Recipe: Kerala-Style Fennel and Anise Slow Cooker Chicken Curry

Recipe: Kerala-Style Fennel and Anise Slow Cooker Chicken Curry

(Image credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani)

I am sitting here, cooking this recipe for fragrant chicken curry scented with an intoxicating mixture of toasted fennel and coriander seeds and a warming combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. The temperature outside is –34°C. Sometimes I jokingly wonder why I live in a place where the air hurts my face. Then I grit my teeth and dream about tropical beaches and the warm swaying coconut palms of my childhood, and hope that summer gets here as fast as it can.

There is no one catch-all curry. Each region of India has its own style of cooking and preferences for spices, ingredients, and techniques based on seasonality and the culture of the region.

Take this Kerala-style curry, for example. It began as my mom's recipe (one that she got from her friend_. While my father's family is originally from Kerala, we lived in the coastal town of Mangalore most of our lives. My mom, however, was an elementary school teacher right over the Kerala border, and so a lot of the curries we made were inspired both by my Keralite and Goan Catholic heritage on my mom's side.

Beyond cooking it in the slow cooker, I'd still consider this curry an anomaly. While the use of coconut milk and the cooking technique is quintessentially Kerala-style, the spices remind me of Chettinad cuisine, from the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu.

(Image credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani)

Whatever the provenance of this curry, it is now a staple in our home — especially during the cold winter months when I crave the heat of spices. I have adapted this recipe for the slow cooker because, simply put, there is nothing better than coming home to a house fragrant with the warmth of spices like cinnamon, fennel and star anise. It reminds me of growing up, when we tramped back from school, our clothes soaked from tropical rainstorms; as we opened the door, the smell of curry leaves spluttering in hot oil and the slow aroma of simmering spices warmed our faces and made our tummies rumble.

And this chicken curry, in particular, completely delivers on its promise. It is remarkably simple to make, with just a couple minutes of work first thing. The slow cooker works its magic and turns a simple combination of chicken and spices into an aromatic, deliciously full-flavored curry. The winter months are, all of a sudden, so much more bearable.

Kerala-Style Slow Cooker Chicken Curry

Serves 4

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    whole fennel seeds

  • 1 teaspoon

    whole coriander seeds

  • 4 to 5

    whole cloves

  • 4 to 5

    whole green cardamom pods

  • 1

    whole star anise pod

  • 1

    (2-inch) cinnamon or cassia stick

  • 1 teaspoon

    freshly grated nutmeg (about 1/4 whole nutmeg)

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    cayenne pepper (or to taste)

  • 1 teaspoon

    vegetable or coconut oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ghee (optional)

  • 10

    fresh curry leaves

  • 1

    (1-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

  • 3

    cloves garlic, crushed

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    boneless, skinless chicken thighs, each thigh cut into 3 pieces

  • 1 teaspoon


  • 1/4 cup

    coconut milk

Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the whole fennel and coriander seeds and toast until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or clean coffee grinder and let cool.

Grind into a fine powder, then transfer to a small bowl. Add the cloves, cardamom pods, star anise, cinnamon or cassia, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper; set aside.

Add the oil and ghee to the skillet and return to medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and the ghee melts, add the curry leaves and fry until the leaves sizzle and darken in color, about 1 minute. Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add the reserved spices and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a 2 1/2- to 3 1/2- quart slow cooker.

Add the chicken and salt and stir to coat the chicken in the spices. Cover and cook until the chicken is tender and cooked through, about 4 hours on the HIGH setting or 8 hours on the LOW setting

Remove and discard the whole spices. Stir in the coconut milk and serve over rice or, for an authentic Kerala experience, with appams.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftover chicken curry can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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