cardamom chicken

cardamom chicken

We went over the mountains to my parents’ house this weekend for band practice. When my father and I put our heads together to come up with an interesting but soothing dinner, this is the recipe that turned up: chicken legs rubbed with cardamom and other spices, pan-fried with onions, then braised until tender. If you don’t care for cardamom, avoid this one, but if you like its fragrant pungency as much as we do, then by all means try it. Yet another winner from the book 660 Curries, this is a great thing to do with cheap drumsticks – although it would also be swell with boneless chicken thighs. The sharpness of the cardamom could be quelled a bit by adding some yogurt, cream or other dairy product.

chicken with spice rub

We seeded cardamom pods by hand, then blitzed them to powder and mixed them with other spices. This got rubbed all over skinned chicken drumsticks, which then marinated for half an hour.

browning chicken and onions

The chicken went into a large skillet with diced onion, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks, and we sauteed it until the onion was soft and the spices were all sticking to the bottom of the pan. We added water, covered the pan and let it all simmer for half an hour.

cardamom chicken

We tossed a handful of fresh cilantro in, then lifted out the chicken legs, bay leaves and cinnamon and set them aside.


We cooked down the liquid a bit, wilted baby spinach in it, poured everything over the chicken, and voila! A warmly fragrant dinner for a February day.

view from North Road

Cardamom-scented chicken legs

adapted from 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer

  • 2 Tbsp fresh ginger, microplaned
  • 1 Tbsp garlic, pressed
  • 2 tsp cardamom seeds, ground
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (half of what the original recipe called for, but it was plenty spicy)
  • 1 tsp salt (we actually forgot to add the salt, but it hardly needed it)
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 8 chicken drumsticks or thighs, skin removed
  • oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 4 bay leaves, fresh or dried
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 8 oz baby spinach (optional)
  • yogurt or heavy cream (optional)

Combine the ginger, garlic, cardamom, cayenne, salt and turmeric and smear the resulting paste over the chicken pieces. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Heat a few spoonfuls of oil in a large skillet with a well-fitting lid. Add the onion, chicken, bay and cinnamon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and the chicken has browned, about 20 minutes.

Add a cup of water, scrape the pan bottom to deglaze it, bring to a simmer and cover the pan. Cook gently about 30 minutes, stirring once in a while. Stir in the cilantro.

Remove the chicken to a platter and boil down the sauce in the pan until it thickens a bit. Toss in a pile of spinach leaves to wilt, if you like, and perhaps a half cup or so of plain yogurt or cream. Serve the greens and sauce with the chicken legs and some steamed basmati rice.


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