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Chicken 65 is a spicy, crispy fried chicken recipe from South India. It’s loaded with intense flavors of ginger, garlic, curry leaves, cumin, and chilies.
To make it, you marinate chicken pieces, dredge them in cornstarch and rice flour, deep fry or air fry them to a crispy golden brown, and then toss them in an irresistibly spicy sauce.
I’m a sucker for crunchy chicken bathed in spicy sauce. I just can’t get enough of the play of textures and flavors. This spicy chicken is marinated in yogurt and Indian spices, tenderizing and flavoring the meat.
Cornstarch and rice flour give it a coating of starch to help it brown and crisp up in the air fryer or deep fryer. Air frying or deep frying the chicken gives it a crispy, crunchy exterior. The inside stays tender and juicy.
The sauce is a punchy mix of garlic, ginger, chiles, and cumin.
Whether you choose to deep fry or air fry Chicken 65, it’s a dish that will surprise you with its intense flavor and you’ll crave it again and again.
I love Air Fryer Chicken 65 because it’s easy to cook, there’s less to clean up, and the chicken pieces turn out nice and crisp without using a lot of oil. But traditionally deep-fried Chicken 65 has a super satisfying crunch. Either way, the flavors are intense and totally habit forming.
What is Chicken 65?
Chicken 65 has become a classic of Indian cuisine, though it was only It was created in 1965. It was the invention of chefs at the Hotel Buhari in the city of Chennai in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. To this day, this delicious chicken dish is a popular South Indian appetizer or main dish.
There are lots of theories and myths about how Chicken 65 got its name—that the marinade takes 65 days to prepare, that the chicken is cut into 65 pieces, that it was listed on the Buhari Hotel’s menu as #65 and non-Tamil-speaking customers would simply order it as “Chicken 65,” or that the recipe uses 65 different chiles are just a few of them.
But it seems like the simplest answer is most likely the truth—the dish was first created in 1965.
What ingredients do you need?
It may at first glance look like a lot of ingredients in this dish, but most are common pantry items. If you don’t have ginger garlic paste, you can substitute half minced fresh ginger and half minced fresh garlic. Rice flour is easy to find in Asian markets or online. Curry leaves are also available in Asian markets or can be ordered online.
- Chicken (use boneless skinless chicken thigh or chicken breast)
- Cornstarch (corn flour)
- Rice flour
- Chile paste or red chili sauce
- Ginger garlic paste
- Curry leaves
- Black pepper
- Cooking oil
- Dried hot red chiles, red chili flakes or substitute Kashmiri chili powder or any red chilli powder
- Egg white
- Cumin seeds
- Sugar (optional)
- Red food color (optional)
Why do you use both cornstarch and rice flour?
I like to use a combination of rice flour and cornstarch because they react differently to heat. Cornstarch thickens sauces really well and also browns nicely when deep frying or air frying. Rice flour will make a crunchier coating after air frying or deep frying. So by combining the two, you get the best of both worlds.
You can buy rice flour in many supermarkets (usually shelved near the wheat flour and cornstarch, but you might find it in an Asian foods or international foods aisle), in Asian grocery stores, or online.
How does it get its bright red color?
You may have seen this bright red fried chicken dish and wondered what it was or how it gets its red color. The red color actually comes from food coloring. You can use liquid, gel, or paste food coloring.
For a more natural approach to coloring, you can try beet powder or natural food colorings that you can find in health food stores. The color likely won’t be as bright, though.
The coloring is optional, but it does give the dish a distinctive look that calls to mind the original recipe of chicken 65.
How do you make Chicken 65?
- Combine the marinade ingredients (yogurt and seasonings), add the chicken, cover, and refrigerate to marinate the chicken for 30 to 60 minutes.
- Add the cornstarch and rice flour to the bowl with the chicken and marinade and stir to mix it in well.
- To cook in the air fryer, preheat the Preheat the air fryer and brush the basket with oil. Arrange the marinated chicken pieces in the air fryer basket in a single layer and then spritz or brush with oil. Cook until golden brown on one side, flip and cook until golden brown on the other side. You will likely have to cook in 2 or 3 batches to avoid crowding the chicken.
