Chicken 65 is a delicious, flavour-packed Indian chicken recipe that and has just the right amount of heat. Scoop it up with warm, chewy naan or soft chapatis, or alongside fluffy basmati rice.
Chicken 65 has a very special place in my heart because it constitutes one of the two dinners my Indian husband has ever made for me (the second is grilled cheese).
This is originally my mother-in-law’s South Indian recipe, a simpler, healthier version of the original dish with deep fried chicken.
Everyone who I’ve made it for has loved it.
What Does Chicken 65 Taste Like?
Chicken 65 has succulent pieces of boneless chicken coated in a sticky, spicy sauce. It hits all the sweet, hot and nutty notes in plate-licking proportion, with lots of aromatic garlic, ginger and fragrant curry leaves.
It is a most delicious chicken starter or main dish, with an irresistible sweet heat reminiscent more of Chinese recipes than typical Indian dishes.
Why do They Call it Chicken 65?
It seems this fan-favourite Indian dish was invented in 1965 and was given its name by the person who created it, in a hotel in Chennai. It must have been so delicious even then, for the recipe to have spread far and wide with the original (seemingly arbitrary) name.
Today, you will find Paneer 65, Chicken 65 Biryani, and other “65”-ified recipes on Indian menus with this same flavour profile.
I’m low-key tempted to create a Chicken 22 this year and see what happens.
Chicken 65 Ingredients
As far as Indian curries go, this chicken recipe has a very short ingredient list and includes mostly pantry staples and fresh ingredients.
No need to track down an arsenal of spices (no turmeric, garam masala, cumin, or other powders).
The quantity of garlic is not a typo. (Here’s my fav hack to always have fresh minced garlic on hand.) Neither is the quantity of chili powder. It sounds like a lot, but the bite of garlic and chili totally balance out the sweetness of the onions and ketchup. It’s not actually hot despite the 2 tsp of cayenne. My kids gobble it right up without flinching.
It’s very simple to put together. Here is what you need:
- Onion: as with many indian curries, the onions in chicken 65 are cooked down to golden and ultra soft. This serves as the naturally-sweet component of the dish. In fact the onions break down so much that they actually become the sauce itself. Onions as a texture are undetectable here.
- Garlic: truly don’t be shy with the quantity here, even if it looks like a lot. The finished dish does not scream garlic, it is just super flavour-packed and delicious.
- Ginger: in this recipe, the ginger provides beautiful flavour and also an element of warming spiciness. If fresh ginger isn’t a staple for you, buy some and keep it in the freezer so you always have it when you need it! I don’t even peel it, just freeze it and grate it off from frozen as needed.
- Ketchup: don’t let this question the recipe’s authenticity as a traditional Indian curry. It’s the secret ingredient here and shortcut to tangy, sweet flavour and is irreplaceable. Using tomato ketchup eliminates the need for lemon juice or vinegar in the recipe, and
- Red Chili Powder: the only dry spice in this recipe is chilli powder (like cayenne or Kashmiri red chili powder). The finished dish is warm but not super-spicy, however feel free to hold back some of the chili powder if a very mild flavour is preferred. Feel free to swap in fresh chilies (red or green chilies work) if you prefer.
- Curry Leaves: these provide a nutty, toasty, and uniquely aromatic flavour here and are very hard to substitute (although Thai basil has a surprisingly similar flavour profile).
- Chicken Thighs: boneless, skinless chicken thigh pieces are quick-cooking and flavourful. The extra richness (compared to chicken breasts) allows them to be simmered in a sauce without drying out.
It’s best if you can find fresh curry leaves but dried will do. I buy them at an Indian grocer but I’ve seen them at other Asian grocery stores and sometimes at the supermarket with the plastic clamshell boxes of herbs in produce. Their flavour is irreplaceable in this dish.
Used a lot in South Indian cooking, they have nothing to do with “curry powder” which is a blend of spices.
Many Chicken 65 recipes call for red food colouring to be added, which is why the hue is more vibrant. I prefer to skip that, thanks, and enjoy my chicken naturally-coloured.
How to Make Chicken 65
The process for making this Chicken 65 recipe is simple.
The incredible taste builds up stepwise, with layers of flavour and seasoning built up gradually for an incredibly tasty finished dish. Here’s how to prepare it:
- Start by softening the onions in coconut or vegetable oil over medium heat until golden to coax out the sweetness. The patience you invest in the onions will pay big returns. Expect at least 10 minutes for this step (more if your onions are cold from the fridge or not super-thinly sliced). When cooked until completely soft, the onions not only melt into the sauce and actually become the sauce, they add an incredible savoury sweetness that counters the earthy spices and heat.
- Add the curry leaves to the pan to sizzle before the ginger and garlic are added. Sizzling the curry leaves toasts them, incorporating that nutty flavour that makes South Indian food so irresistible.
- Saute in the garlic and ginger. Just a minute to release their beautiful aroma.
- Add the ketchup and chicken. The curry will look dry, only add a splash of water as needed to prevent scorching. As the chicken cooks over low heat, it will release its moisture and create ample sauce. Adding too much water will dilute the yummy flavours.
Is Chicken 65 Healthy?
This version of the recipe is quicker and healthier than the fried version of Chicken 65.
The original version of the dish requires marinated chicken pieces to be dusted with cornstarch (a.k.a. cornflour), wheat flour (a.k.a. maida) or rice flour and deep fried as a first step.
In my mother-in-law’s recipe, however, the chicken is cut bite size and simmered directly in the sauce, no deep fry required.
This cuts down on steps (no working in batches or marinade) as well as calories.
What Goes with Chicken 65?
Although most often served as an appetizer in India, we enjoy this flavour-packed chicken recipe for dinner with boiled rice or chapati alongside a bowl of plain yogurt (to cut the heat) or Indian Cucumber-Yogurt Salad.
Garnish it with fresh cilantro, red onion slices, fried curry leaves, lemon wedges or green chili slices if you like.
How to Store Leftovers
As with many flavour-rich dishes, this chicken recipe tastes arguably even better the next day. You can make it a day ahead of serving (so easy if you’re having guests). Just store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It’s good like this for up to 5 days.
Can You Freeze Chicken 65?
Chicken 65 can be frozen in airtight containers or freezer bags for up to 3 months. Double the recipe to have more for another night!
Here are some of my other favourite South Indian recipes:
Chicken 65 Curry
- 4 tbsp refined coconut oil (or any cooking oil)
- 2 medium onions finely chopped
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- ½ cup packed curry leaves
- 3 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp packed finely grated or minced ginger (2 oz by weight)
- 2 tsp chili powder like cayenne or Indian chili powder
- 1 ½ cups ketchup
- 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into quarters
- 2-4 tbsp water as needed
- Heat oil in a heavy dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for until soft and golden, about 10 minutes, reducing heat if needed to prevent burning before they're soft.
- Add curry leaves and stir to coat in oil. Cook 1-2 minutes, until they turn a shade darker and smell fragrant.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic and ginger; continue cooking for 2 minutes. Stir in cayenne and cook 30 seconds. Add ketchup and chicken, stirring to coat.
- Cover and cook on low for about 10 minutes to allow the chicken to release its moisture while cooking. Stir occasionally and add water if it is scorching.
- Once chicken is cooked through, uncover and simmer about 10-15 minutes to let the sauce thicken. The oil will shimmer on top of the curry when it is done.
Last Updated on October 20, 2022 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD