So, you have decided on a nice curry, and now it’s time to pick the meat. But which meat is best for curry? Well, the good news is that you have plenty of options, but there are pros and cons to each. Today I will talk you through the different meats and options for curry that you might want to consider and give you loads of information so that you can make the best possible choice. Let’s dig in!
While there are plenty of options, chicken is the most popular choice for a curry. It cooks quickly, is really lean and doesn’t break up in the pan when cooking. Chicken is also one of the cheaper choices. As a result, you’ll probably find chicken the most affordable and easiest to prepare.
However, we all know that chicken isn’t for everyone. Here’s everything you need to know about which meat is best for curry and why.
Choosing a Meat for Curry | Considerations
Before you reach for the chicken breast, maybe stop and have a think. When choosing meat for curry, we rarely just want to satisfy one criterion. In fact, there are several. By applying a bit of thought in advance (especially if you are making a BIR curry from scratch), you can ensure that your dish is as good as it can be.
Here are the things you need to be thinking about…
Let’s face it. Generally, the more affordable something is, the better. While you might head toward chicken as the cheapest choice, with a bit of love and attention, you’ll find that other meats offer more flavour and cost a fraction of what you would expect.
And here is the thing.
The less desirable cuts can often be packed full of things that make a curry taste divine. A fillet steak is nice, in curry? Not so much.
The good news is that by applying a few ‘secret’ curry techniques, you can make pretty much any meat taste divine in your Indian dishes.
How something cooks and how long it takes will define how your curry tastes. Chicken is great as it tends to stay pretty tender. Other meats, like beef and lamb, will need a little help to make them as juicy as you get in a takeaway.
I explain why down below.
Ease of Cooking
To be honest, we don’t always have the time to stand there over the stove for hours. If you are after a quick midnight Indian feast or are cooking for an Indian dinner party, you may want something that is a little less hassle to cook.
I’m not normally bothered too much about looks, but some of your guests may be. In truth, some curries look better with certain meats. People taste with their eyes, and if you get it wrong, you fight an uphill battle.
On the Bone, or Off?
This largely boils down (pun intended) to personal preference. Meat on the bone can be a little harder to cook, and it can also be a pain to eat (especially if you’ve made a saucy curry).
However, it isn’t all bad. You’ll tend to find that meat on the bone is darker and more flavorful, and this is true whether it is beef, chicken, or lamb.
Flavour and Taste
Taste is subjective, but I think it is fair to say that you want your curry to be as flavorful as possible. Different meats impart different flavours. Speaking purely from personal experience, from the strongest to the mildest flavour, I’d say it goes in the following order: -
The Type of Curry You are Going to Cook
I’ve saved this until last as it is a big one! Certain curries go better with specific meats. I mean, you’ve never heard of a beef tikka masala, right?
Yep, chicken all the way baby!
Other curries are traditionally associated and paired with a specific type of meat. To give you a general idea of which goes with what, you’ll find a handy table below: -
Type of Curry
Chicken or Beef
Chicken or Beef
Chicken or Lamb
Anything… You aren’t going to taste it
The above list is a guide. The truth is, once you know how to cook an authentic BIR curry, you can add whatever meat you choose. The above is based on tradition, dishes like pasanda are traditionally served with goat, but the closest thing you’ll find is lamb.
Meats for Curry | 4 Great Options
You’ll find that most menus and recipes have a few options for the meat that you use in curry. There are several choices, and each one has its plus points and downsides. Here are the most common choices, why you should try them, and how to prepare them.
Why Beef is Great for Curry
- Full of flavour
- It’s really affordable
- If cooked right, it is really tender
- It works really well in dark curries
Why Beef Isn’t so great for Curry
- It has to be pre-cooked to be succulent and juicy
- It can break up in the pan if overcooked
- High-fat content
Which Cut of Beef Should I get for Cooking Curry?
Go for flank or chuck steak. You’ll hear it referred to often as ‘stewing steak’ or ‘braising steak’ too. If you are in a pinch, a joint of topside cut into thick cubes will work just as well.
It is rare you’ll meet a meat eater who doesn’t like a little bit of beef on the menu. Dark, pretty juicy and tender, it is a great one to go for.
Beef does have a fairly strong flavour which makes it ideal in the spicier curries as you’ll still get a subtle taste of the meat cutting through those hot spices.
To use beef for curry, you’ll have to precook it first. The good news is that it doesn’t take quite as long as lamb. To make precooked beef for curry, see my guide here.
