One of the most popular curry dishes in Guyanese cuisine is chicken curry. You’ll find it at the dinner table at family get-togethers, holiday parties, for a weeknight dinner, or weekend afternoon meal. This dish has roots in Indian cooking and is a contribution to Guyanese cuisine by the Indian population of Guyana.
Growing Up With Chicken Curry
I grew up eating this at least once a week in my home. My mom always made the best chicken curry in the family. It was lip-smacking, forehead-sweating good. Served over rice with a side of extra pepper sauce was truly a plate of comfort food for me. Now I cook it for my family once a week as well. Chicken curry is perfect for lunch, dinner or honestly even brunch! And if you know Guyanese people, you know that it is not uncommon to eat curry early in the day.
Serve this up for a weeknight meal, on the weekend, or for a small dinner party.
What Is Green Seasoning?
What I love most about Guyanese curries is their uniqueness. The addition of Caribbean green seasoning takes Guyanese chicken curry to new heights. Green seasoning is a seasoning base made of herbs and vegetables (typically onion, scallions, garlic, and spicy pepper) that's widely used in Caribbean cooking to marinate meat. For this recipe, the green seasoning is combined with a spice blend of warm garam masala and curry powder.
Sear pieces of chicken legs and thighs in the curry paste and simmer in a gravy that’s created by adding water to the pot with whole spices and tomato paste, then finish with fresh scallions and roasted cumin. This curry will seriously make you feel moreish, licking your fingers and cleaning the plate.
Adding Layers of Flavor to Chicken Curry
Cook the curry in steps to layer flavors. There is a multi-step process and technique to cooking curry that helps the curry have a balanced taste in the end. Start by cooking the curry paste to bring out the flavors of the spices. Add the chicken and let the spices sear onto the meat. Next add boiling water from a kettle so everything cooks at the same temperature. Add tomato paste and whole spices while it simmers to marry all the ingredients and bring out the earthy aromas. Hints of cinnamon and clove create warmth. It feels like someone’s hugging you after you take a bite. This curry is so delicious it will be a regular on your menu!
Make Your Own Green Seasoning
Green seasoning varies from cook to cook and depends widely on what is available in your fridge and what you feel like adding to the mix. Traditionally green seasoning is made in a mortar and pestle, but I highly recommend using a blender or food processor to save time.
The green seasoning can be made ahead of time and placed in the freezer or refrigerator.
Freeze: Portion out the green seasoning in ice cube trays in the freezer for up to 4 weeks. For this recipe, 2 cubes is enough.
Refrigerate: Pour green seasoning into a glass container and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
Spices Used to Make Guyanese Chicken Curry
The main spices used in Guyanese chicken curry are Madras curry powder and garam masala. Madras curry powder is a blend that is hotter than a standard curry powder. I recommend using this type of curry powder for this recipe for the best flavor.
Garam masala is a spice blend that contains cinnamon, coriander, cumin seeds, cardamom seeds, clove, and fennel seeds (just to name a few) The seeds are toasted then ground into a powder and used in curries.
Guyana was once a British colony and therefore our food is heavily influenced by British cooking and customs including British-Indian cuisine. Curry is a generalized term, but in Guyanese cuisine we recognize curry powder as a single ingredient.
When making Guyanese curries using pre-packaged masalas and curry powder is very common. However, some people make their own curry powder and garam masala and store it for a few months at a time. Curry powder is a similar blend to garam masala except it contains turmeric and is what gives the dish a yellow hue. Homemade curry powders vary in their ingredients and from cook to cook. You’ll find spices such as curry leaves, cardamom, clove, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel, mustard seed, black pepper, and chilies to name a few, and in different amounts.
Key to Making Authentic Guyanese Curry
For the curry to have that Guyanese flavor, using West Indian products and taking extra steps to layer the flavors will only benefit the taste in the end.
- For an authentic Guyanese curry, I would recommend skipping the grocery store and buying all of your spices from a West Indian market (in a store or online).
- Do not skip the green seasoning. It makes all the difference in flavor. Chief brand makes a good green seasoning if you prefer a store bought option.
- Use bone-in chicken versus chicken breast—it provides a lot of flavor.
Wiri Wiri Pepper Substitutions
Sourcing wiri wiri peppers, little cherry peppers from the Caribbean, can be difficult. There are some shops on Etsy that sell these peppers if you can’t find them locally. You can swap them for habanero or Scotch bonnet peppers.
