Murgh Masala – Chicken in Onion Tomato Gravy

Some people bake to relax; I make curry. This has become my habit of late. It’s the stirring of the onion that I find so relaxing, their mellow smell so warming, and their shapes glistening beautifully at the bottom of the pan. Then come the exciting heat of the chili and the seductive aromas of the wet and the dry spices. When the time comes to leave the gentle heat of the hob to do it’s magic, at the very end of cooking, I feel like new.

Some days just seem to rush past me, and I feel all tense, stiff and nervous. On one such day, I picked up Julie Sahni’s ‘Classic Indian Cookery’ at the library. I started reading it on the bus home, and simply couldn’t put it down. I haven’t read the whole book, but what I can tell now is that the book is very informative and full of interesting recipes. Julie is a wonderful teacher, too, and for example, her instructions on how to fry the onions properly are invaluable! I’m seriously considering buying this book.

That day, when I got home, I made this lovely flavoursome dish. The cooking did it’s magic, and I felt great afterwards. And  best of all, it was absolutely delicious!

According to Julie, this is a classic Punjabi dish. What I particularly like about this dish is the interesting addition of freshly ground cumin along the coriander just before serving, the slight smokiness of black cardamom, and the rich sauce with lots of onion and garlic. The recipe is below. I made some changes to it, and I also rewrote it slightly differently, incorporating what I’ve learnt about making curry, of Julie, of a friend, from books and from experience. Enjoy!





Murgh Masala – Chicken in Onion Tomato Gravy


SOURCE: adapted from Julie Sahni’s ‘Classic Indian Cookery’



CUISINE: North Indian – Punjabi

SERVES: 2 – 3



600 g chicken breast, cubed (or better even, use chicken thigh)

ghee (Julie uses vegetable oil)

315 g thinly sliced onions

1 tbsp finely chopped garlic

1.5 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger root

3 green finger chilies (my addition)

1 cassia stick, 7.5 cm long (Julie: Cinnamon)

2 black cardamom pods

1 – 2 green cardamom pods (my addition. J: use black or green)

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tin tomatoes (200 g), drained, chopped


250 ml boiling water


1/2 tbsp roasted ground cumin seeds

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves



1. Start with the onions. Peel the onions, and cut them in half, longitudinally. Then, cut off the tough ends at either end. Slice the onions finely. (They will look absolutely beautiful frying in the pan!)

2. Heat some ghee in pan. (I used my gorgeous new wide cast iron pan!)

3. Fry the onions on medium-high heat until they turn light brown, stirring pretty much constantly. This will take about 30 min. Do not skip this step, and don’t try to speed it up either, else you’ll burn the onions. This is really important. If the onions start burning, add a little water.

4. When the onions are light brown, add ginger, garlic and chili, and fry for another 5 minutes.

5. Add cinnamon and cardamom, until the spices are slightly puffed and begin to brown (about two minutes).

6. Add turmeric and cayenne pepper and stir rapidly for 10 – 15 s. Please be careful, turmeric burns easily.

7. Now add the chicken, and fry for a few minutes until the chicken is sealed and white all over. (There is a little water in the chicken, which will stop the burning of the spices. However, you may need to add a little water.) The onions will have started falling apart; this is the basis for the delicious, thick sauce that you’ll end up with.

8. Add tomatoes, salt and boiling water. Stir to mix, and reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked, and tender, and the gravy has thickened. This takes about 40 minutes. Check the dish during cooking, making sure it doesn’t get too dry or else it will burn. If this happens, add a little water. The dish should have plenty of thick, pulpy gravy at the end, and the oil will have started floating at the top. (At this stage, the excess oil is very easy to remove.)

9. Turn off the heat, and let the dish rest, covered, for at least 1 hour, preferably 2 before serving. I skipped this step, because I had no time for it, but if you can, try and do this. This is one of those dishes where flavour only improves with time.

10. Just before you’re ready to serve, roast the cumin seeds. To do this, heat the pan until you can feel the heat rising from it when you put hold your palm above it. If the heat is comfortable, add the cumin seeds, and toss until you get a lovely aroma coming out. Be careful not to burn the spices. When the cumin is done, take it out of the pan and put it in the mortar to cool. When it cools down, grind it with the pestle into powder.

11. Heat the curry thoroughly. Then, fold in the freshly ground cumin and chopped coriander leaves. Enjoy!

I served it with a pilaf, but plain rice and/or naan/chapati would also go well with this dish.




I used chicken breast, because that was all I had on hand, but chicken thigh would work better with this curry.

Julie fries the chicken in oil before frying the onion, and adds it together with the tomatoes, but I skipped this step, and fried the chicken later on with the onions to make it a little leaner. However, since ghee/fat is easy to spoon off later, I could have done it her way.


 Because of all I said above, it’s easy to guess that curry has become one of my comfort foods. As Meeta said, the spices ‘hug me from inside’, and invigorate me. Therefore, I’m sending this entry to Meeta’s Monthly Mingle; this month, the theme is ‘COMFORT FOODS’. Perfect.

I can’t wait to see what other people find comforting, too! If you want to know too, check Meeta’s blog after 4th February!




Leave a comment


  1. Now that does sound lovely. Thanks for the entry!


  2. This sounds delicious, and while I personally don’t make curry nearly often enough, now that you’ve mentioned it, I’d have to agree: a good curry is one of those foods that just makes you feel really good. ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. This sounds really lovely ๐Ÿ˜€

    I called by your lovely site to say hello after reading your post on the uk bloggers association.

    Rosie x


  4. Firstly, congrats on your new job. Hope it’s going well. There’s never enough time to dedicate to blogging, so don’t worry. This murgh masala recipe looks delightful. I have a whole jar of roasted cumin lying around. It’s on my must try list now!!


  5. MEETA, It’s been a pleasure! Thanks for visiting, btw!

    MIKE, I try to make Indian food at least once a week, and when I don’t, I miss it dreadfully… I guess I’m addicted…

    ROSIE, thanks for visiting! Glad you like it!

    MALLIKA, hey, great to have you back, lady! I look forward to your travel stories! ๐Ÿ™‚


  6. This is a really awesome recipe and easy to make it successfully. You have to try!!!!! Yummy!!!! I have a cooking recipe site as well and Iกฏd like to exchange links with you. Let me know if this is possible. Thanks.


  7. Dave

     /  23 November, 2010

    I have the book you mention, and this was the first recipe I cooked, and the one I seem to go back to again and again. It really is great, due to how simple it is and how the flavour surprises you every time you eat it! It’s all about getting the onions right in this recipe, and yes, thigh is better.


  8. alam

     /  8 October, 2012

    plz sent to me this racipe in hindi method.


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