Chicken Karahi is one of the easiest, most popular delicious chicken curries ever made! The chicken is seasoned with minimal spices and cooked in a beautiful tomato curry. A very popular attraction in dhabas and restaurants. And for you chefs at home, I’ve tried and perfected this recipe to give you that authentic taste!
What is Chicken Karahi
Karahi or Kadai means “wok” in Urdu/Hindi. The dish got its name from the wok it’s cooked in. These South Asian woks are usually cast iron and heavy bottom and the chicken is traditionally cooked in enough oil and tomatoes to not stick to the pan. The chicken karahi originates from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly Northwest Frontier) province of Pakistan.
The OG chicken karahi is essentially a “dry curry” cooked with minimal spices and soft, tender tomatoes. So it doesn’t hold a lot of liquid gravy as the classic Chicken ka salan does. The distinguishing features of an authentic chicken karahi are a red tomatoey base, garnished with ginger, cilantro, and green chilies
And like all great creations, the classic Chicken Karahi has also inspired a truckload of variations and fusion-style recipes. Balochi Karahi and White karahi are popular examples! Remind me to share those recipes with you too!
Normally the Karahi made in restaurants is made in a Wok and then covered by a conical lid like a Tagine. It’s a quick recipe and an active one at that. Where the chef constantly keeps stirring the chicken in oils and tomatoes on an open fire. For ease, I’ve adapted the recipe slightly to be more suitable for home cooking.
What makes karahi authentic?
With so many recipes all around the internet for karahi, it is possible that you will come across recipes that use onions and/or yogurt in their recipes. And I tell you, as a karahi purist, It IS a crime! A crime I tell you, to add onions or yogurt or any third ingredients to make the base of this curry! The variations of karahi have all sorts of ingredients and that’s fine! But if you are making the Original karahi, it needs the tomatoes to take the centre stage! It will hold a slight tang because of the tomatoes, adding onions (which are inherently sweet) balances off the tomatoes and then essentially give you a basic typical South Asian curry.
Notes on Ingredients
As I said, the ingredients used are super basic, and with the exception of maybe 1 or 2, you will probably have all the other ingredients at hand.
- Chicken – So for the traditional recipe, I would prefer you go with bone-in chicken cut into small pieces with the skin removed. You should get about 16 to 18 pieces of a normal 2 lb chicken.
- Spices – This recipe uses basic spices like freshly ground black pepper, salt, and cumin powder. The only 2 fancy ingredients you need are the Dried fenugreek leaves and Kashmiri red chili powder. The Kashmiri red chili powder is milder than regular red chili so you can use a larger amount without making your gravy overly spicy. It brings that beautiful red color to your dish without packing in a ton of heat.
- Green Chilies – The green chilies used for karahi are literally called “karahi mirchen” in Urdu. These are essentially lighter green in color and super mild tasting. They are also essentially bigger and similar to jalapenos.
- Garlic paste – Most curry recipes call for garlic ginger paste but for Karahi, we are going to garnish with julienne cut ginger slices so the basic paste we use is simply garlic to prevent an overpowering gingerness. (is that a word?)
- Tomatoes – The star of the show! My only recommendation is to go for the reddest, most ripe tomatoes available to you. Any type would do! But my insta friends in the west have recommended Roma tomatoes unanimously.
- Oil/Ghee – I personally prefer karahi in ghee or a combination of ghee and oil because of that added aroma it gives to the recipe. But any neutral oil works perfectly fine. Traditionally, the recipe uses a larger quantity of oil, but I have scaled it down a bit for cooking at home.
See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.
Substitutions and Options
All ingredients used are fairly easy to find, but let me hook you up with some alternatives just in case.
- Chicken – I don’t recommend using larger pieces, but you can use boneless chicken for this recipe if you like. You will just need to reduce a little more liquid than you would need to in the case of the bone in chicken.
- Kashmiri Red chili powder – You can use paprika powder instead, in the same quantities. If you are going to use regular red chili powder, use half the quantities as Kashmiri red chili powder is milder.
