Chicken Karahi (Pakistani Recipe) is a tangy semi-dry curry cooked in a vessel known as a karahi or kadai. A combination of fresh ingredients, a few simple spices, and 30 minutes of active cooking time using this wok-like cooking tool is all it takes to cook this delicious recipe.
Karahi is a popular street food in Pakistan with many recipe variations throughout the country. Often cooked with different types of meats, such as beef karahi gosht or lamb karahi gosht, different regions also have their unique spice blends and techniques.
The one common factor is the use of a karahi in cooking the recipe. However, there's no need to stress; if you don't have a karahi, you can use a carbon steel wok or a large skillet with a wide base and slightly raised sides.
Why you'll love this recipe
- Quick & easy - This recipe has fresh ingredients and spices that are easy to source, making it very straightforward to follow.
- Authentic Pakistani recipe - Chicken karahi truly depicts Pakistani cuisine. It's one of the most popular recipes within the country and abroad—almost neck to neck with biryani and nihari.
- Homemade spice blend - The homemade spice blend takes barely 2-3 minutes to make and adds tons of flavor and aroma to this delicious curry.
- Chicken - I like to use a small chicken for my karahi, weighing about 2-2.5 pounds. Larger chickens tend to have more muscle, which results in tough meat. Since the karahi is similar to a stir fry, the smaller chicken, cut up in about 14 pieces, known as karahi-cut, works best.
- Ghee - Ghee tastes delicious in this recipe, and I highly recommend using it instead of regular cooking oil.
- Onions - The controversial ingredient in authentic karahi! Onions! This curry traditionally has copious amounts of ghee and tomatoes to make the semi-dry gravy. However, based on customer feedback, I've added onions to this edited version of my original recipe.
- Tomatoes - Roma tomatoes work best for this recipe. They're plump and juicy, perfect for a curry that needs a pre-dominant tomato flavor.
- Tomato Paste - Just a tablespoon or two of tomato paste adds a more intense tomato flavor and color to the chicken karahi.
- Ginger - Another ingredient that's very important to the taste of this recipe is fresh, zesty, julienned ginger.
- Serrano chilies - Serrano chilies are recommended. If you find them too spicy, remove the seeds.
- Dried fenugreek leaves - A delicious herb used in South Asian cooking, especially in spinach recipes like my aloo palak, this is added to a Punjabi or Lahori version of chicken karahi.
- Coriander seeds - Freshly toasted and crushed coriander seeds have an earthy taste and aroma that tastes and smells wonderful in this recipe.
- Cumin seeds - The cumin seeds are also roasted and crushed before they're added to the karahi for a nutty flavor.
Please see the recipe card at the bottom of this post for the complete list of ingredients with measurements plus recipe instructions.
Substitutions & variations
- Street-style version - Try the authentic version with only tomatoes and no onions.
- Store-bought spice blend - Use a ready-made karahi seasoning blend for convenience.
- Use different meat - Make a beef, lamb, mutton, or shrimp karahi as a variation.
- Add yogurt - Some versions of chicken karahi have a few tablespoons of yogurt added at the end. Try this for a slightly different flavor.
- Finish with black pepper - A dash of freshly ground black pepper as a finishing touch tastes amazing.
- First step - Heat the ghee; add the chopped onions once completely melted.
- Second step - Cook the onions until they're translucent. No need to brown them for this recipe as it's not a curry.
- Third step - Add the garlic paste, preferably fresh and homemade, and saute just long enough to bloom the garlic.
- Fourth step - Add the chicken, a few pieces at a time. This is important as adding it all together brings the temperature of the ghee down. This results in the chicken watering and not cooking fast enough for a perfect karahi consistency.
- Fifth step - Once the chicken is in the karahi, cook it undisturbed for a few minutes before stirring it. This is because the proteins in the chicken need to cook long enough before the chicken can be moved without sticking and tearing.
