Chicken dhansak is a delicious, mildly spiced curry with lentils.
There is a bit of a debate in the UK about how a curry house style chicken dhansak should be cooked. Some insist that it have pineapple chunks in it. Others, of which I am one, prefer to leave the pineapple out.
That said, I developed this chicken dhansak recipe the way it is most often served, with pineapple.
Hey, you’re making this curry so don’t feel like you have to add pineapple just because the recipe tells you too! If you don’t want pineapple in you chicken dhansak, then leave it out.
What exactly is a dhansak curry?
The chicken dhansak you get when you order at your local curry house is nothing like what you would get in India.
BIR (British Indian restaurant) chicken dhansak is a play on a Parsi dhansak.
Traditional Parsi dhansaks are made with goat or mutton and are served with brown rice, The Parsi dhansak also has lots of vegetables like pumpkin, aubergine (eggplant) and potato added to the sauce as well. Often, many different varieties of lentil are used to make the sauce along with a long list of spices.
Our curry house style dhansak is a lot less complicated, though it is a sweet and sour curry like the original. Lentils are added to the sauce, with lemon juice as a souring agent and pineapple juice and pineapple (sometimes) added for sweetness.
What does chicken dhansak taste like?
Although chicken dhansak is often served quite mild, it can also be spicy. That’s how I like it so add more chilli powder to this recipe if you prefer spicier curries.
This curry is a delicious medley of sweet, tart and savoury flavours. The tartness comes from the use of lemon juice and tamarind. You get the sweetness from the pineapple juice and pineapple pieces if using.
Feel free to taste and adjust these flavours in the finished chicken dhansak. All can be added anytime during cooking so make your chicken dhansak taste exactly as you want it.
This chicken dhansak recipe represents the best of curry house style cooking.
In order to get it right, you will need to make a base curry sauce and also pre-cook your chicken. Pre-cooking the chicken not only speeds up the cooking process, it also adds another layer of flavour.
If you would rather not go to the ‘fuss’ of making a base curry sauce, however, you can still get amazing results using this one pan chicken dhansak without the need for a base sauce.
Each of the authentic British Indian restaurant (BIR) recipes on my blog require a base curry sauce. It’s actually very easy to prepare and the recipe can be scaled up or down depending on how much you want to make.
Once you make the base curry sauce, you can whip up all of the popular curry house style curries in about 10 minutes.
I pre-cook chicken in two ways. Most Indian restaurants use this method to prepare their chicken for this curry. In this recipe, the chicken pieces are slow cooked in a spiced broth. You could add a couple of tablespoons of the cooking juices to your curry for extra flavour.
Another popular way forward is to add tandoori style chicken tikka to this recipe which will result in a delicious tandoori style Chicken Dhansak. If you don’t want to barbecue your tandoori chicken, you can also use this one pan method.
Substitutes for chicken…
You can make use other proteins instead of chicken.
Just like when you go out for a curry and see dhansak on the menu, you can choose what goes into the sauce.
King prawns, tandoori lamb, keema, paneer are all good substitutes. Simply add them instead of the chicken. Each can be fried in a pan just like the above mentioned one pan chicken tikka.
Let’s break down how to make chicken dhansak…
There is a more detailed version of this chicken dhansak in the recipe card below. It’s good to have an idea of what goes into creating this curry house favourite though. Please don’t forget that if this all sounds a bit too fussy for you, you can always try my one pan chicken dhansak here.
To start: Heat the oil in a pan and add the garlic and ginger paste. Stir this around in the oil for about 30 seconds until fragrant and then stir in the tomato puree.
Stir in the lentil and base sauce: You want to add the lentils early in cooking as they will break down even more. The lentils are such an important part of making a creamy, smooth chicken dhansak. Then add a splash of the base sauce. Not too much at this point. You’re just getting the sauce off to a good start.
Add the pre-cooked chicken: Stir the chicken into the bubbling sauce and another splash of base sauce. The idea here is to heat the chicken through and also build that sauce. As the sauce caramelises to the side of the pan, scrape it back in for additional flavour.
To finish: Add the remaining ingredients. If your sauce is looking too thick, add more base sauce or the cooking liquid from the chicken if you have some. If it is looking too saucy, cook it down to thicken.
Can chicken dhansak be frozen?
Most definitely yes! Chicken dhansak, like the base sauce used to make it can be frozen and it freezes really well for up to 6 months.
This is a great way to prepare for a massive curry feast with friends. Some people think that freezing the curry actually makes it better.
So go ahead and cook up this chicken dhansak along with a few more of your curry house favourites and bring them out next time you have a gathering of curry fans around.
