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South Indian Cuisine: Chettinad Style
by Savia Rajagopal
Monday, November 24, 2008 7:45 PM
Looking for cuisine that's beyond the typical Butter Chicken or Dal Makhni? Head south to try out some Chettinad cuisine and you won't be disappointed.
 Look no further than Chettinad cuisine if you enjoy hot, spicy flavours blended with different meats and veggies. Unique and tantalizingly good, Chettinad cuisine finds many takers who swear by delicious, authentic South Indian food.

Chettinad food originates from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The community is spread over close to 80 villages but many have moved away from their native villages and migrated to countries around the world. It’s no surprise that you’d find a fair number of Chettinad restaurants in Canada, the U.S., even in the U.A.E.!

For those who’ve tried out some authentic Chettinadu food, the first thing you’d remember is its spicy aroma. Despite popular perception, Chettinad food is built around different spices and not just the coastal mainstay, coconut. Funnily enough, original Chettinad fanfare has very limited use of coconut in its main courses. In fact, many Chettinadu cooks refrain from using liberal amounts of coconuts due to fears of high cholesterol content. The key to good Chettinad food is that the spices are blended well and bring out the flavours of the meat or vegetables used. Many meat curries and other preparations are cooked in a kadai to enhance flavour and texture of the ingredients.

Ever ready to experiment, I decided to look up the recipe for Chicken Chettinad. Having tried this at a number of restaurants, I had a fairly good idea on the kind of flavours I’d like to develop. Lots of red chilli, ginger-garlic paste, coconut, green chillies, some cinnamon, cloves – these were some of the easily recognizable flavours that I remembered off hand. The chillies give the gravy an unmistakable kick – not quite scalding hot but definitely not for the faint-hearted. The coconut gives this curry a different consistency which is thicker than any gravy associated with Butter chicken or a similar curry. The flavour of having ground fresh coconut in a curry is unlike any other you can create using tomatoes and other ingredients. So, armed with a vague idea on what I had to do, I decided to attempt my first Chettinad attempt. When I doubt, I trust the experts and lined on my shelf, I knew a certain Indian chef’s book would come to the rescue. Indian television’s favourite chef, Sanjeev Kapoor had a rather appealing recipe for Chettinad Chicken. So what do you need?

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s recipe


Chicken – 1 kg

Poppy seeds – 2 tspns

Grated coconut – ½

Fennel seeds 1 tspn

Coriander seeds – 1 tspn

Cumin seeds – 1 tspn

Whole red chillies – 6-8

Cinnamon – 1 one inch stick

Green cardamom (elaichi) – 3

Cloves – 2

Turmeric powder – ½ tspn

Oil – ½ cup

Onion – 1 large

Ginger chopped – 2 tspns

Garlic – 2 tspns

Star anise – ½

Red chilli powder – 1 tspn

Tomatoes - 3 medium sized

Lemon – 1

Curry Leaves – 10-12

Fresh coriander – for garnish

Salt – to taste


Clean chicken, remove skin and cut into small pieces.

Chop the onions and tomatoes separately.

Roast the whole red chillies, grated coconut, poppy seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, green cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds in oil and grind to a paste along with ginger and garlic.

Heat oil in a pan and fry till onions are golden. Add the curry leaves and the ground paste and sauté for some time. Add the tomatoes, red chilli powder and turmeric powder.

Add chicken and mix. Cook for five minutes and then add two cups of water, lemon juice, cover and cook till the chicken is done.

Serve hot, garnished with coriander leaves and accompanied with boiled rice or parantha.

I followed the recipe to the tee and was pleasantly surprised with the results. Just a couple of minor improvements like letting the onions cook thoroughly and chopping the tomatoes very fine would help. Also, when you’re grinding the coconut-based mixture next time, grind it finely so that you don’t get a rough texture of coconut.

Apart from that, I can now say that I’ve made Chettinad Chicken. What’s next? Watch this space for more updates!


If you’re like me and not entirely familiar with English to Hindi translations for many ingredients, the best way to find a name that you can relate to is look it up online! There are several search and translation services for those who don’t know the traditional name of an ingredient or vice versa.


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