Creamy Chicken Curry with Peas: Muttar Murghi

Yet another inspiration from 660 Curries. I swear, every time I pick the book up and leaf through it, I find another dish I want to run into my kitchen and cook. It never fails–and what is even more amazing, is that there are very few photographs in the book. I just read the titles of the recipes, look at the description and run down the ingredient list and I am hooked. Nearly everything in the book sounds distinctly appetizing.

The chicken in this curry is amazingly tender for two reasons–one, is the yogurt-based marinade. You don’t leave the chicken in it for long–if you do, the acidic yogurt will start breaking down too much of the protein in the chicken and will give the flesh a cottony, spongy texture which is less than appealing. But even as little as a half hour’s soak in the thick, fragrant yogurt blend will tenderize the chicken admirably. An hour is even better.

The other reason is that if you cook the curry on medium low heat and keep an eye on the chicken and stop cooking it just after it firms up–it will be almost meltingly tender. High heat will firm the chicken too much, but the combination of yogurt and medium low heat is magical–the chicken is velvety and delicious.

Of course, I changed the recipe up a bit. Don’t I always?

The first change came when I ground up fresh turmeric root into the marinade instead of using the dried turmeric called for in the book. I love the medicinal fragrance and slightly sharp, tingly flavor of fresh turmeric, and the color it imparts to curries, as you can see in the photograph above, is remarkably pretty.

I also chose to use a different spice mixture than the author required. His had coconut and peanuts in it; I was not in a peanut and coconut mood, so I used one of my own masala mixtures which is heavy on coriander seed and cardamom. I added a couple of bay leaves; I figured that their sharp, herbal tang would combine beautifully with the fresh turmeric.

Speaking of bay leaves–they have a completely different character when you grind them up rather than using them whole. I have never used them ground except in Indian foods, but I may change that when it becomes grilling season again. I think that a bit of bay leaf in a rub for steak or chicken would be fantastic.

This recipe comes together quickly–after you grind up the dry spices into a masala, set them aside and grind up the garlic, ginger, turmeric, and chilies, then whisk these together into the cream and yogurt mixture. Marinate the chicken in it while you slice the shallots and cook your rice. Then you just brown the shallots, scrape the chicken into the pan, and sprinkle it with the masala. Cook, stirring, until the chicken just firms up–it takes about twelve minutes or so–add the peas, and cook until they thaw and warm up, and there you are–dinner!

Muttar Murghi

3 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
10 green cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 bay leaves
1/2″ piece cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes
3/4 cup whole fat or low fat (not fat free) Greek style yogurt
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2″ cube fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon salt
2″ long piece fresh turmeric root, peeled and roughly chopped
4-6 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
2-3 fresh green Thai chilies
2 whole boneless skinless chicken breasts (four halves), cut into 3/4″ cubes
2 tablespoons ghee or canola oil
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced shallots or red onion
8 ounce package frozen peas
salt to taste
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves


Grind together all of the dry spices. Measure out a tablespoon of the mixture and seal the rest up in a container for use another day.

Whisk together the yogurt and cream, and then grind together the ginger, salt, turmeric root (if you do not have access to the fresh root, use 1/4 teaspoon dried, ground turmeric root), garlic and chilies. Whisk these together with the yogurt and cream mixture until well combined and smooth. Toss the chicken pieces into the marinade and cover and allow to sit for at least thirty minutes.

Heat the canola oil or ghee in a heavy-bottomed skillet on medium flame. Add the shallots or onions, and cook, stirring, until they turn a nice, rich golden color. Add the chicken, scraping as much marinade as possible into the pan and turn the heat down to medium low. Rinse the marinade bowl, getting all the good stuff off the sides of the bowl, with 1/2 cup water, and set the bowl with the water aside.

Cook, stirring, as needed until the chicken loses most of its pink color and some of the marinade starts to stick to the bottom of the pan and brown. Deglaze the pan with the water in the marinade bowl, and scrape up all the browned bits. Stir in the peas, turn up the heat slightly to medium, and cook until the chicken is just firm and no pink shows and the peas are heated through.

Add salt to taste and garnish with the cilantro leaves.


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  1. This sounds great. It’s making me hungry.

    Are these home-baked biscottis ready to go in the oven that we see at the back of the picture?

    Comment by Christian — December 17, 2009 #

  2. Isn’t that cookbook great? I love being able to create the spice mixes and adjust the heat.

    Comment by Ardene — December 18, 2009 #

  3. This food looks so yummy. Will probably try it tomorrow.

    I agree with you that fresh turmeric tastes so much different than the already grounded one in the shops.

    I’ve never tried to grind my bay leaves though, but sounds like an excellent idea.

    thanks for this recipe

    Comment by Panasonic SD YD250 Automatic Bread Maker — December 18, 2009 #

  4. Hi,
    thanks for introducing me to the indian recipes. I´d like to try this curry, but when do you put in the spices?
    Thanks again

    Comment by Meejja — December 19, 2009 #

  5. I tried to go out and find fresh tumeric to no luck…not even PURE tumeric! Had to get yellow curry! I am jealous!
    I heard that you always add spices either sauteed at the beginning or at the end, is that true?

    Comment by Special K — December 19, 2009 #

  6. Meejja’s right, you’ve forgotten to note when the ground spices are added, Barbara.

    The finished dish is beautiful. I’ve never seen fresh turmeric but I’m wondering if HMART carries it in the DC area.

    Comment by Heather — December 27, 2009 #

  7. I just made this curry with dried turmeric, and it was really good–I’ll definitely be making it again.

    Comment by Beth — January 7, 2010 #

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