A Chettinad Culinary Detour

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The Chettinad region in Tamil Nadu is the historical home of the Nagarathar, a merchant cast that prospered in the last millennium through trading and banking. The Nagarathar were originally vegetarians, but their extensive trading contacts with people from throughout India and the Bay of Bengal greatly influenced their gastronomy. Their spice trade led to the development of complex dishes which take advantage of multiple spices, fruits and roots. Spices are usually roasted before being ground. Meat and vegetarian dishes are usually accompanied by rice or rice-based breads and pancakes.

Chettinad cuisine is now the most prominent in the Tamil Nadu region and some dishes, like the one I cooked, have achieved prominence in Indian restaurants throughout the world.

Milagu Kozi Chettinad

Chicken Chettinad

Chicken Chettinad

There are two types of chicken Chettinad out there. The simplest one is a dry version where chicken is fried in a spiced oil. The wet version has it cooked in a spicy sauce, laden with chilies, peppercorns, many spices and coconut flakes. That's the one I attempted for my very brief excursion into Chettinad cuisine.

This dish, as most South Indian dishes, is extremely spicy - indeed, it includes four types of peppers! I reduced all of these greatly and seeded both the dried red chilies and the fresh green ones so that I'd be able to eat it. Judge for yourself how much spice you want to include.

The results were pretty good, but perhaps not as incredible given the time, effort and expense this dish required. Fortunately, I had all the ingredients at home, but I'm not sure it'd be worth to go out of your way to find them in order to make this.


Chicken Chettinad


  • 3 - 4 lbs chicken pieces
  • 3 tsp salt, divided
  • 2 Tbsp vinegar
  • 6 Tbsp cooking oil, divided
  • 8 sprigs of curry leaves, divided
  • 8 - 20 dry red chilies, whole
  • 2" long cinnamon stick
  • 2 Tbsp coriander seeds
  • 4 tsp fennel seeds
  • 4 tsp poppy seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 6 green cardamon
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 1/2 cups water, divided
  • 1 large or 2 small red onions, chopped, divided
  • 2 cups fresh coconut, grated
  • 1 Tbsp pureed ginger
  • 1 Tbsp pureed garlic
  • 6 - 12 green chilies, split in half
  • 1 Tbsp red chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 lb Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup lemon or lime juice
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro (optional)


Cut chicken half-breasts into 6 pieces and thighs into two. Place in a bowl, add 2 tsp salt and the vinegar, mix and let marinade in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 3 Tbsp of oil in a kadhi, wok or saute pan over medium-high heat. Add half of the curry leaves, the red chilies, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, poppy seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, cardamon and cloves and stir fry until aromatic. Add 1 cup chopped red onions and the coconut. Stir fry for 3 minutes. Add the pureed ginger and garlic and continue stir frying for another 3 to 4 minutes. Leave aside to cool. Once cool, transfer to a food processor or blender, add 1/2 cup of water and puree.

Add the remaining 3 Tbsp of oil to the pan you used to make the spice mixture and heat over medium heat. Add the remaining chopped onion and curry leaves and saute until the onions are golden. Add the green chilies, red chili powder, turmeric and remaining teaspoon of salt. Add the tomatoes and stir fry for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the spice mixture and then 1 cup of water. Let cook for one minute and add the chicken. Add the final cup of water, stir, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 minutes, stir/turn the chicken and continue cooking, uncovered, for another 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Add the lemon or lime juice and cilantro (if using) and cook for a minute before serving.

Adapted from Neha's recipe at Whisk Affair

Other Indian cuisines I've cooked: Anglo-Indian, Assamese, Awadhi, Balti, Bangladeshi, Bengali, Bene Israel, Bodo, Cochin Jewish, Dogra, Dum Pukht, Goan, Gujarati, Haryanvi, Hyderabadi, Indian, Indo-Chinese

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