- Sixth step - Once all the chicken is stirred and turns opaque, add the chopped tomatoes and stir to mix.
- Seventh step - Add the tomato paste, salt, red chili powder, and turmeric.
- Eighth step - Stir, mix, and allow the tomato paste to blend completely before adding the other ingredients. The chicken will finish cooking in the liquid released from the tomatoes.
- Ninth step - While you wait, dry roast the coriander and cumin seeds in a nonstick pan to release their flavor.
- Tenth step - Place the roasted spices in a mortar and pestle and wait a minute for them to cool slightly.
- Eleventh step - Grind these spices to a coarse texture.
- Twelfth step - Sprinkle the spices and fenugreek leaves over the chicken karahi. The tomatoes should have cooked down and released a lot of liquid by this point. If the chicken is fully cooked, remove it with a slotted spoon and set it aside while the remaining ingredients reach the correct consistency.
- Use ghee - For the best flavor, use ghee. If this is difficult to source, butter is a good substitute. A combination of half oil and half ghee or butter also works if you want the flavor but are also concerned about health.
- Use bone-in small-cut chicken - Using bone-in chicken cut properly is key. Either find a butcher who can do this for you or use a pair of kitchen shears and this guide to help you.
- Use a karahi, wok, or a wide skillet - Not everyone has a karahi to cook at home. But make sure to use a wide pan with raised sides to move the chicken around and saute it well.
- Use a homemade spice blend - Take an extra minute to bloom and grind your spices versus a store-bought blend. The result in flavor will be well worth the effort.
- Have everything prepped - This recipe takes just 30 minutes to cook from start to finish. With so much chopping and cutting, it's best to have everything prepped before you start cooking. This will ensure perfect results.
The predominant opinion is that chicken karahi originated in Pakistan's Northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region.
Chicken karahi is similar to a stir fry, with a semi-dry gravy. The karahi is heavy on the tomatoes and is not a blended curry. Chicken masala is a thick gravy made of tomatoes, yogurt, onions, and sometimes cream. The gravy is well blended and reduced until it coats the chicken pieces, for example, chicken tikka masala.
Leftover chicken karahi can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days and in the freezer for up to 6 weeks. Add a few tablespoons of water to reheat and place in a microwave. If your karahi is frozen, defrost it in the fridge overnight.
Other recipes you may like
For more Pakistani recipes like this, check out 20 popular Pakistani recipes. If you decide to try this recipe, Please don't forget to leave a rating and comment below! If you take a picture then tag me on Instagram! Thank You!
Chicken Karahi (Pakistani Recipe)
- 2 lbs cut chicken (see notes)
- ¼ cup ghee (see notes)
- 1 diced onion (see notes)
- 2 tsp garlic paste (see notes)
- 2 oz tomato paste (see notes)
- 4 chopped roma tomatoes
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp red chili powder
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds (see notes)
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds (see notes)
- 2 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves (see notes)
- 4 sliced green chillies (see notes)
- 2 inch julienned piece of ginger (see notes)
- ½ cup chopped cilantro
- Heat the ghee until it melts, and then add the finely diced onions to it.
- Cook the onion until it's translucent, and then add the garlic paste to it and saute for 30 seconds or so.
- Add the chicken next, a few pieces at a time, and saute till it turns opaque. (see notes)
- Add the chopped Roma tomatoes and mix.
- Add the tomato paste, salt, red chili powder and turmeric.
- Stir and cook till the Roma's start to release water and the tomato paste and spices mix in.
- Saute the coriander and cumin seeds for 30-45 seconds, then grind them in a mortar and pestle.
- Add these and the fenugreek leaves to the chicken karahi and mix.
- Add the green chilies and all but two tablespoons of the ginger and cook for 3-5 minutes.(see notes)
- Mix in all but 2 tablespoons of the cilantro and turn the stove off.
- Garnish with the remaining ginger and the cilantro, and serve the karahi with fresh hot naan.