Are you ready to discover the world’s easiest curry?? As in, a real one, made from scratch. Introducing – Kuku Paka! This chicken curry in a tomato coconut spiced sauce tastes like an Indian curry. Except it’s African. And you can get everything from regular grocery stores!
African chicken curry – Kuku Paka
Kuku Paka is an African-Indian coconut chicken curry that’s popular with Indian communities in East African countries such as Kenya and Tanzania. Kuku means chicken in Swahili and Paka means delicious in Punjabi. Fun to say. Delicious to eat!
This is a recipe that’s going to make curry lovers extremely happy because it tastes like a legit Indian curry but it’s much easier to make. No hunting down unusual spices! Just regular pantry ones – cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli – combined with ginger, garlic, coconut milk and canned tomato.
Curry connoisseurs will be dubious. How can it taste legit if you don’t have to run all over town trying to find an obscure spice to make it?? Answer: because millions of Africans can’t be wrong!
Ingredients in Kuku Paka – African chicken curry
Just swing by your regular grocery store and you’ll find everything you need!
The sauce gets a lot of flavour from the chicken because it doesn’t use chicken stock. So I really urge you to use bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces as they are fattier and juicier so they add more flavour into the sauce. I like to use a mix of thighs and drumsticks, but you could just use one or the other.
However, you can use boneless thighs and breast, though my caveat is that the sauce won’t be quite as flavourful. Directions in recipe notes!
Kuku paka sauce
And here’s everything else you need:
Spices – Cumin, coriander and turmeric for flavour. Chilli or cayenne pepper for spiciness! It’s not a super spicy curry but if you’re concerned about the amount of chilli, reduce or omit then you can add it in at the end, bit by bit.
Onion, ginger and garlic – Aromatic flavour base. I really urge you to use fresh ginger and garlic, but if you’re out and you are determined to still make this, then substitute with 1 teaspoon of powder instead (add with the other spices). I get it, I’ve been there!
Coconut milk – Not all coconut milks are created equal! Economical ones are more water and less coconut. I use Ayam (89% coconut). Low fat coconut milk will work but sauce will be thinner and not as good coconut flavour. You can thicken with a teaspoon of cornflour mixed with splash of water, add with coconut.
Canned tomato – Use crushed or finely diced to ensure it breaks down in the simmer time for this recipe. Also, if you know the brand you use is quite sour (economical brands can tend to be) add a smidge of sugar.
Coriander / cilantro – Some for stirring in, some for garnish. If you’re a coriander hater, substitute with baby spinach or parsley.
Fresh lemon juice – Just a bit, stirred in at the end, to brighten up the sauce a bit. If you don’t have lemon on hand, you can substitute with apple cider vinegar.
How to make Kuku Paka (African chicken curry)
Traditionally, the chicken is char grilled before simmering in the sauce which adds extra flavour. To keep this Monday-night friendly, I’ve opted to pan sear. If you fire up your grill for the chicken, I’ll be impressed!! 🙂
Season and sear – Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper, sear to brown the skin, then remove onto a tray. The skin side of the thighs will take around 4 to 5 minutes, then just cook the flesh side for 1 minute to seal the surface. As for the drumsticks, just do the best you can! I brown 3 sides, about 2 minutes on each side.
The chicken will still be raw of the inside which is fine because they finish cooking in the sauce.
Sauté aromatics and spices – Next, give the onion a head start on the sautéing before adding the ginger and garlic. Once the onion is softened, add the spices and cook them for 30 seconds. This steps makes the flavour in the spices bloom!
Sauce – Add the coconut milk, tomato and salt, then stir.
Return chicken into the pot, including any juices on the tray. Arrange the chicken so it is submerged as best as possible, though if some is poking out that’s ok as it will steam-cook. Also, the chicken will shrink a bit as it cooks so they will fit better.
Simmer for 10 minutes with the lid on, then 20 minutes with the lid off which will allow the sauce to reduce and thicken. Give it a stir every now and then to ensure the base isn’t catching.
Finish & serve – Just before serving, stir in the fresh lemon juice and half the coriander leaves. Serve over rice, garnished with the remaining coriander leaves!
How to serve Kuku Paka
Then to take it over the top, add a side of flatbreads for dunking / mopping. Homemade would be great. But I’ve opted for frozen store bought that’s actually Malaysian roti, not African. But that flaky buttery flatbread is 100% at home here, as it was with the Thai Coconut Pumpkin Soup (this roti is going global!)
It too comes from regular grocery stores and I love that it’s cooked from frozen in a pan. And flakes = extra sauce mopping abilities.
Roti or not, I really hope you try this recipe. It’s astoundingly good! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
African coconut chicken curry – Kuku Paka
- 4 chicken thigh fillets , skin-on and bone-in (~250g/8oz each) (Note 2)
- 4 chicken drumsticks (~150g / 5oz each) (Note 2)
- 3/4 tsp cooking / kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 2 tbsp coconut oil (or vegetable, canola or other plain oil) (Note 1)
- 1 onion , finely diced
- 3 garlic cloves , finely minced
- 2 tsp ginger , finely minced
- 1 tbsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tbsp cumin powder
- 1/2 tbsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp pure chilli powder or cayenne pepper , reduce or omit to taste (Note 3)
- 400g / 14 oz coconut milk , full-fat (Note 4)
- 400g / 14 oz crushed canned tomato
- 1 1/4 tsp cooking / kosher salt
- 2 tbsp lemon juice (sub apple cider vinegar)
- 1/2 cup (lightly packed) coriander/cilantro leaves (sub parsley or baby spinach, or omit)
- Season chicken – Pat chicken dry using paper towels then sprinkle with the salt and pepper.
- Brown chicken – Heat oil in a large heavy based pot over high heat. Add the thighs, skin-side down, and cook for 4-5 minutes until golden brown. Turn and cook the other side for 1 minute. Transfer to a plate (it will still be raw inside). Then brown the drumsticks as best you can. I do 3 sides, 2 minutes each side. Transfer to the plate.
- Sauté aromatics – Turn heat down to medium high. Add the onion and cook for 1 minute until softened. Add garlic and ginger, cook for 30 seconds. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric and chilli. Stir for 30 seconds.
- Sauce – Add coconut milk, tomato and salt. Stir, then return chicken into the pot (including juices on the plate). Submerge chicken as best you can.
- Simmer 30 min – Once the sauce comes to a simmer, reduce the heat so it’s bubbling gently. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for a further 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure the base doesn't catch.
- Finish & serve – Stir in lemon and half of the coriander. Lade into bowls and serve garnished with the rest of the coriander!
Control spiciness – just leave the cayenne / chilli out and stir in bit by bit at the end. 4. Coconut milk – Not all coconut milks are created equal! Economical ones are more water and less coconut. I use Ayam (89% coconut). Low fat coconut milk will work but sauce will be thinner and not as good coconut flavour. You can thicken with a teaspoon of cornflour mixed with splash of water, add with coconut. 5. Roti – I am a little obsessed with store bought frozen rotis, the flaky flatbreads that can be cooked from frozen! Readily available at regular grocery stores these days. 6. Leftovers will keep for 3 to 4 days in the fridge. Nutrition per serving, assuming 6 servings, excluding roti, rice etc.
For fellow curry lovers
Life of Dozer
Extreme warm weather over the weekend! So Dozer spent most of Sunday afternoon in this position:
Then he turned around and that was it, he was done for the day. 😂