May 8, 2019

How To Make A Basic Curry Sauce Without A Recipe

Post by Admin

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Indian home cooks don’t actually follow a recipe to cook an Indian curry, as the process of making a base curry sauce is almost the same. This post shares the secrets of how to make an Indian Curry sauce without the need to follow any recipe. 

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Indian Chicken Curry in a Bowl


You want to make an authentic Indian curry, and may have many recipes that show you how to cook one too.

But what the recipes don’t really explain is the ‘HOW TO MAKE A CURRY’. It’s more like the ‘STEPS or INGREDIENTS’  needed to make a curry.

Essentially recipes are a guide that tell us what to use; when to use, but do not explain the applicable cooking process or useful cooking techniques that tell us ‘HOW’ to use them, or the ‘RIGHT WAY’ to cook!

Of course, we need a recipe to follow, but even if you do, there is no guarantee that the steps followed will produce an authentic-tasting curry.

The revelation of these well-guarded granny secrets on how to make an Indian curry, the homecooked way, will surely make even a nervy cook give it a go!!

You have two options to learn the technique,

  1. Read this post.
  2. Get hands-on practice  by joining a fully interactive  online Indian cooking class that goes beyond following a recipe and shares many tips that make Indian cooking easy. 

How To Make Curry Sauce From Scratch

Making a curry sauce is actually not that complicated.

If you have made an Indian dish before or read recipes you may have noticed that few ingredients remain the same in a basic curry recipe.

Instead of listing all the ingredients in a box, let me classify them into specific categories according to the usage.

This will make it easier for you to cook almost any Indian dish.

Cooking ingredients can be broadly divided into 7 categories. I will limit myself to ingredients used for Indian cooking as this post is about Indian curries.

Ingredients used in a dish can be divided under different categories:

1.Raw Ingredient –  This is your main chosen protein or veg for the dish that is chicken, meat, fish, egg, vegetables, pulses or legumes.

 2. Aromatics- This is what makes the curry base and gives it the required consistency. They are onions, ginger and garlic.

This post here, shares the technique on how to cook a base sauce for an authentic Indian taste.

3. Spices – These are the flavour and taste enhancers. These ingredients are what makes each curry different from the other depending on the type of recipe you follow.

For a standard Indian curry, the must-have spices are –  Ground Cumin, ground coriander, turmeric powder, chilli powder and Garam Masala powder.

If your kitchen happens to be well-stocked and for a little more exotic addition you can also add a few whole spices such as; green cardamom, cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon.

These days you can buy spices online with ease, without the need to locate an ethnic grocery store.

4. Heat Supplement – Since Indian food is normally associated with being hot that is the use of chillies, I classify this as a separate element of the dish.

For me adding heat to a dish is a personal choice and not a must. You can either choose to add it or omit it.

If you do wish to add heat, then my personal preference is to use fresh green or bird eye chillies rather than chilli powder.

Fresh chillies are good both for health and flavour.

5. The Base Sauce – Typically an Indian curry sauce that makes the gravy base will be made of tomatoes.

However, you can also have different variants to make a base curry sauce. This can include ingredients such as:

  • coconut milk,
  • yogurt
  • water
  • broth
  • or a mix of one or two of the above.

The type of gravy element you choose will have an impact of the taste of the dish.

6. Herbs – These are the ingredients that add freshness and amp the flavour of your curry.

Herbs like fresh coriander leaves and dried Kasuri methi  (fenugreek leaves) added at the end of cooking not only adds to the taste but also the look of your dish.

7. Fat – You may find it funny that I have added this to the list as oil is a known element for cooking.

Yes, of course, we need oil to cook, especially a curry, unless you are on an oil-free diet!!

But the type of oil and the amount has a direct impact on your dish.

The popular oils used in Indian cuisine are sunflower oil, mustard oil, coconut oil and ghee.

So here you have the category distribution of the main ingredients in a curry.

Different ingredients to make Easy Indian Chicken curry

Ingredients for Curry Sauce

You do not need all the ingredients listed above to make a simple curry sauce.

They are some of the typical ingredients that are used to make a basic masala sauce to cook Indian food.

