Asian Foods Ep.4

Asian Foods : Achari Chicken – Chicken in Pickling Spices

by Thomas M. Tillman
Achari Chicken Curry is an amazing (and I mean amazing) North Indian treasure. A flavour sensation of sour, sweet and spice – brimming with flavour, colour and texture. It’s one of the tastiest curries you’re ever likely to experience, so be sure to learn just how its made at home… Achari Chicken is a curry that is so full of flavour. A rich, decadent North Indian, Punjabi recipe - it features spices associated with pickling in India.

Pickle me amazing flavour!

Achaar in Hindi (अचार) means pickle, and this curry takes on all the wonderful flavours associated with pickling - mustard, nigella, coriander and fenugreek seeds. There is an abundance of flavour created with the achari masala spice mix, a curry powder full of colour and flavour. This is the base of our flavour, but we have one more trick up our sleeve to elevate this curry sauce even further - Indian pickles. Stirring a couple of tablespoons of pickles at the end, add an amazing sour and spicy note to the sauce which gives us our distinctive flavour. It REALLY makes the most amazing difference. I use whatever Indian pickles I have in the fridge - this time I had a fiery mixed pickle which was intensely sour and spicy - you can use lime, mango or whatever Indian pickles you have.  

Mustard - an essential ingredient

Another authentic ingredient in ensuring that traditional flavour is mustard. In Punjab, mustard oil is commonly used - it has a mildly spiced flavour, like a mild horseradish, to further accentuate the mustard flavour, we use whole mustard seeds - yellow or black seeds will do. I've also eaten this dish with mustard greens mixed through for a bit of greenery. Mustard oil is available at any Indian grocery store or online too. If you can't get hold of it, don't worry - there's plenty of flavour in the curry itself, so just use a vegetable or canola oil or ghee instead.   Mustard Oil for Achari Chicken

Achari Masala Powder - a curry powder packed full of flavour and colour

To make the powder, we simply dry fry then grind into a fine powder some whole spices - fenugreek, fennel, coriander, cloves, peppercorns, nigella and cumin. We then stir in some ground Kashmiri chilli powder and ground turmeric. This becomes the base for flavour.   Spice mix for Achari Chicken Next step is to fry up some onion in a generous amount of mustard oil with mustard seeds and a couple of dried chillies. A word of caution - when your oil is heating, don't stick your nose to the pan - depending on the strength of the oil, you may get a shot of mustard up your nose - which will create a stiff hit of aroma and maybe a few tears. Be alert! We fry the onions up a little before adding the achari spice mix - frying the spices gently unlocks the flavour - be careful not to have the heat too high, burning the spices will create a bitter flavour.   Achari Chicken Following on from the achari spices is chicken - I like to use thigh meat as it's juicy and won't dry out. I also often make this curry using drumsticks. I avoid breast meat as it WILL dry out. Following that, we add tomato for colour and sweetness and some yoghurt - this adds richness and a light sour note to the sauce.   Achari Chicken It's a relatively quick simmer for Achari Chicken - only 30 minutes. That's plenty of time to cook the chicken and reduce it down into a rich, decadent sauce. The oil will most likely separate and gather on top and authentic, appearance that I love! You can try and skim it off if you like, or stir it in and pretend you didn't see it. Nobody said this was a super-healthy curry! Now comes the essential stage - stir in the pickles. If they're large in size, just chop them a little. Season with a bit of salt and sugar too and we're done. Good to go... almost. For this recipe, I love to fry some fresh curry leaves in mustard oil and scatter them liberally over the final dish. This is optional obviously - you can also scatter over some chopped fresh cilantro instead.   Achari Chicken


Achari Masala Powder Recipe

  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 6 cloves
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp nigella seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder

For the Achari Curry

  •  cup mustard oil (you can substitute with canola or ghee)
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds (black or yellow)
  • 2 dried chillies
  • 1 onion (large, halved and thinly sliced)
  • 5 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 2.2 lb chicken thighs (1kg)(skinless, boneless - cut into chunks)
  • 1 cup tomatoes Canned - finely chopped
  • 1 cup natural yoghurt (plain)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  •  tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp Indian pickles (lime, mango, mixed etc. finely chopped)
  • 20 curry leaves (fresh)
  • 2 tbsp mustard oil (for frying the curry leaves)


For the Achari Masala Powder

  • In a dry frying pan over a moderate heat, toast the whole spices from the masala powder ingredients until they pop around the pan.
    Remove and using a spice grinder or pestle & mortar, grind into a fine powder. Stir in the ground turmeric and Kashmiri chilli powder and set aside.

For the Achari Curry

  • Heat the mustard oil over a moderate heat until just hot.
    Add the mustard seeds and dried chilli and let them splutter for 5 seconds before adding the onion to the pan. Fry the onion for about 5-6 minutes until soft and golden.
  • Reduce the heat a little and add the garlic and spice mix to the pan and fry gently for 1-2 minutes. (If the spices start to burn, add a splash of water to cool the pan down)
  • Add the chicken and turn up the heat to medium-high. Stir well to coat everything in the spices.
  • Add the tomato, and yoghurt together with 2 cups of water and cook until just bubbling.
  • Reduce the heat to low and partially cover the pan with a lid. Cook the chicken for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and cook for a further 15 minutes.
  • Stir in the salt and sugar then stir in the Indian pickles then remove from the heat.
  • In a small frying pan with 2 tbsp mustard oil, fry the curry leaves for 30 seconds. Remove and leave to drain on paper towels.
  • Scatter the curry eaves over the curry and serve! I like mine with either Indian bread like roti, naan, chapati, or paratha. I also love this with fluffy basmati rice.