Chettinad chicken

This dish, milagu kozhi varuval, is also popularly known as Chettinad chicken, or pepper chicken.

The heat comes from the black pepper, and this provides a quite different flavour to dishes that mainly use chilli for the heat. This use of black pepper is typical of dishes from Chettinad.

The most important part of cooking this dish to reduce the sauce so that it just clings to the chicken. You do not want pieces of chicken floating in a peppery sauce. The final stage of reducing the dish will also darken the dish, adding to its visual appeal. Be careful not to allow it to burn.

If you do not have a pressure cooker, you can cook it in a wide pan. Allow about 30 minutes cooking on medium heat with the pan covered. What you want to achieve is having the chicken almost cooked through when you start the reduction. Cook the chicken too much and it will become dry.

This dish should be served with some rice and vegetables – we love beans with coconut with this dish.

the recipe

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  • pressure cooker - optional
  • wide pan with lid - for stovetop


  • 800 g chicken thigh fillets - cut into large pieces

for the marinade

for the gravy

  • 3 tbsp gingelly oil - see notes
  • 3 sprigs curry leaves
  • 1 brown onion - finely chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tomato - pulp removed and finely chopped
  • 150 ml thick coconut milk

to serve


  • Heat the peppercorns, fennel seeds, dried chillies, and coriander seeds in a heavy pan until fragrant and the pepper starts to pop. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  • Grind the spices to a fine powder. Set aside.
  • Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl. Add the turmeric powder and the ground spices. Stir well, then cover and set aside in a refrigerator for two hours.

to cook in a pressure cooker

  • Heat a pressure cooker and add the gingelly oil. When the oil is hot, add the curry leaves. Quickly add the onions in a layer and sprinkle with the salt. Add the tomatoes in another layer. Top this with the chicken and any remaining marinade, again in a layer. Add the coconut milk. Do not stir.
  • Seal the pressure cooker, bring it up to pressure and cook for 15 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and let the cooker release naturally.
  • Place cooker on medium-high heat. Fry, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or until the sauce thickens and just coats the chicken.

to cook on the stovetop

  • Heat the pan on low heat and add the gingelly oil. When the oil is hot, add the curry leaves to the oil. Quickly add the onions and sprinkle with the salt, Stir and cover the pan, and cook for ten minutes, allowing the onions to soften and become translucent. You do not want to colour the onions too much.
  • Add the tomatoes and mix well Cover and cook for 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes have softened.
  • Add the chicken and any remaining marinade and mix well. Fry for about two minutes to colour the chicken. Stir often to colour it evenly.
  • Add the coconut milk, stir gently, then bring the pan to a simmer.
  • Cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes, or until the chicken is almost cooked.
  • Remove the lid and increase the heat to medium-high. Fry, stirring frequently and gently, for ten minutes or until the sauce thickens and just coats the chicken.

to serve

  • Remove from heat, garnish with curry leaves, and serve.


  • The cooking times above refer to the stovetop method.
  • Gingelly oil is Indian sesame oil. It is very different to Asian sesame oil. Substitute with vegetable oil if unobtainable.
  • The moisture from the chicken and coconut milk will be sufficient to cook the chicken. You should not need to add water. This is a dry dish.

private notes

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Serving: 225 g | Calories: 639 kcal | Carbohydrates: 9 g | Protein: 34 g | Fat: 52 g | Saturated Fat: 17 g | Trans Fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 196 mg | Sodium: 754 mg | Potassium: 685 mg | Fiber: 2 g | Sugar: 2 g | Vitamin A: 522 IU | Vitamin C: 47 mg | Calcium: 70 mg | Iron: 4 mg

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