To simplify it further let me take a chicken curry recipe and break down the must-have ingredients as an example;

Raw Ingredient – Chicken

Aromatics – Onions, ginger and garlic

Spices – Ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric powder, Garam masala powder, chilli powder (optional)

Sauce base – Tomatoes

Heat and Herbs are optional. You can add them if you like it and have them in stock.

With these ingredients in stock, you can make an authentic tasty Indian curry at home.

The complete recipe for making this chicken curry using the ingredients listed above in written below.

Tips to Make Great Tasting Indian Curry Sauce

When it comes to cooking curry at home, you may be tempted to buy the readymade pastes and sauces as its less complicated and easy to make.

These useful cooking tips will simplify a recipe and make you want to cook curry sauce from scratch.

Making an Indian curry from scratch is not really that difficult if you know the basics of Indian cooking .

With these tips under your belt, you will surely be making curry like a pro ……. oooh ok maybe after few attempts, but it sure is a start!

The step wise process on how to make Indian chicken curry

STEP 1 – Break a Basic Curry Sauce Into 3 Cooking Elements

In order to make cooking an Indian curry as easy for you, all you need to do is break up the cooking elements within a recipe into 3 parts. Which are:

1.Aromatics – The holy trinity of most Indian dishes that is the use of onions, ginger and garlic.

2. Spices –  One of the main ingredients that differentiate Indian cuisine from most other cuisines is the addition of spices. A basic Indian curry will have a minimum of 2- 5 spices.

3. The Base Sauce – Since curry essentially means ‘Gravy’, having a sauce is almost a must for it to be an Indian curry.

You can choose any water-based ingredient to lend body to the curry. This could be tomatoes, coconut milk, yoghurt, water, cream etc.

These 3 cooking elements are integral to any basic curry recipe.

What we now need is to know how to bring these different elements together in a pot with a balance of flavour and taste.

STEP 2 – Add the Right Amount of Oil 

By this, I am not saying that you need to add a cupful of oil to make your dish.

Cooking the different elements of a curry requires some time and a right starting point.

Just like a car needs gas to run properly a certain level of oil is required to maintain its components.

In cooking too, the right amount of oil will go a long way to give it a good flavour and essentially assist you in cooking.

This is important if you are new or a beginner to curry cooking.

For a controlled hassle free cooking process add a minimum of 3-5 tbsp of oil to start with when cooking for 4 – 6 persons.

Cooking in the right amount of oil will make it easier for you to follow the later steps to come.

STEP 3 – Cook Each Element Well 

Now that you know that any Indian dish can be divided into 3 components, it’s time to start cooking them.

For an Indian dish to taste as authentic, it is essential that you cook the aromatics especially onions well until it loses the raw smell.

The idea is to cook the onions until it reaches to a  beautiful golden brown in colour. This may take anything from 8- 10 minutes.

This goes back to the last tip where the right amount of oil will help to make cooking onions easier and faster.

Well cooked onions will not only impact the overall taste of the dish but also act as a thickening agent for your curry

STEP 4 – Follow the Cooking Method

Cooking Indian food requires a certain technique that you need to follow.

Normally the techniques involve a sequential order of cooking.These are:

  1. Tempering
  2. Sauteing
  3. Simmering

Applying the right cooking technique for each step will ensure the authenticity of your dish.

Indian food is cooked in a stepwise, stage-wise process.

You cannot add vegetables, spices, salt and liquid all together in a pot and expect it to be called Indian food.

There is a specific time and manner in which each ingredient needs to be added during the cooking process.

If you are following a recipe and if it is well written then follow the instructions especially those on how long to cook a particular ingredient before you go to the next step.

STEP 5 – Make Cooking a Sensory Experience

Just like how you would choose cheese or go wine tasting, that is, try a sample of each by smelling it, and tasting it, apply similar skills to cooking as well.

When moving from one cooking stage to the other, do take a whiff and taste your creation once in a while. ( avoid double-dipping though :-))

The food elements change in flavour and taste throughout the cooking process as it gets cooked.

Use your sense of smell and taste to make sure it is to your liking and make adjustments if needed.

These adjustments could be adding seasoning, sauteing for longer, add more base sauce etc.