- Green chilies – IF you cannot locate “karahi mirch”, your best substitute would be regular fresh jalapenos or any other mild green chilies you can get your hands on.
- Dried Fenugreek leaves – I would personally never want to skip this ingredient because of the aroma it brings to the dish, but since Karahi is an easily adaptable recipe, you can skip it on a bad day.
- Tomatoes – Ok whole canned tomatoes work surprisingly well with this recipe!
Step by Step Instructions
So this is an additional step if you are using fresh tomatoes, you can skip this if you are using canned tomatoes. This step will take 5 mins but will reduce your active sauteeing and cooking time by 15 mins!
Add cuts on the bottom of the tomatoes in the shape of a cross and remove the stem areas
Put the tomatoes in a bowl and let it soak in boiling hot water for 10 mins.
Drain the liquid and now you should be able to peel off the skin of the tomatoes with ease. Cut them into halves.
NOTE: The stem region of the tomatoes doesn’t tenderize well and leaves little bits of tomato flesh floating around in the karahi. This step ensures you get a nice smooth karahi base.
Making Chicken Karahi
Add your raw chicken to a pot with oil/ghee, at high flame.
When your chicken turns white, add garlic paste and saute for 2 mins.
NOTE: This step is most important in sealing in the juices of the chicken and giving it a slight sear from the pan. Don’t rush this step and allow the liquid from the chicken to evaporate completely before proceeding to the next step.
Then you can add in the spices after all the water from the chicken has evaporated.
Toss in the tomatoes, and reduce the flame to low.
Cover the lid and allow the tomatoes to soften up for about 5 to 10 mins
When you remove the lid, you will see water leached out from the tomatoes. Increase the heat back to medium-high at this point and add green chilies. Put the lid back on
After 10 mins, you will see oil separating on the sides of the wok/pot. Reduce the flame to low and add the finishing spices
Mix the karahi well. You can add the garnish in the pot/wok or when you dish it out on the serving platter.
Normally, the garnish is simply used for decor. But for chicken karahi, the garnish is just as important as the dish itself, they add the remaining flavors to tie the dish together. We garnish the karahi with 3 main ingredients
- Julienne cut ginger slices
- Julienne cut green chilies
- Chopped cilantro/coriander leaves
- While cutting the tomatoes in halves, if you or anyone in your family suffers from kidney problems, remove the seeds of the tomatoes.
- Always use a large wok/pan for chicken karahi. You want to give ample room to your chicken so that it doesn’t get crowded and they all can fry rather than steam.
- Always let the water from the chicken evaporate completely before adding the spices. This ensures there is no residual “smell” of raw meat lingering, and also ensures that your chicken has been properly seared/fried in oil.
- Follow the temperatures mentioned in the recipe, to make the best curry!
- Crushed black pepper is another key ingredient in this recipe! Make sure to use freshly ground black pepper for that top-notch taste.
TBH, I’ve rarely had any karahi leftovers, but when I do, I always find myself converting it into one of these dinner options:
- Make Tahiri Rice – Simply add soaked basmati rice along with water into the leftover karahi, along with a little bit of salt to make the very popular yellow rice known as “tahiri”. An example of tahiri rice on my website is the popular Fish tahiri!
- Sandwiches – The saucy chicken bits are great for making a spicy sandwich with onions, lettuce, and mayo.
- Quick biryani – Layer the leftover karahi with some boiled rice, and sprinkle some chat masala on top with fried onions and food coloring. Cook at low flame for 10 mins and viola you have a quick biryani at your hand! See this Quick Karahi Biryani recipe for more information!
This is my favorite Karahi hack! If you are finding it hard to locate good-quality tomatoes, or end up using slightly orangy tomatoes, your curry will show it! For those days, add a tablespoon of tomato paste to your curry, and viola! Your color is back!
Surprisingly, unlike other South Asian food, chicken karahi doesn’t fall under super spicy dishes. The flavors are mild, even the green chilies used pack mild heat.
