Chicken achari is a delicious, sharply flavored main that will add a lot of color to your dinner table. The recipe comes together in less than 40 minutes, making it perfect for a weeknight meal, as well as serving it to impromptu guests.
We always ordered chicken achari at a restaurant rather than making it at home. But when I came across a recipe for it in the Salt N’Pepper Village Cookbook, I knew I had to take a stab at cooking it. For Pakistan Eats, I adapted the recipe to make it with boneless chicken with a few additional adjustments to get the consistency and sharpness I wanted.
What sets this chicken apart is its achari masala. This masala can also be used as a base for other types of protein or vegetable, for instance, goat meat (achari gosht) or potatoes (achari aloo). While there are several different versions of achari masala, I have seen that, at least in Pakistani recipes, the unifying ingredients are fenugreek seeds, nigella seeds and fennel seeds. These form a gorgeous aromatic base that you can build on to create a really stunning dish.
Chicken Achari Ingredients
- Neutral oil: You can use any variety of neutral oil. I normally use vegetable oil but canola or sunflower oil works as well. If you feel you want to add even more of a traditional pickling flavor, you can swap it out with mustard oil.
- Whole spices (Fenugreek seeds, nigella seeds and fennel seeds): These are the three essential whole spices you need to make an achari or pickling masala. They are highly aromatic, and need to be used in very small quantities. Some families will also add mustard seeds and cumin seeds at this stage.
- Yellow onions: You need these to create a moist sweet base for your chicken. White onions will work as well. Red onions tend to release less water so they are not ideal but can still work in a pinch.
- Crushed ginger and garlic: You can buy them at the store or just crush them yourself using a food processor or mortar and pestle.
- Ground spices (red chili powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder and cumin powder): These spices will build on the aromatic achari base, and give the dish the sharp flavors it’s known for. For red chili powder, I will recommend the Kashmiri variety because of its vivid red color.
- Salt: Any regular variety will do. I used ground Himalayan sea salt for this recipe. If you are using table salt, use it with a bit more restraint.
- Roma tomatoes: Most recipes in this blog use roma tomatoes. If you are substituting a meatier variety, you can reduce the amount since they release more water.
- Boneless chicken: For this recipe, I used boneless chicken thighs but breast will work just as well. If you are a traditionalist, you can swap it out with chicken with bone. You will however, have to add more water and increase the cooking time to make sure it cooks through.
- Yogurt: This adds a lovely creamy finish to the dish. I strongly suggest using full-fat yogurt. Make sure to lightly whisk it with a yogurt before adding it in.
How to Make It?
- Frying the whole spices: After heating the oil for 30 seconds to 1 minute, add the whole spices, and fry for 30 seconds or until aromatic.
- Frying the onions: Toss in the sliced onions, and fry on medium-heat until evenly brown.
- Adding crushed ginger and garlic + ground spices: Once the onions are evenly browned, lower heat and add crushed ginger and garlic. Fry until aromatic, and immediately follow with the ground spices. Fry for 30 seconds or less.
- Frying tomatoes: Increase heat to high, and add tomato puree. Fry on high heat until the oil begins to separate.
- Cooking the chicken: Add the diced chicken, and sear on high heat until no longer pink. Add ¼ cup of water, bring to simmer and partially cover for about 10 minutes.
- Finishing it with yogurt: Once the chicken is tenderized, lower heat, and stir in whipped yogurt.
Before serving, you can fold in the chopped pickle if using, and garnish with diced chilies and cilantro. I personally love to pair this with naan or roti but you can serve it with rice as well.
Boneless Chicken Achari Recipe
- ¼ cup neutral oil canola/sunflower/vegetable
- ¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
- ¼ teaspoon nigella seeds
- 1 pound (~450 grams) boneless chicken, diced
- 1 teaspoon crushed ginger
- 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
- 1 medium-sized yellow onion thinly sliced in half rings
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon red chili powder (preferably Kashmiri red chili powder)
- ½ teaspoon cumin powder
- ½ teaspoon coriander powder
- 4 roma tomatoes crushed
- 1 tablespoon full-fat yogurt lightly whisked
- 1 tablespoon mixed pickle (optional)
- In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat oil. Add whole spices (fenugreek seed, fennel seeds and nigella seeds) and fry on medium heat until aromatic.
- Add sliced onion and continue to fry on medium heat until evenly soft and brown, about 5-7 minutes.
- Lower heat and add crushed ginger and garlic. Fry for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Add ground spices and fry until they stop smelling raw. Deglaze the pan with a splash of water if needed.
- Increase heat to high and add crushed tomatoes. Mix well and stir on high heat until the oil begins to separate from the tomato-onion base.
- Add chicken and sear on high heat until no longer pink.
- Add ¼ cup water and bring to simmer. Partially cover the pot and let the chicken cook for about 10 minutes.
- Lower heat and add in whisked yogurt. Mix well.
- Remove from heat and stir in mixed pickle if using.