Jamaican Curry Chicken

Marinated with an assortment of spices and coated in a rich, creamy gravy, this flavorful curry chicken is a simple and delicious Jamaican staple.

Overhead view of curry chicken with rice and fried plantains

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

Why This Recipe Works

  • The addition of coconut milk gives the sauce a creamier, richer texture and adds another layer of flavor to the spice blend.
  • Adding a whole Scotch bonnet pepper to the pot as the chicken simmers introduces its amazing flavor without too much of the heat.

While curried goat is often the more celebrated Jamaican dish, curried chicken is a simpler yet equally delicious staple. Curries appear in the Jamaican diet courtesy of East Indian indentured laborers who were brought from India by the British to work on plantations after the end of slavery. Curried chicken embodies the history of our island and the many settlers who made their way to our shores from foreign lands, all of whom contributed to the cuisine that we call Jamaican today.

Curried chicken makes a regular appearance on cookshop menus, where it is served with rice and peas or white rice and raw vegetables in a “box lunch.” It is also served at home for either lunch or dinner and can be paired with more elaborate accompaniments like steamed jasmine rice, roti, fried plantain, and mango chutney. Curried chicken would also be commonly served at a family Sunday lunch or dinner, with typical Jamaican side dishes like fried or roasted breadfruit, fried plantain, avocado, a big green salad, steamed callaloo, and sliced Scotch bonnet pepper. My sons and their friends especially loved curried chicken when they were growing up, so it was on the dinner menu every other week during their school years. My house was always filled with a crew of rambunctious, hungry teenage boys, and this dish was an easy, nourishing, and satisfying meal for all.

Overhead view of Curry Chicken

An essential technique in many Jamaican recipes, including this one, is marination. We marinate most meat, poultry, and fish before cooking, contributing to the building of flavor in the dish. Here, the chicken is first rubbed all over with the cut side of a lime or lemon. This is a practice that is standard here in Jamaica, less to reduce bacteria and more to remove what is perceived by Jamaicans as the "raw" flavor of the chicken—one of the culinary sins, along with underseasoning, that Jamaicans would blame on a mediocre cook.

After this acid rubdown, the chicken is seasoned with the curry powder, ginger, onion, garlic, thyme, Scotch bonnet pepper, and pimento (what we call allspice in Jamaica) and left to marinate for at least an hour prior to cooking. (Old-time Jamaican cooks will usually season and marinate from the day before cooking or, at the very least, a few hours before cooking). Jamaican curry powders are typically a premade blend of spices like cumin, coriander, fenugreek, allspice, mustard, anise, and turmeric, hence the signature yellow color, which is quite different from curry powders of other origins.

Once marinated, the chicken is browned in a deep pot and then removed from the oil, after which additional oil, curry powder, and seasonings are sautéed, adding another layer of intensity and spice while developing those flavors and drawing them out into the oil. The chicken is then returned to the pot with all the seasonings, liquid is added, and the dish is left to simmer and reduce, overall a fairly simple process.

Some cooks like to add carrots and potatoes, which this recipe offers as an option and makes for a much heartier meal. The potatoes and carrots would be added when the curry powder and seasonings are sautéed, prior to the addition of the liquid.

Another non-traditional variation, which we personally love and call for in this recipe, is the addition of coconut milk. The coconut milk makes for a thick, creamy, slightly sweet, and rich gravy that coats the chicken beautifully, and is delicious on rice. However you choose to do it, this recipe will likely become a staple in your roster of wholesome and tasty but impressive dinners for guests and family alike. 

Spice mixture

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

Recipe Details

Jamaican Curry Chicken

Prep 10 mins
Cook 60 mins
Marinating Time 60 mins
Total 2 hrs 10 mins
Serves 6

Marinated with an assortment of spices and coated in a rich, creamy gravy, this flavorful curry chicken is a simple and delicious Jamaican staple.