Following are step by step photos of me cooking chicken dhansak…
The most common way to add pineapple is to add it at the end of cooking so that you can actually see the pieces of pineapple.
If you add the pineapple to your chicken dhansak earlier, the fruit will break down and become part of the sauce.
What do you serve chicken dhansak with?
Deliciously cooked Basmati rice is a firm favourite. You should try my no fail recipe here.
You could also serve chicken dhansak with hot, homemade naans. Try my stovetop naans or if you prefer a sweeter Peshwari naan, you’ve simply got to try this.
If you’re really feeling peckish, these keema naans are not to be missed!
Here are some more curry house favourites you might like to try!
Chicken Tikka Masala
Lamb Rogan Josh
Chicken Chilli Garlic
Amazing chicken Patia
How To Make Chicken Dhansak
- 2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp garlic and ginger paste
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tbsp mixed powder
- 2 tsp chilli powder (more or less to taste)
- 70ml (1/4 cup) tomato puree
- 90g (1/4 cup) red split lentils (rinsed and cook until soft - about 30 minutes)
- 250ml (1 cup) approx. heated base curry sauce
- 350g (11oz) pre-cooked chicken
- salt and pepper to taste
- 100ml pineapple juice
- 2 - 3 tinned (canned) pineapple rings - cut into pieces
- Salt to taste
- Juice of one lemon
- 2 tbsp chopped coriander (cilantro)
- Heat the ghee/oil over medium heat. Add the turmeric and the ginger and garlic paste and let sizzle for about 30 seconds. The turmeric will darken in colour as it cooks.
- Stir in the remaining ground spices and fry for a few seconds in the oil.
- Add the tomato puree and stir to combine with the spices. Bring to a simmer and then add about one ladle of base sauce. The base sauce should be added as required. If the curry is looking dry, add more base sauce. If too saucy, cook it down.
- Add the cooked lentils and stir it all up. Be careful as lentils will burn to the bottom. Stir often and reduce the heat if necessary.
- Now add the chicken pieces and the pineapple juice and pineapple pieces. Remember to add more base as required.
- Season with salt to taste and squeeze the lemon juice over the top. Garnish with the chopped coriander and serve.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 728Total Fat: 35gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 22gCholesterol: 74mgSodium: 705mgCarbohydrates: 88gFiber: 17gSugar: 48gProtein: 23g
This data was put together using a program. It may not be correct but is a good guide.
Saturday 23rd of July 2022
I'm going to try this. What type of tomato puree do you use? Tube of Tomato puree? Passata? Blended fresh tomato?
Tuesday 26th of July 2022
Use some passata blended with a little bit of water. Thanks Dan
Friday 11th of February 2022
Hi Dan. Your recipe's are amazing. Everyone so far has been spot on. And I like the way you encourage us to "adjust as necessary". But in the Dhansak recipe you mention adding pineapple juice twice; once a 60 ml dose, and later a 100ml slug? Is this right? PS, I'm getting your "Bible" for my birthday. (If availble! It's not at Amazon) Is there a problem with it? All the best, Rob
Tuesday 15th of February 2022
Hi Rob Thank you for noticing the mistake with the pineapple juice. The 60ml should not be there - just the 100ml added with the pineapple pieces, I have amended the recipe. Unfortunately my book is out of stock everywhere at the moment as it sold out over Christmas. New stocks are arriving by mid March after a couple of delays caused by Covid related shipping problems. I do have a few books here, I could sign one and send it to you but the cost would be £25 to include UK shipping. If you would like one please write to my wife [email protected] and she will handle. Dan
Sunday 21st of November 2021
Hi Dan, your chicken dhansak says “yield: 4” at the top above the title, but at the bottom, just above the calorie count, it says “yield: 2, serving size: 1”. Which is correct? Thanks!!
Monday 22nd of November 2021
It just serves 2 - sorry for the confusion. You can double it easily. Thanks very much. Dan
Wednesday 19th of May 2021
Hi Dan, really enjoying your recipes, but unclear about one thing that features in all of them - 'tomato puree'. What is this? The only tomato puree I know is a thick paste either in a jar or a tube. Do you water this down or do you use a tin of smashed up chopped tomatoes or passata?
Thursday 20th of May 2021
I use passata that is widely available in all supermarkets and I add a tiny bit of water to thin it out. I am glad you are enjoying my recipes and hope this helps. Thanks very much Dan
Tuesday 11th of May 2021
When you say 90g of Red Lentils - is this 90g cooked weight or 90g raw weight?
Tuesday 11th of May 2021
This is the cooked weigh but add more or less to taste. Thanks Dan