, and yogurt, then sauteeing this mixture for a few minutes. Then you add golden raisins, chicken, and water (I used coconut milk instead) and cook it for about 15 minutes. I did all this and then tasted the sauce and it's very, very bitter and tastes pretty terrible. Anyone know why? Anything I can do to fix it at this point?

  • Posted by: LucyS
  • January 2, 2016


C S. January 4, 2016
I'm always reluctant to puree onions and garlic in the blender - which can cause them to turn bitter. I learned that from both experience and from Amanda Hesser's, The Cook and the Gardener. Many Indian recipes I have read do call for you to do that though, and cooking does seem to remedy that.
Smaug January 3, 2016
That type of saute, which is the start of many Indian recipes, is always a bit perilous; many of the ingredients will be very bitter if burnt, and they burn quickly (in my experience, wet ingredients like yogurt usually go in at the end- the dry stuff and alliums you have to be very careful with).
LeBec F. January 3, 2016
glad it resolved itself. I was guessing the coconut milk was rancid; I posted about this last month-- always blend and taste your coconut milk before using. But that's rancid which is very different from bitter, though maybe....
Susan W. January 2, 2016
I was going to blame the turmeric. Glad it turned out.
Windischgirl January 2, 2016
Glad you found the answer! I was going to suspect the spices--I have had recipes taste bitter or dusty because the spices were too old and lost their flavors.
LucyS January 2, 2016
Thanks, all! We did some googling and found reports that sometimes if the onion is pureed if you just cook it longer it can take care of the bitterness. I have no idea if that was actually the cause, but we simmered it for about 45 more minutes and now it's fine. Who knows!
Nancy January 3, 2016
Glad to hear you fixed it and were able to eat the dish!
It sounded good to someone who loves (Chinese Ding recipe) chicken with cashews. Now I want to try this curried version.
LucyS January 2, 2016
sexyLAMBCHOPx January 2, 2016
Maybe this article about troubleshooting bitter curry sauce will save dinner:
Nancy January 2, 2016
The only other possible cause for off-putting taste is the amount of turmeric in your spice blend...if that was high or you are not used to it, its bitterness can give an unpleasant taste.
And, yes, I remember some Indian recipes where the yoghurt is added early, so my comment about that.
Meanwhile, the ehow article suggested by Chops has good suggestions for fixes.
Good luck in salvaging this dish.
Nancy January 2, 2016
Not sure the cause (could be the cashews, the coconut milk, the garlic or the timing of the yogurt), and bitterness is difficult to correct for.
Could you please provide a link to the recipe...might be able to day more after seeing it.
LucyS January 2, 2016
I don't have a link but it's in the book "Best Ever Indian Cookbook." I tasted the cashews and the coconut milk as I was cooking and both tasted fine. There were only 3 garlic cloves for a big pot, and based on how bitter it is that seems a bit disproportional to me, but it could be.
Recommended by Food52