I generally cook north indian food (mainly with a Punjabi touch) at home but absolutely love south Indian food.

Northern cuisine has been greatly influenced by the Mughals with the rich butter laden curries, but it is in the cuisine of the south that you can see the use of the spices that India is famous for. Probably because it is in the south that these spices are actually grown.

South Indian cuisine is quite different from the cooking of Northern India. The cuisine of the Southern Indian states – Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh on the east coat, Karnataka and Kerala on the west coast – use such old cooking techniques that are still widely practiced, with contemporary refinements, today.

I have previously shared my love for the food of Kerala.

Another popular cuisine from the south is the Chettinad cuisine- the food native to the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu state in South India comprising of Madurai, Tirunelveli and Karaikudi regions. For centuries Chettiars, a caste of traders have lived there and cooked up dishes that are hot and scream pungent with fresh ground masalas. Chettinad cuisine is surprisingly meat-centric (excluding beef and pork, for religious reasons) considering its origins in vegetarian-dominated southern India.

This cuisine is well known for its hot and spicy, aromatic non vegetarian dishes like Chicken Chettinad, Pepper Chicken, Fish Varuval etc.

Today, on GMT I will be sharing the Chettinad region’s Milagu Kozhi Chettinad or Pepper Chicken chettinad- a pepper spiced chicken dish. Do remember, it was south India that exported black pepper to the world.

Pepper has been used as a spice in India since it was introduced by South East Asia people in prehistory. Pepper is native to South East Asia and has been known to Indian cooking since at least 2 BC! (source: wikipedia)

Peppercorns were a much-prized trade good, often referred to as “black gold” and used as a form of commodity money. Of course now they are gold to dishes like the one I am sharing today!

Black pepper, either powdered or whole, is also widely used in traditional Indian medicine and as a home remedy for relief from sore throat, throat congestion, cough etc.

You should know that once ground, pepper’s aromatics evaporate quickly; and that is why it is imperative to the success of a dish that you freshly ground the whole peppercorns. And since pepper plays such an important part in this dish, definitely use freshly ground pepper. You can either grind your peppercorns using a pepper mill grinder or pound it with a mortar pestle or you could even use a spice grinder.

Besides using freshly ground pepper for this dish, I highly recommend using homemade garam masala to spice up the dish (hopefully soon I should be doing a post on that too).

If you are not using fresh homemade garam masala, I would suggest dry roasting 1 1-inch cinnamon sticks, 3 green cardamom, 3 cloves, 2 bay leaves and 1 tsp of fennel seeds and then grinding all to a fine powder. The garam masala recipe I use has a few more spices in it but for this dish these whole spices should suffice. If you have to, use store bought garam masala but honestly the flavors would differ.

Recipe Type: main course, meat, indian
Prep time: 45 mins
Cook time: 25 mins
Total time: 1 hour 10 mins
Serves: 4

  • 1 kg chicken
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro/coriander leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp freshly ground black peppercorn
  • 1/2 cup yoghurt
  • 4 tsp ginger paste
  • 4 tsp garlic paste
  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • salt, to taste
  • 5 tbsp oil
  • 1 cup onions, finely chopped ( 1 large red onion)
  • 4 tsp ginger paste
  • 4 tsp garlic paste
  • 150 gm tomatoes, finely chopped ( about 2 tomatoes)
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • few curry leaves
  • 1 tsp homemade garam masala (see note above)
  • 250 ml water

  1. Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces. I used boneless chicken, but you could use a whole chicken and cut pieces accordingly.
  2. For the marination:
  3. Whisk the yogurt in a bowl. Add the freshly ground pepper, ginger and garlic pastes, lemon juice, salt and mix well. Check to taste seasoning. Add in the chicken pieces and leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Heat oil in a large enough pan. Once the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds and let sizzle. Add int he curry leaves, and after a few seconds add in the onions. Saute over medium heat until light golden.
  5. Add in the ginger- garlic pastes. Saute till onions are golden brown.
  6. Mix in the chopped tomatoes and cook till the oil separates out.
  7. Add in the chicken, along with the marinade. Cook for 4-5 minutes. Add in about a cup of water and bring to a boil. Cover and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken is tender. This may take a few minutes.
  8. Adjust seasoning and add in the garam masala and let cook for a minute.
  9. Garnish with coriander and serve with boiled rice or parantha.

20 Thoughts on “Garam Masala Tuesdays: Pepper Chicken Chettinad

  1. this chettinad chicken is familiar in south India…my state “Tamil Nadu”…!!!


  2. Erica on 11 July, 2012 at 7:09 am said:

    Yuuuuuuummmmmm. That looks amazing. I can almost taste it! Your photos are getting better and better 🙂 Thanks for the recipe, I’m definitely going to make this!

  3. Rekha on 11 July, 2012 at 9:46 am said:

    Shumi…love ur creativity with the pics…I watch each and every post of yours especially for the pics 🙂 Request you to be the official photographer for our housewarming party.

  4. I really like your styling. It’s a traditional dish and you’ve used the right props and the perfect styling to bring out the dish! Love black pepper chicken and you’ve done full justice to the dish!:)

  5. and i continue to say that you eat with your eyes..what a visual delight Shumaila 🙂 absolutely gorgeous colors …you need to go professional 🙂 must try this chettinad quickly

  6. teaandscones on 13 July, 2012 at 7:23 pm said:

    This looks amazing!! I am definitely going to share this one with my Twitter buddies. We make Indian Cuisine every couple of weeks.

    (BTW did you mean to put the garlic paste and ginger paste in twice?)

    • teaandscones on 13 July, 2012 at 7:24 pm said:

      Never mind I read the recipe again. Sorry!!

    • Well, you read it but yes the ginger and garlic goes in both times- in the marination as well as the gravy. This is a great indian dish to try. I hope you and your twitter buddies enjoy it. Thanks for sharing it:)

  7. I just found your blog and love it!! Do you know if Pepper Chicken Chettinad freezes well after it’s cooked? I was hoping to make a big batch this weekend and then freeze a few portions for later. Thanks!

  8. Looks like you’re missing a couple key ingredients that make this chettinad… Add Asafoetida, fenugreek seeds, and fennel seeds to the tempering. Great pics!

  9. Tried this recipe. It was absolutely hopeless. Waste of time.

  10. I have made this recipe a few times now, we love it. This time, I added the asafoetida and fennel seeds suggested by another commenter, and used brown mustard seeds instead of yellow. I also added some more pepper at the stage where I added the garam masala. This was the 1st Indian recipe I ever made and I keep coming back to it because it is good and pretty easy.

  11. Sathyaswaroopa on 13 November, 2015 at 6:40 am said:

    How come the curry looks red in color without any chilly powder😌 wondering! Anyway good pics!

  12. Patti on 25 July, 2017 at 9:11 am said:

    Would this be even better if marinated overnight or would it be too much? Can’t wait to try!

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