Tamil Nadu Pepper Chicken

2016-04-10 17.34.51RECIPE #223, DAY #289


ORIGINAL RECIPE: “South Indian Pepper Chicken,” from Dimbleby’s and Vincent’s Leon: Naturally Fast Food*

TIMING: 30 minutes, or 20 plus the rice

DIFFICULTY: Fairly easy

TOOLS: I prefer a wok for this sort of cooking, but a deep, wide skillet would work as well. And a rice cooker would be nice

COOK TYPE: Stove (and rice cooker, if you have one)

HEALTH: This is a winner, winner, chicken dinner. Lean protein, veggies, lots of colorful spices and aromatics… and over whatever grain you deem to be appropriate. We deem buttered Basmati rice as right for our family.

EXPERIENCE: It is no secret that the Flahertys love Indian food, and I make Indian food fairly frequently. I chose the local Indian buffet with mimosas as my Mother’s Day lunch last year. And I visited India a handful of years ago, where I did some humanitarian work in Tamil Nadu.

This food, which the cookbook authors based on an eating experience in Tamil Nadu, really does take me back to the time and place. Whether or not its ingredients and technique are authentic, the taste is true to the area. In fact, I felt moved to eat a little with my hand.

And it was a real crowd pleaser. I was afraid the black pepper would be too strong, but even my chicken-hater really enjoyed it (although she ate mostly the veggies). So, for a reasonable price and a very reasonable time table, this yummy and healthy dinner can be on your table this evening, too.

NOTES: The only slightly ethnic ingredients you need for this are turmeric and cilantro. They should be at your usual grocer. Turmeric (in its usual form here) is a ground spice found in your spice section. Be careful with it, as it is used as a dye. Cilantro is a fresh herb, found in the produce section, most likely near the parsley.

Boneless or bone-in chicken thighs work here. How messy do you want to get? (For bone-in, you will want to use more than 1 pound.)

As the original recipe says, “Remember, [the pepper] is an ingredient, not a seasoning.” “Season with a lot of pepper and some salt, then add some more pepper.”


  1. Cook 1 1/2 cups Basmati rice according to your usual cooking method. We use a rice steamer. When done, butter and salt and keep warm.
  2. Meanwhile, in a wok or wide, deep skillet, heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil over medium-high heat. Without crowding the pan, add 1 pound chicken thighs and salt and generously pepper. (You may want to do this in batches.) Cook until it is nicely browned on the first side then flip and salt and generously pepper, again. Brown. Remove to a plate. Repeat with rest of chicken.
  3. To the pan, add 1 sliced onion and cook until translucent. Add 1 inch grated ginger, 4 cloves pressed garlic, and 1 teaspoon turmeric. Cook 30 seconds.
  4. Reduce heat and add 2 diced tomatoes and a splash of water. Cover and simmer for 2 minutes. Nestle the chicken back into the sauce and dump in the accumulated juices. Re-cover and cook until chicken is cooked all the way through.
  5. Taste the sauce for salt and pepper, remove from heat, and sprinkle with a handful of chopped cilantro.

Serve with traditional Indian sides and chutneys, or simply with some plain yogurt.

*Recipe has been changed from the original.


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