Cape Malay Chicken Curry

Try the taste of South African cuisine from your own kitchen with this savory spiced Cape Malay Chicken Curry. A comforting chili-night Chicken and Rice dinner that whole family will enjoy.

Cape Malay Chicken Curry
Diet Info: DF GF F LF Na LS VG V Fa

In this savory spiced and fragrant Cape Malay Chicken Curry recipe, skinless chicken thighs cook succulent nestled with potatoes and a sweet and sour, ginger-garlic curry. All the flavors go so good together that this will become your favorite Chicken Dinner of all times. Plus curry is easy to prepare, can be made ahead. Gluten free and Dairy Free. 

In my home, a delicious curry makes dinner worth looking forward too. Leftovers are great for lunch, even another 1-2 rounds of dinner if I can manage to save some. :)

First, let me share what is Cape Malay Chicken Curry?!

Cape Malay Chicken Curry

South African cuisine is blend of many cultures including Indian and European. For me, Malay Curry closely resembles the home cooked chicken curry from India. Not loaded with spices, homemade curries are actually mild hot, made with mild spices and have no creams or even tomatoes. Potatoes are staple in curry to make dinner substantial and to balance the flavor of spices. 

I'm always looking to try new chicken curry recipes. For a while I wanted to try a good South African Chicken Curry. Milk Street's chicken curry and Fatima Sydow's chicken curry were my inspirations to start exploring Cape Malay Chicken Curry.

Malay Chicken Curry is a savory and mild spicy curry, mostly made with whole bone-in chicken, cut into pieces. Most spices used are whole. These are meant only to perfume the curry and are not toasted. (toasting make spices strong) Spices and aromatics include garlic, ginger, bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, cayenne pepper, coriander, and turmeric. The savory aspect of Malay Curry comes from use of sweet condiment such as a chutney (sweet relish cooked with vinegar and spices), honey, sugar.

Malay Chicken Curry with Yellow rice

Once I understood the flavor and roots of Cape Malay Curry, I used;

  1. Many homemade variation of chutneys in the curry. Homemade Mango ChutneyApple Chutney, or a peeled and cored apple with some sugar/honey are my top three favorites. Just a little goes long way. These give curry the perfect balance of sweet and sour. (check more details in substitutes)
  2. For chicken, I prefer boneless and skinless thighs which cook moist and consistent. Chicken thighs also hold the curry sauce well.
  3. For spices, I use what I have in hand. My top favorites are fennel seeds, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, paprika, onion, ginger and garlic. You are welcome to use more or less spices. Make this recipe your own.

So let's get started! Cook Cape Malay Chicken Curry today!

What Do You Need for Cape Malay Chicken Curry?

Cape Malay Curry ingredients are every-day-curry ingredients; easy to find and perfect base for many curries eaten all around the world, including many Indian Chicken curries, European or in this case, South African. 

To make curry more flavorful, I marinate chicken briefly with fragrant crushed-whole spices, garlic and ginger. This is not a traditional step but I have learned this with experience of cooking curries and stews that it gives curry delicious flavor. 

Chicken for Malay Curry Coated with Spices

Notice sweet aroma in kitchen when marinated chicken starts to cook in the skillet, there by spices are toasted in the oil. (nostalgic)

Here is the list of the all ingredients Cape Malay curry:

  1. Chicken
  2. Onion
  3. Garlic
  4. Ginger
  5. Lemon Juice
  6. Turmeric
  7. Paprika
  8. Cinnamon
  9. Fennel
  10. Cumin
  11. Chutney

When making Malay Chicken Curry

While chicken marinates, I cook yellow onions. Slightly caramelized onions give curry it's signature color and body to the sauce without any thickening agents.

Steps for Cooking Cape Malay Chicken Curry

Cooked Chicken Curry Cape Malay

Once onions are caramelized, rest of the curry needs very little manual effort. Simply, sauté the marinated chicken and remaining spices such as turmeric and cinnamon with all of the marinade until chicken is no longer pink. Add water and potatoes. Simmer until chicken is cooked through, and curry has thickened.

That's it! Chicken Curry from Cape Malay is easier to prepare than it's looks! Aroma is just like eating in a South African or Indian restaurant. You will love the flavors. I bet!

What to Serve with Chicken Curry?

In our home, we love to eat Chicken Curries with side of rice, or naan. For pictures, I specially made South African Yellow Rice i.e. rice boiled seasoned with turmeric, salt, oil, and some sugar. On the side is the tomatoes, radish and carrot sambal i.e. tomato, red radish and carrots mixed with lemon juice, and salt. For best flavor, mix and leave aside while curry cooks.

Traditionally Chicken Curry Cape Malay is served with various kind of sides. Here is a complete list:

  1. Yellow Rice
  2. Sambals - fresh onion, tomato, carrots, coconut mixed with lemon, sugar, and salt.
  3. Naan
  4. Roti (wheat bread without leaving agent)
  5. Chutney such as Mango Chutney 

A simple salad and crusty bread also work great to mope the curry sauce.

Rice with Chicken Curry Cape Malay

Creamy Cape Malay Chicken Curry with Coconut Milk

I decided to keep curry close to how it is traditionally made. But just like many traditional recipes, there are many variations of cape malay chicken curry. Many homefolks use cake flour or corn flour to thicken the curry. Few also use single cream or coconut milk or fresh shredded coconut and coconut milk. 

