The Big Boys Curry Book

Chicken 65

Looking north over the central market, Calcutta

An Indian bar room snack found all over southern India, this is possibly my all time favourite chicken dish. It is most often served to accompany a good strong Lager. The story goes that an English traveller visiting Kerala in 1965 asked a chef to make this dish. The traveller expressed his contentment at the result and left, whereupon the bar staff tried the remainders, having never seen anything like it before.

The result certainly was good and Chicken 65 was born, there being no other name for it.

Yet another version of the story goes: As legend has it, in all the kallu (country liquor) bars, the favourite food fight is: who can eat the maximum number of chillies? It is a symbol of machismo to be able to eat the most chillies. An enterprising hotelier capitalised on this and cooked up the dish Chicken 65, denoting that 65 chillies were used for every kilogram of chicken.

Some chefs believe it is called so because of the 65 ingredients used in making it.

This version originates from the Sher-e-Punjab bar and restaurant, Panaji, Goa from Mr Mandeep Singh, where I traded it for some other recipes (principally Fish done in beer batter as he just loved Fish 'n' Chips.)

The interesting thing about the recipe is its use of egg, which suggests a Chinese influence. The use of the citric acid is pure invention by Mandeep, you could use lemon juice but the effect would be different. Mandeep, being a good Punjabi chef also makes his 65 quite rich using boneless chicken. In India, most variations of this dish use chicken on the bone. I suspect that the chicken we get here in the west is just too plump, so would recommend that you use chicken on the bone as well. Try chicken thigh or chopped drumstick and breast on the bone. You could chop up a whole chicken if serving for a number of people.

The recipe is geared towards restaurant cooking as it can be made ahead in stages.


Stage 1

  • 250g skinned chicken (see notes above) cut into small bite size pieces
  • 3-4g pulped garlic
  • 3-4g fresh ginger peeled and pulped
  • 1/4 tsp hot RED chilli powder or 3/4 tsp mild (kashmiri) RED chilli powder
  • Salt to taste

Stage 2

  • 3/4 tspn citric acid crystal or powder (available from Boots brewing section or local chemist)
  • 1/8 tsp Tandoori red food colouring (optional but it does enhance the eye appeal.)
  • 2 tsp corn flour
  • 2 tsp plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli sauce (optional)
  • 1 medium egg, beaten.
  • Vegetable oil

Stage 3

  • 2 tsp mustard seed
  • 12 curry leaves
  • 2 green chillis chopped
  • 1 inch ginger chopped or pulped
  • 2 cloves of garlic chopped or pulped
  • 3 dry red chillis (optional)
  • Set yoghurt (See note)
  • Butter or Vegetable ghee.
  • Salt to taste

To serve

  • Coriander to garnish (optional)
  • Wedges of Lemon
  • Some warmed Nan bread
  • Ice cold strong lager (circa 5%abv), preferably something Indian like Kingfisher

Note. Yoghurt should be full milk as the half fat stuff is crap and I wouldn't feed the skimmed milk stuff to the cat. And besides which, nothing else about this recipe is remotely health concious so why spoil a good day?


  1. Marinade all stage 1 ingredients in covered bowl overnight in cool place. Make sure all is well mixed together.
  2. The next day, mix all the stage 2 ingredients except the oil together into the chicken mixture ensuring that all pieces are well coated. Allow to stand for 1 hour.
  3. Meanwhile heat some vegetable oil in a small wok or deep sided pan. You'll need to have at least 1cm cover in bottom of pan. Do not allow to smoke.
  4. When hot, add the chicken pieces separately to pan and do not overcrowd.
  5. Cook each batch until golden and cooked. This shouldn't take long as the chicken is well marinated.
  6. Using a slotted spoon retrieve the cooked chicken and allow to drain on kitchen paper.
  7. Allow oil to regain heat and repeat till all chicken is cooked. You can now leave the chicken pieces until you are ready to serve them.
  8. Clean out the wok and add a desert spoon of ghee and the mustard seed and allow to heat up. When the mustard starts to crackle add all the other stage 3 ingredients except yoghurt and salt.
  9. Stir fry through on medium heat for 1 minute.
  10. Add chicken and stir fry for 1 minute.
  11. Now reduce the heat a bit, allowing to cool slightly and add the yoghurt. You need 1/3 the volume of the chicken as yoghurt.
  12. Continue stir frying until the liquid has reduced from the yoghurt and you are left with a pretty dry mixture.
  13. Just before end, check for salt and add more if required.
  14. Put onto small plates with Nan bread. Garnish with lemon wedge and chopped coriander and serve with the cold beer

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