- To cook in a deep fryer, heat oil in a high-sided pot filled (the oil should be about 3 inches deep) oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Drop the coated chicken pieces into the oil and fry, turning occasionally, until golden brown on all sides. Cook in batches to avoid crowding the pot. Transfer the cooked chicken to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
- To make the sauce, heat a bit of oil in a skillet and add the cumin seeds, ginger, and garlic and stir for about 30 seconds until it becomes aromatic. Add the curry leaves and dried chiles and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds more.
- In a small bowl, stir together yogurt, cornstarch, chile paste, salt, pepper, sugar, if using, and food coloring if using. Stir this mixture into the mixture in the skillet and cook just until the sauce bubbles and thickens, about 30 seconds more.
- Add the fried pieces of chicken and toss them with the sauce to coat well.
- Serve hot.
Tips for Success
- For the best flavor, use boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into about 1 ½- to 2-inch pieces. You can use chicken breasts, but the meat will be drier and less flavorful.
- Since the marinade has yogurt in it, which breaks down and tenderizes the chicken, you don’t want to marinate the chicken for too long. If you do, it may become mushy. Marinate the chicken for no longer than 60 minutes.
- If you don’t have dried red chilies you can substitute a red chili powder. Use as much or as little as you like to make the dish to your preferred level of spiciness.
- You can store leftover Chicken 65 in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months.
- To make the dish ahead of time, refrigerate or freeze the cooked chicken and cooked sauce separately. To serve, place the frozen chicken pieces in a preheated 400-degree oven and heat for about 15 minutes, until they are heated through and crispy on the outside. Thaw the sauce in the microwave or a saucepan over low heat and then toss with the chicken pieces.
What do you serve with it?
More great chicken recipes you’ll love
- Chinese Salt and Pepper Chicken Wings
- Sesame Chicken
- Chicken Satay
- Chicken Karaage
- Air Fryer Buttermilk Fried Chicken
- Kung Pao Chicken
- Tandoori Chicken
- Harissa Chicken
- Chicken Shwarma
For the chicken
- 3 tablespoons rice flour
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons yogurt
- 1 sprig curry leaves chopped
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons chili paste
- 1 egg white optional
- Few drops red food coloring optional
- 1 pound boneless chicken thighs or chicken breasts cut into bite-size pieces
For the sauce
- 3 tablespoons yogurt
- 1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon chili paste
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon sugar optional
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 1 ½ teaspoons whole cumin seeds
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 2 sprigs curry leaves
- 2 dried red chilies crushed or sliced
- In a large bowl, mix together the rice flour, cornstarch, yogurt, curry leaves, ginger, garlic, salt, pepper, chili paste, egg white, and food coloring, if using. Mix well. Add the chicken and toss to coat well. Cover and refrigerate for 45 to 60 minutes.
- To air fry: Preheat the air fryer for 5 minutes at 350º F. Brush the basket with little oil and arrange the chicken pieces in the basket in a single layer (cook in batches if needed to avoid crowding the
basket). Brush or spritz some oil on the top of the chicken pieces. Cook for 7 minutes, flip over and cook for 5 to 7 minutes more, until the chicken is golden brown and crisp.
- To deep fry: Heat about 3 inches of cooking oil in a wide, deep pot until it shimmers. Add the chicken pieces (cook in batches to avoid crowding the pot) and cook, turning once, for about 7 minutes, until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through. Transfer the cooked chicken to a paper towel-lined plate.
- While the chicken is cooking, make the sauce. In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, cornstarch, chile paste, salt, pepper, and sugar, if using.
- Heat the tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and garlic and cook, stirring, for about 20 seconds. Add the curry leaves and dried chiles and cook for about 30 to 40 seconds longer. Stir in the yogurt mixture and cook another minute or so to heat through.
- Add the chicken to the skillet and toss to coat well in the sauce.
- Serve hot.