pepper chicken

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

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

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 very careful not to allow it to burn.

If you do not have a pressure cooker you can cook it in the wide pan you are going to use later. Allow about 15 minutes cooking on a 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 lose the moist texture.

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

the recipe

preparation:10 mins
cook:15 mins
marinate:2 hrs
total:25 mins
servings:4 servings
calories:422 kcal


  • 800 g chicken breast fillets - cut into 3cm cubes

for the marinade

for the curry

  • 3 tbsp gingelly oil - see notes
  • 3 sprigs curry leaves
  • 1 brown onion - finely chopped
  • 1 tomato - pulp removed and finely chopped
  • 140 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 large bowl. Add the turmeric powder, salt, and the ground masala. Stir well, then cover and set aside in a refrigerator for two hours.

to cook

  • Heat a pressure cooker and add the gingelly oil. Add the curry leaves to the oil. Quickly add the onions in a layer, then add the tomatoes in another layer. Top this with the chicken, again in a layer. Add the coconut milk. Do not stir.
  • Cover and cook for five minutes .
  • Remove from the heat and let the cooker release naturally.
  • Heat a wide pan pan and transfer the curry from the pressure cooker to the pan. Fry on high heat until the sauce thickens and just coats the chicken.
  • Remove from heat, garnish with curry leaves, and serve.


  • Gingelly oil is Indian sesame oil. It is very different to the Asian sesame oil. Substitute with vegetable oil if unobtainable.
  • The moisture from the chicken, vegetables and coconut milk will be sufficient to cook the chicken. You should not need to add water. This is a quite dry dish.
  • It is important to transfer the dish to a wide pan after pressure cooking. The wider pan with its greater surface area will enable you to quickly reduce the dish this without over-cooking the chicken.
  • If you do not have a pressure cooker this can be done on a stovetop. Use a wide pan to cook the chicken. Keep pan covered, on a medium heat, stirring occasionally. Allow around 15 minutes for chicken to almost cook. Remove the lid and proceed as described above.
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