Guyanese Curry Variations
You can use different proteins like beef, lamb, or goat for this recipe.
Seafood curries need less garam masala and are entirely different recipes. I wouldn't recommend using this recipe with fish or shrimp.
Rice or roti is typically served with curries. Parboiled rice is usually the rice of choice in the Caribbean, but basmati is a favorite of mine with chicken curry. I find it to be lighter and more fragrant. I also love chicken curry with paratha or oil roti—a flatbread that has been layered with ghee or oil and cooked on a cast iron griddle.
Also, don't be afraid to pick up the meat with your fingers and savor it. It’s truly the best way to enjoy this dish!
Guyanese Chicken Curry
Once you peel and cut the potatoes, to keep from browning, place them in a bowl of cold water, enough to cover the potatoes. Set aside until ready to cook.
For the chicken
4 pounds chicken legs and thighs, skin removed, and thighs cut in half
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon Madras curry powder
2 tablespoons green seasoning
For the homemade green seasoning
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
10 cloves garlic, peeled
2 wiri wiri peppers or 1 small Scotch bonnet or 1 habanero
2-3 tablespoons water
For the curry paste
2 tablespoons green seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoons Madras curry powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoons geera (ground roasted cumin)
1/4 cup water
For the curry
1/2 cup neutral cooking oil such as canola, vegetable, or avocado
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 small scotch bonnet, habanero, 2 wiri wiri peppers
1/2 inch piece cinnamon stick
1 small bay leaf
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more if needed
Kettle with 4-6 cups boiling water
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and chopped lengthwise into 5-6 slices
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon geera (ground roasted cumin)
Prep the chicken:
Put the chicken pieces in a large mixing bowl. Add enough water to come halfway up the bowl. Slice lime in half and squeeze the juice over the chicken. Set aside for 10 minutes. The acid from the lime helps to tenderize the meat and also aids in removing straggling pieces of fat. Drain the chicken and rinse with cold water 2 to 3 times.
Make the green seasoning:
While the chicken soaks in the lime water, make the seasoning. In a blender or food processor add the onion, garlic, pepper, scallions, and water. Blend into a paste. The consistency should be thick like a smooth pesto sauce.
Set aside 2 tablespoons for this recipe and store the remainder in the freezer for other uses. Place green seasoning into an airtight freezer safe container or divide it up into silicone ice cube trays. When ready to use, just pop one out of the tray, melt in the microwave and use as needed.
The green seasoning can be used as a base to season other meat or rice dishes.
Marinate the chicken:
Dry the meat with a paper towel. Add the garam masala, curry powder, and the green seasoning. Massage into the meat, cover with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel, and set aside to marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Make the curry paste:
In a small bowl combine the garam masala, curry powder, turmeric powder, geera, 2 tablespoons green seasoning, and water. Set aside.
Cook the curry paste:
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring constantly, until the curry paste starts to look dry and a little browned. Add the chicken and stir to coat in the curry paste.
Add the remaining ingredients:
Add the onions, pepper, clove, cinnamon, bay leaf, tomato paste, and salt. Stir to combine and let cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes. While the chicken is cooking it will release some liquid; let the chicken simmer in its juices until just a little is left. The chicken will begin to look dry with the spices almost seared on it.
Pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the pot.
Remove potatoes from the water and add to the curry. Stir to combine.
Let the curry simmer:
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Let the curry simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the gravy has reduced and starts to look thick, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Add the scallions and geera and stir to combine. Remove from heat. Taste and adjust with additional salt if needed.
Spoon curry over a plate of rice or serve with roti. Break off pieces of roti and scoop up the curry to enjoy.
Any leftover curry will keep in your fridge for up to 1 week.
Chicken curry is best stored in a glass dish with a lid. The turmeric from the curry paste will stain your plastic containers, so I recommend avoiding plastic.
Not every curry freezes well, but chicken curry is one that does. Freeze in 1-gallon zip-top bags or a freezer-safe container. When ready to reheat, place frozen curry in a pot on low heat so it can slowly come down in temperature.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 42g||54%|
|Saturated Fat 9g||45%|
|Total Carbohydrate 19g||7%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||13%|
|Total Sugars 2g|
|Vitamin C 17mg||84%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|