Like all other Desi curries, Chicken karahi can also be frozen. If you wish to freeze the karahi, then do so without the garnish. Allow the karahi to cool down and then freeze in an airtight container or ziplock bag.
Tomatoes are one key ingredient used in the karahi. The form in which the tomatoes are used changes the texture, cooking time, and somewhat taste of the recipe. So raw tomato purees are sadly a no-no for me.
I know most families want their karahis to have more “curry”. You can add 1/2 cup of water to your karahi to give you more curry quantity without compromising on the taste very much. The other alternative is to add 1 to 2 tablespoons of yogurt if you really wish for more curry. I would personally just add more tomatoes if needed, but of course, that gets expensive very quickly.
I have made sure that I scale down the quantities of oil as compared to the traditional recipe. But if you would like to reduce it further you can. Just know that you might not see oil separation at the end of cooking.
What to serve with Chicken Karahi
Chicken Karahi falls in the category of “dry curry”, where you don’t have a lot of liquid gravy. So chicken Karahi pairs really well with all desi flatbreads like Naan, Chapati, parathas, or Tandoori Rotis. Some in my house all like to pair it with good ól Daal chawal (lentils and rice), I would recommend Hyderabadi Khatti Daal for that pairing!
Related Pakistani Chicken Recipes
Hope you decide to try this Chicken Karahi recipe! Please don’t forget to leave a rating and comment below! If you take a picture then tag me on Instagram! Thank You!
Pakistani Chicken Karahi Recipe
- 500 gm bone in chicken cut into small pieces
- 650 gm fresh roma tomatoes
- 1 ½ teaspoon table salt or to taste
- 1 tablespoon garlic paste
- 1/2 cup ghee or any neutral oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder (zeera)
- 2 teaspoon kashmiri red chili powder see notes
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder all spice
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed blackpeppercorns
- 1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves kasuri methi
- 4 large Pakistani green chilies see notes
- 1/2 inch ginger julliene cut
- 1 tablespoon coriander/cilantro leaves finely chopped
- 4 whole Large green chilies julliene cut
- Add cuts in the form of an x on the base of the tomatoes and remove the stem from the top.
- Put the tomatoes in a bowl and pour hot boiling water on them. Make sure they are covered atleast 80% in the water. Cover the bowl and let the tomatoes sit in the water for about 7 to 8 minutes
- After 7 to 8 minutes you will see the skin of the tomatoes peeling from the cuts. Discard the water. Peel off the skin of the tomatoes and discard the peels
- Cut the tomatoes into half and chuck them back in the bowl. Now using a potato masher or your hands, mash the tomatoes. They are now ready to be used.
Preparing the Curry
- Put a medium to large wok on medium high heat on the stove and add oil.
- Add in your chicken and saute for 2 to 3 minutes or until the chicken starts to get brown scorch marks from the wok.
- Add garlic paste, salt, red chili powder and cumin powder. Saute for another 2 to 3 mins.
- Now drop in your prepared tomatoes and saute for 2 mins.
- Reduce the heat to low and cover the wok. Cook for 5 to 8 mins or as long as it takes for all the tomatoes to leech out water.
- Once you see all the water leeched out, add green chilies and bring back the heat to medium high and cook for another 8 mins or until you see oil seperating
- Now reduce the heat to low, and add your finishing spices: crushed black peppercorns, dried fenugreek leaves and garam masala powder. Simply mix and your karhayi is ready.
- Garnish with ginger, green chilies and cilantro leaves. Serve with Naan, paratha or Rice
- Kashmiri red chili powder can easily be substituted with paprika powder. Kashmiri red chili is milder than regular red chili powder. IF you are using regular Indian red chili powder then use half the quantity mentioned.
1 teaspoon Kashmiri red chili powder = 1 teaspoon paprika powder
1 teaspoon kashmiri red chili powder = 1/2 teaspoon Indian red chili powder
- Large Pakistani green chilies are mild and easily tolerable heatwise. You can easily use fresh jalapenos, or pablanos or any mild green chilies instead.