Sri Lankan Black Chicken Curry: Gem from the Island


The Sri Lankan Black Chicken Curry may not be so well known among Sri Lankan curries because Sri Lankan cuisine does not use clarified butter or bay leaves in its cooking. Still it is a great variant and does use some key ingredients like black pepper and coconut milk. The hand crushed pepper along with dark soy sauce adds the spice to this curry while the coconut milk is great to temper the hot spices. It is flavourful, has a unique black colour and is healthy too as it uses pepper in abundance. It can be served with chapatis, parathas and / or rice.   


Sri Lankan cuisine offers unique flavours like caramelised onions relishes, bitter melon, coconut scrapings and desserts which contain palm sugar. Dishes from the jewel of the Indian Ocean are not for those who love milder and less spicy food. Food from Sri Lanka has dominant flavours – be they in curries, pickled or even in their vegetarian and non-vegetarian stuff. In the dish, it is important to allow the chicken to simmer to a gravy (it is largely cooked in its own juices and with coconut milk and no water is added), so that it becomes denser and thicker. Also, the islanders add thick tamarind juice instead of soy sauce for the colour in this dish. 

Preparation time: 20 minutes (including marination time)

Cooking time: 40-45 minutes 

Servings: 5-7 servings 

Ingredients for marinating the chicken:

    1 kg – chicken pieces

    2 tbsp – oil 

    salt (as required) 

    1 tbsp – ginger-garlic paste 

    2 tbsp – Dark soy sauce (for the colour and for sourness)  

For the curry: 

    2 tbsp – ghee 

    1 tsp – mustard seeds

    1 tsp – cumin seeds 

    1 inch - cinnamon stick

    3 - cloves 

    2 - bay leaves 

    1 tbsp – red chilli powder 

    ¼ turmeric powder

    1 tsp – coriander seed powder 

    2 tbsp – black pepper (finely ground) 

    1&1/2 cup – Coconut Milk  

    2 – banana peppers (chopped) 

    1 tomato - quartered

Method – for marinating the chicken 

    To the chicken pieces, add oil, salt, ginger-garlic paste and dark soy sauce and mix well, till chicken pieces are well covered, keep aside

Method for cooking

    In a deep pan add ghee, mustard seeds, cumin seeds and allow them to splutter

    Add cinnamon stick, whole green cardamoms (coarsely crushed to release their flavours), cloves and curry leaves and onions, stir well (all of it is being done on high flame) 

    Once onions are translucent, add green chillies and torn bay leaves and allow flavours to release

    Add the chicken and the juice it's marinated in 

    Add powder spices – like red chilli powder, turmeric, coriander seeds powder and finely ground black pepper and stir well. 

    While stirring, keep scraping off the sides

    Add coconut milk. The ghee will start releasing at this point in time 

    Allow the chicken to cook for at least 20 minutes at first

    After 20 minutes, add banana peppers (thick chillies which are not very spicy) and tomato and leave the curry to cook for another 25 minutes

    Keep stirring intermittently so that coconut milk does not stick to the sides of the pan. 

    Once the chicken is well cooked, serve hot 

It is served with banana pepper slices, and tomato roundels on the side, along with rice. Black pepper is great for health as it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It is also commonly used as an Ayurvedic treatment during coughs and colds.