This chicken curry by Peter Kuruvita isn't your average curry thanks to the addition of a small piece of sandalwood. "The recipe was found on an old palm leaf and transcribed into a book called Food of the Ancient Kings" says Peter. While in Sri Lanka it's possible to source fresh sandalwood, a few drops of pure sandalwood oil will give the same unique flavour.  






Skill level

Average: 3.3 (91 votes)


1 large chicken (or fowl),about 1.6 kg, cut into 5 pieces
1 small brown onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic
2 pieces pandan leaf, roughly torn into pieces
2 red chillies, chopped
4 green chillies, chopped
1 sprig of curry leaves
1 pinch of ground mustard
10 black peppercorns
1 knob fresh turmeric
½ tsp mustard seeds
90 ml vegetable oil
1 small piece of sandalwood (see note)
2 tbsp white vinegar
6 cloves
4 cardamom pods, crushed
½ tsp dark roasted curry powder
500 ml (2 cups) coconut cream
dried red chillis, to serve
pandan leaf, extra, to serve

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Marinating time 20 minutes

Place the chicken, onion, garlic, pandan, chillies and curry leaves in a large pot. Toss to combine. Add the ground mustard and pepper, and season with salt. Massage the mixture into the chicken. Set aside to marinate for at least 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, make the turmeric paste. In a mortar and pestle, crush the turmeric with the mustard seeds to form a paste. Set aside.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a heavy-based saucepan. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade, reserving the spices. Once the oil is hot, place the chicken in the pan skin-side down and cook for 5-6 minutes or until the skin is crisp. Turn the chicken and cook the other side for 2-3 minutes or until browned. 

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a separate pan. Add the reserved spice marinade and sandalwood and fry for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant. Add the cloves and cardamom pods and continue to fry for another 2-3 minutes, then add the turmeric paste, black pepper, salt and the curry powder and vinegar. Combine well, then add the chicken.
Cover the chicken with water (about 2 cups) and simmer over low heat for 45-60 minutes. (Check the pot regularly to ensure the water level doesn’t drop too much.)

When the chicken is tender, add the coconut cream and bring to the boil. When boiling, immediately remove from heat.

To serve, arrange the chicken on a serving plate. Garnish with the dried red chillis and the pandan leaf.



• Pure sandalwood oil is available from health food stores and if using, it should be added to the dish with the water.