Like I always say, home cooking is beautiful because it gives you chance to make a recipe your own. So if you prefer a creamy curry, make this chicken curry creamy by simply replacing water used with low fat coconut milk. Or add additional 1/3 cup coconut cream along with the water.  

Cape Malay Chicken Curry with Potatoes

Make Ahead

Spices in curries get extra boost of flavor when curries are made a day before. Some days, I specially make curry a day ahead to get better flavor of spices. Cape Malay Curry can be made and refrigerated up-to 4 days in advance.

Reheat before cooking. For best results, heat in a pan on stove. If curry has thickened too much, loosen the sauce with some low sodium chicken stock or water. Taste and adjust salt before serving.

African Chicken Curry Cape Malay

Friends, try something different for dinner tonight. This bone-warming, stew-style Cape Malay chicken curry with potatoes is fragrant, easy to cook  and so delicious with chicken bursting with flavor of spices. Don't forget to serve rice on the side to devour the savory curry. Happy cooking!

Pairing Ideas:

Instant Pot Garlic Brown Rice Instant Pot Yogurt Mango Chutney

Cape Malay Chicken Curry

5 (7 reviews)
Cape Malay Chicken Curry
Total Time: Prep Time: Cook Time: Cuisine: African () Difficulty: Easy
Yields: 2.5 Quart Curry - Serves: 6


Chicken Curry


  • 1. Marinate Chicken In a food processor jar, add garlic cloves, chili (serrano), rough chopped ginger, chutney, half of lemon juice, black pepper, fennel seeds, and cumin seeds, and 1/4 tsp salt. Process to make a coarse paste. Scrape it to a bowl, add chicken thighs. Coat chicken in the marinade. Set aside.
  • 2. Cook Onion While chicken marinates, very fine chopped onion (for better results grate or coarse process in food processor). Heat half the oil in a Dutch oven or heavy bottom deep sauce pan. When oil is hot, add chopped onion, sprinkle 1/4 tsp of the salt and all sugar on the onions and cook until onions are slightly caramelized (8-10 minutes)
  • 3. Sear Chicken Add remaining oil followed by remaining spices i.e. turmeric, paprika, cinnamon, in the cooking onions. Top with chicken thighs along with marinade. Cook on medium heat until chicken is no longer pink. (3-4 minutes). Turn frequently, don't let masala (onion-marinade mix) burn.
  • 4. Simmer Curry Add potatoes and water. Stir to mix everything. Bring to boil on high heat. Lower the heat to medium, cover and then simmer for 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and curry has thickened.
  • 5. Season, Garnish and Serve Stir the curry. Taste and adjust salt and lemon juice. Add fresh chopped herbs. Scoop hot curry over rice. Enjoy! Additional Notes: Optional - using fork break/shred chicken thighs to 2-3 pieces each.
Savita's Notes:
  1. If you don't have chutney, use any one of the following: a) Half of a cored, peeled, diced apple with a tsp honey/sugar. b) Half quantity pumpkin or orange jam. c) Sweet relish  
  2. Chicken Thighs: I used boneless and skinless chicken thighs for this recipe because Chicken Thighs cook moist and tender in the curry. If using bone-in or chicken with skin, make sure to adjust cooking time until chicken is cooked through. Also crispy the skin for better flavor.
  3. Side Shown in Pictures: In our home, we love to eat Chicken Curries with side of rice, or naan. For pictures, I specially made South African Yellow Rice i.e. rice boiled seasoned with turmeric, salt, oil, and some sugar. On the side is onion tomato sambal i.e. tomato, onion, carrots mixed with lemon juice, and salt. For best flavor, mix and leave aside while curry cooks.
  4. Don't cut potatoes to small or these will melt in the curry.
  5. I cook chicken thighs whole and then break each into two pieces to pickup the juices of curry. You can also shred (keep bite side big pieces) the chicken if you prefer.
  6. If you prefer more heat, add one more serrano or use 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper. 

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13 Responses

  1. Absolutely delicious will definitely making this again . Thankyou x
  2. Cooking this tonight! Traditionally another sambal often served is banana- slice thin and add a teeny bit of sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice to stop going brown. Stir. Make just before serving. Tomatoes finely diced with some onion, also with a bit of sugar and some lemon juice is also delicious. Put sambals in bowls on the table and put a little ontop of your curry just before eating. Sounds weird but is absolutely delicious. :) Salivating at the thought!
  3. This looks so so good, Savita. How delicious! with all my fave flavours.
    Thanks Sherry 🙌
  4. Omg! I would really love to try this!
  5. Wow, this chicken curry recipe was outstanding, and I will be saving the recipe to make again soon.
  6. Wow, this chicken curry was outstanding! I was impressed with the flavor and will be saving your recipe
    Thanks Heidy. I hope you get chance to try it soon.
  7. I love how tasty this is!! A huge hit at my house!
    Thanks for letting me know.
  8. This recipe looks incredible and so easy to make! I've never had cape malay chicken so I cant wait to try it. Thanks for introducing me to a new dish.
    I'm glad to share. Let me know how you like the flavors when you get chance to try.
  9. I love all the great flavor in this Malay curry! Sooo good.