  • For the Marinated Chicken:
  • 3 1/2 pounds (1.6kg) bone-in, skin-on chicken parts (see notes) 
  • 1 lime or lemon, halved 
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced 
  • 1 small Scotch bonnet pepper, stemmed, seeded, and minced
  • 1 tablespoon Jamaican curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon picked fresh thyme leaves
  • For the Curry:
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) canola or other neutral oil, divided 
  • 1 tablespoon Jamaican curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin, optional (see notes)
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander seed, optional (see notes)
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala, optional (see notes)
  • 1 medium yellow onion (8 ounces; 237g), diced 
  • 2 medium carrots (about 8 ounces; 237g total), peeled and diced (optional; see notes)
  • 1 small Yukon Gold potato (5 ounces; 142g), diced (optional; see notes)
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 1 small Scotch bonnet pepper, whole
  • 5 whole allspice berries
  • 1/2 cup (113ml) coconut milk from one 13.5-ounce (400ml) can, plus more if needed (see notes)
  • Serving suggestions: jasmine or basmati rice, mango or papaya chutney, fried plantains, and sliced avocado


  1. For the Marinated Chicken: Rub chicken all over with lime (or lemon), then season all over with salt and pepper.

    Chicken in a bowl with limes and seasoning

    Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

  2. In a medium bowl, stir together turmeric, garlic, minced Scotch bonnet, curry powder, ground allspice, ginger, and thyme leaves. Add chicken pieces and, using gloved hands, massage the spice marinade all over chicken, including under the skin. Cover chicken and marinate, refrigerated, for at least 1 and up to 12 hours.

    Four image collage of spices and marinading chicken

    Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

  3. For the Curry: In large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, warm 2 tablespoons (30ml) oil over medium heat until shimmering. Working in batches if necessary to avoid crowing the pot, add chicken pieces and cook, turning often, until lightly browned on both sides, about 5 minutes; be careful not to let the marinated chicken get too dark. Transfer chicken to a platter and set aside.

    Chicken browning in pot

    Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

  4. Add remaining 2 tablespoons (30ml) oil to pot. Add curry powder, ginger, cumin, coriander seeds, and garam masala (if using), and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 1 minute.

    Overhead view of spices in pot

    Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

  5. Stir in onion, carrots, and potato (if using). Cook, until just starting to soften, about 5 minutes.

    Two image collage of vegetables added to pot and covered in spices

    Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

  6. Add chicken back to pot along with any accumulated juices and stir to coat with aromatics and spices. Add 1 cup (227ml) hot water, thyme sprigs, whole Scotch bonnet, and allspice berries and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 30 minutes.

    Four image collage of adding chicken back to pot with scotch bonnet pepper, thyme, and bring to a boil

    Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

  7. Uncover and add 1/2 cup (113ml) coconut milk, then continue to simmer, uncovered, until the sauce forms a rich, gravy-like consistency, about 15 minutes. If needed, add more water and/or coconut milk to thin an over-reduced sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

    Adding coconut milk

    Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

  8. We like to serve this with jasmine or basmati rice, mango or papaya chutney, fried ripe plantains, and sliced avocado.

    Overhead view of single serving of curry chicken with rice

    Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

Special Equipment

Dutch oven


You can use any combination of breasts and/or legs, or a whole chicken cut into pieces. In Jamaica it's most common to chop the chicken pieces through the bone into even smaller pieces, which you can do here; at the very least, separate drumsticks and thighs at the joint and divide the breast in two, such that one piece of the breast has the wing attached and the other is the tapered end.

We like to add ground cumin, coriander seed, and garam masala to Jamaican curry powder for additional depth of flavor, but it's not required, and not something many Jamaican cooks would do. Feel free to omit those additional spices, if desired.

Potatoes and carrots are something some cooks in Jamaica add to their curry chicken, while others don't. Our personal preference is not to include them, but we've left them as optional here in case you're a fan.

Coconut milk, while not in many Jamaican curry chicken recipes, is a must-add for us, as it creates a gravy that is delicate yet rich, with a deeper depth of flavor.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The curry chicken can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.