Let your senses guide you to make a perfect balance of taste that you like.

If it tastes good to you, it is guaranteed to be liked by others.

BONUS STEP – Patience Pays

Put on some music, get a glass of wine or a drink, keep a bowl of nibbles and be ready to get stuck in for some time.

Cooking Indian food, if a newbie or for some variation does involve time investment.

It may not be as quick as cooking pasta.

It is a stage-wise cooking process, which helps to release the flavours of the components. You will need to wait for each stage to take its time to progress.

This in no way means that you will be stuck for hours in the kitchen.

The average time to cook an Indian curry is normally 40-50 minutes. Including the prep time.

But there are few tricks to reduce the cooking time by 20 minutes which I share in another post.

Similar to the time it takes to make a lasagna or even baking a cake.

Make the experience fun and enjoyable, maybe learn a few Bollywood steps while stirring, sort or clean those cupboards that you never got to !! 🙂

Let us now apply all the tips and tricks to make an Indian curry at home in this basic simple chicken curry recipe below.

how to make Indian curry at home Tips to cook Indian curry at home

Easy Indian Chicken Curry Recipe With Stepwise Images

Ingredients List Categorised  by Components 

Raw Ingredient:

Chicken – 1 kg , cut into bite-sized pieces


Onions – 2, chopped

Ginger – 1 inch, chopped or paste

Garlic – 6 pods – crushed or paste

Green Chillies – 1, chopped

Base sauce:

Tomatoes – 3, chopped or 150 gms of canned tomatoes

Water – 1 cup


Green Cardamom – 3 pods

Bay leaves – 1-2

Ground cumin – 2 Tsp

Ground Coriander – 2 Tsp

Garam Masala powder – 1 Tsp

Turmeric – 1 tsp

Chilli powder (optional)  – 1 tsp or to taste


Coriander leaves – A large handful, chopped


Sunflower oil or Mustard oil – 6 Tbsp

Stepwise Cooking Method

Step 1 

Heat oil in a deep bottomed pan. Keep the temp of the pan to medium heat.

Step 2 

Add whole spices, that is 3 cardamom pods and bay leaves to the warm oil. Let it splutter for 10 secs. ( Tempering method)


Step 3 

Now add the onions to the pan and saute until it turns light golden brown in colour. This can take about 8 – 10 minutes.

frying chopped onions

Step 4 

Add the crushed garlic, chopped ginger and chopped green chillies to the pan and continue to saute for another 4 minutes.

Frying-onion-ginger-garlic till done

Step 5 

Add the ground spices – 2 tsp of ground cumin, 2 tsp of ground coriander, 1 tsp of turmeric, red chilli powder to the pan.

Add about 2 tbsp of water to prevent the spices from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Continue to saute the spices until you see oil release from the sides of the onions spice mixture and you do not get the raw smell of the spices.

frying ground spices on onions

Step 6 

Add the chicken to the mixture and coat the pieces well with the spices.

Saute for 5 – 8 minutes on medium to high heat stirring once in a while.

If needed add little water from time to time to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.


Step 7 

Now add chopped tomatoes to the chicken and saute for further 5 minutes.

The moisture from the tomatoes will evaporate and coat the chicken pieces well.


Step 8

Add warm water to the chicken, stir well and cover the pan and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.

Step 9 

Remove cover sprinkle 1 tsp of garam masala powder and a handful of freshly chopped coriander leaves.

Put the lid back on.

Remove from fire and let it stand for 5 minutes before serving hot with rice or any Indian bread.

Your authentic homemade Indian chicken curry is ready!!

To Conclude

When it comes to making a curry at home, just make sure that you are following the cooking process explained above.

But before you get on with cooking, it will become easier for you to divide each cooking component as per its usage and take time to ensure that each ingredient is added at the right time.

Always use your sense of smell and taste when it comes to cooking a good tasty curry and make adjustments to your dish as needed.

Even if you do not get it right the first time, simply following the tips above will guarantee that you will get it right eventually…. so just enjoy!!

Let me know if you found the tips and the easy Indian chicken recipe useful.

Thankful for Every Click to Share