Belinda Jeffery

Fragrant Chicken With Cardamom, Lemon And Coconut

This simple dish is a great favourite of mine, and one of those combinations that is so much more than the sum of its parts. The sticky black cardamom seeds add wonderful bursts of their heady camphor/citrus fragrance, while the whole lemon adds a welcome sharpness which balances out the luscious coconut cream.

  • Serves 6 – 8



  • 1/4 cup (60ml) light olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely sliced
  • 6 very large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 – 4 small red chillies, finely chopped
  • 6 nice fat cardamom pods
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 5 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 3 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
  • 1 medium-sized lemon, scrubbed and dried
  • 1 x 140ml can coconut cream
  • 1 x 400g can diced or crushed tomatoes
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • 8 chicken chops or large whole chicken thighs (bone in)
  • Coriander or mint leaves, to garnish
  • Serve with any or all of these – lemon or lime wedges, cooked jasmine rice, chutney, and cucumber
  • Mixed with yoghurt and mint

Warm the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the mixture is pale golden.

Preheat your oven to 180C. Line a large roasting tin that will fit the chicken comfortably with foil and baking paper, and set it aside.

Crush the cardamom pods with the flat of a chef’s knife (or with a mortar and pestle) and scrape out the fragrant black seeds – crush them a little too. When the onion mixture is ready, add the cardamom seeds to it along with the turmeric, paprika and curry paste. Cook for another couple of minutes, stirring constantly, to release their wonderful fragrance, then turn off the heat. (If you want to get ahead with this dish, you can make the mixture up to this point the day before you need it, and store it tightly covered in the fridge overnight. When you’re ready to use it, scrape it into a bowl and continue with the recipe.)

Peel the lemon, making sure you remove all the white pith. Cut the flesh into little chunks (about 1cm) and remove any seeds. Add the diced lemon, coconut cream, tomatoes and a little salt to the spice mixture and stir them in well.

Sit the chicken thighs in the prepared roasting tin. Pour the spice mixture over them, then turn the chicken around and around until it’s well coated. And that’s all! Now just pop the tin in the oven and cook it, uncovered, for about 1 ¼ to 1½ hours, turning the thighs after 40 minutes, until the chicken is tender. When you remove the chicken from the oven there may be a thin film of oil floating on the surface. To remove it, just blot it up with paper towel.

Scoop the chicken and fragrant sauce that has formed around it into a large shallow serving dish, and scatter herb leaves over the top. (I find it’s a bit hard to do this without splashing the sauce everywhere, so what I do is take out the chicken first, then use the foil and baking paper to funnel the sauce over the top.) Serve with lime wedges, rice, chutney and cucumber and yoghurt mixture, if liked.

Just a bit of padding…If you want to make this even more substantial (or make it go a bit further) peel and quarter some potatoes and cook them in with the chicken. They taste terrific as they absorb lots of the aromatic juices.