Why Chicken is Great for Curry
- Quick to cook and prepare
- Holds its shape well
- High protein
- Very lean
- Quite affordable
- Precooked or fresh both give good results.
Why Chicken Isn’t So Great for Curry
- Let’s face it, it is a little bland
- Low-fat content can make it a little dry and not ideal for less saucy curries.
- Tikka Masala
What Chicken Should I have in my Curry?
With chicken, you can’t really go wrong. Chicken breast is the obvious choice. It normally comes preprepared and boneless, making it really easy to prepare. Also, chicken is naturally pretty fat-free, so if you are looking for a healthy curry, minimal preparation is required, so there is no need to trim the fat.
However, chicken breast may not be the cheapest thing around.
Here’s the good bit…
If you opt for dark meat, you will be in a very good place. Dark meat has a marginally higher fat content and a little stronger tasting. As a result, you can pretty much strike off all of my ‘negatives’ from the above list.
If you want to take your curry to the next level and make it more convenient, here’s a great guide on precooking chicken for curry.
Why Lamb is Great in Curry
- Super tasty
- Very juicy with high-fat content
- Works well with dark curries
- Nearly traditional (especially with recipes that used to use goat)
Why Lamb isn’t Good in Curry
- Takes a relatively long time to cook (requires precooking)
- Tends to break apart with vigorous stirring
- It isn’t the cheapest
- High-fat content, not good if you are watching the calories
- Rogan Josh
What Type of Lamb Cuts Should I Use for Curry?
The best lamb cuts for curry tend to be those that most would consider low quality. A good go-to choice is lamb neck fillet, which is high in fat content but also pretty substantial (and easy to cut into chunks).
A close second would be lamb shoulder. This is similar to lamb neck fillet. Finally, you could opt for cubed lamb or stewing lamb. Both are high in fat and taste, making them perfect for a curry.
Ignore any advice saying ‘take one leg of lamb’… This is a real waste and expensive. Instead, opt for the cheaper cuts, as it is highly likely to require a long and slow cook to get it to the same standard as you have in your local Indian.
Lamb in curry is best when it is precooked before use. Here is how you do it.
Why Pork is Good in Curry
- Fairly low fat
- Quick to cook
- It’s a little different and unusual
- Works well for a chicken or lamb substitute
Why Pork isn’t so Good in Curry
- It is expensive (and you won’t want cheap cuts)
- It isn’t strictly traditional
- You won’t find it on many takeaway menus
Vindaloo (the traditional version)
What Type of Pork Should I Use in Curry?
In contrast to my above suggestions, I’d suggest one cut and one cut only. Go for pork loin. It is low in fat, easy to prepare, and works well in a curry. Any other cut will be too fatty. You won’t want to be wasting time precooking it, as there aren’t that many curry dishes around that feature pork.
Traditionally vindaloo was made with pork in Goa, India. However, as most Indian curry houses tend to be owned or run by people who practise Islam, they tend not to feature on the menu.
If you are making a curry at home, you could give it a try, but it’s definitely off the menu when eating out.
Which Meat is Best for Curry?
Well, I’d say chicken wins overall. It is quick to cook, easy to prepare and works well in the vast majority of different types of curry. That said, it depends very much on what you are looking for. Based on score, here’s a quick at a glance guide to the different meats in curry. Pick the feature that is most important before making your choice: -
Speed of Cooking
Price per KG
As you’ll see, chicken wins in nearly all categories, provided you are willing to sacrifice a little bit of taste. That said, by opting for something super tasty like chicken tikka, you’ll be in a great place.
Precooked or Not? Your Choice…
I get asked all the time whether you should precook your meats. The truth is that it is entirely your choice.
For beef and lamb certainly, I’d strongly recommend it. I’m sure by now you’ve seen plenty of recipe pages telling you to ‘simmer for 45 minutes, ’ etc.… Do you think that is what your authentic Indian takeaway does?
They use precooked meat to speed up the cooking time. Precooked meat is also: -
- Better with regards to texture
- More authentic
Head on over to my homepage and tap it in the search bar… You’ll be glad you did.
Which Meat is Best for Curry | Final Thoughts…
The truth is that provided you nail down a decent recipe, the meat shouldn’t matter too much. It’s all down to personal preference. I prefer lamb in my curries but occasionally go down the chicken route. Many of the qualities people look for comes down to the cooking style, more than the meat used. Why not swing by my techniques guides to find out how to get that authentic Indian taste. What do you think? Which meat is best for curry? Let me know in the comments.