Chutney chicken is any chicken dish prepared with chutney, a savory and often spicy sauce popular in Indian cuisine. Chicken is a very common meat throughout India, and chutney with chicken is a nearly ubiquitous preparation. Just because two dishes are called “chutney chicken” does not mean that they will be the same or even similar, however. There are hundreds of different chutney recipes, and many different regional preparations.
Most chutneys are like relishes, combining different fruits, vegetables, and spices. They are often formed through pickling or slow boiling, so that the different flavors and spices will have time to infuse and meld. Some chutneys, like mango and coconut, are predominantly sweet, while chutneys like chili, onion, are ginger are hot and spicy. Cilantro chutneys and tomato chutneys are more savory. Traditionally, chutneys are made fresh immediately before they are to be used in chutney-based dishes.
A chutney can also be dry, more like a spice rub than a sauce or relish. Dry chutneys usually combine the same fruit, vegetable, and spice mixture as wet chutneys, but the ingredients are dried and crushed, usually with a mortar and pestle. A chutney chicken made with a dry chutney is usually coated in the spice rub hours or even days before cooking and often forms a sort of crust on the chicken.
There are a variety of ways to prepare chutney chicken. Chicken rubbed with dry chutney is most commonly baked or grilled. Wet chutney chicken can be prepared the same way, with the chutney added either before or after cooking. Chicken is also frequently boiled or pan seared in a thick, wet chutney sauce, which can then be served over rice or on traditional flat naan bread.
Indian dishes typically make use of all parts of the chicken. It is very common for various chicken parts to be cooked together in chutney, bones, ligaments, and all. Whole chickens are also often prepared with chutney, then slow cooked until they disintegrate. Cooks will separate the chicken into portions, topping each with extra chutney of either the same or a complementary flavor.
Chutney chicken’s popularity extends far beyond the Indian subcontinent. Many cooks in Europe and North America have adapted Indian recipes like chutney chicken to make them more approachable to cooks more familiar with the Western style of cooking. These chicken recipes usually call for boneless, skinless chicken breasts or other more readily available and easily served chicken pieces.
Cooking with chutney is unfamiliar to many cooks outside of India, and the long process of making a chutney from scratch can be daunting. Western-oriented chutney chicken recipes typically call for canned or jarred chutneys, most of which are milder than their fresh-made counterparts. The spice and intensity of chutneys can also be dulled by mixing in yogurt or making a creamier mayonnaise and chutney chicken. Resulting dishes are not usually comparable to what one would find in India, but the spirit and some of the tastes are similar.