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I recently tried an Indian recipe and event though it was spicy hot, it didn't have much flavor which surprised me for how much seasoning I put in. Does anyone know why this might be so bland?

  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast cut into bite size chunks
  • 1/2 onion finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cloves garlic minced or grated
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1-2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, use less if you are not a spicy person
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup half and half or heavy cream
  • cooked white rice for serving
  • Fresh homemade naan for scooping (a must!)

In a large glass measuring cup or bowl mix together the coconut milk, greek yogurt and cream. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, ginger and all the spices. Mix well.

Spray the inside of your crockpot bowl with cooking spray or grease with olive oil. To the bowl sprinkle the onion over the bottom. Add the chicken and then pour the coconut milk mixture over the chicken so the chicken is completely covered. Add the butter and place the lid on the crockpot. Cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 6 to 8 hours.

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    Have you taken a test for a certain widespread disease that commonly affects the sense of smell (which is most of the sense of taste) recently....perhaps you should. Stale spices can also be an issue.
    – Ecnerwal
    Aug 10 at 22:44
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    @Ecnerwal COVID-19 isn't Voldemort lol. It's okay to say it
    – Ivo
    Aug 11 at 8:11
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    There was a similar question, recently Why does my curry taste flat Aug 11 at 10:33
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    @Ivo Though Voldemort doesn't have a nose and hence may suffer from lack of taste ... Aug 11 at 14:11
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    I've copied the recipe over, to save people having to scroll past 432 nearly identical pictures of what a curry looks like.
    – unlisted
    Aug 11 at 14:35

3 Answers 3

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The recipe provided doesn't provide enough salt.

Taking just the pound of chicken breast (454 g) and 1/4 tsp salt (~1.5 g) you have a salt content of approx. 0.3%; but, factor in:

  • 1/2 onion (85 g, medium)
  • 3 cloves garlic (12 g, small)
  • 6 ounce can tomato paste (~170 g)
  • 14 ounce can coconut milk (~340 g)
  • 1/2 cup greek yogurt (~140 g)
  • 1/4 cup half and half or heavy cream (~120 g)

...and you have an additional ~870 g of food for approximately 1,320 g total, diluting the added salt content to ~0.1% without accounting for salted/unsalted butter.

Try adding a bit of salt, a small pinch at a time, stirring thoroughly to mix and tasting after each addition. Even better, use a liquid source of sodium with other flavour compounds - soy sauce, fish sauce, Maggi seasoning, etc. instead of salt.

From Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States - SALT FLAVOR EFFECTS:

Salt imparts more than just a salt taste to overall food flavor. In work with a variety of foods (soups, rice, eggs, and potato chips), salt was found to improve the perception of product thickness, enhance sweetness, mask metallic or chemical off-notes, and round out overall flavor while improving flavor intensity (Gillette, 1985). These effects are illustrated in Figure 3-2, using soup as an example. In the figure, the distance of each of the points (e.g., “thickness,” “saltiness”) from the center point represents the intensity of that particular attribute. This figure shows that when salt is added to a soup, not only does it increase the saltiness of that soup (compare closed circles with open triangles and open circles for saltiness), but it also increases other positive attributes, such as thickness, fullness, and overall balance.

Fig. 3-2 from Gillette, 1985

Figure 3-2 referenced - Gillette M. Flavor effects of sodium chloride. Food Technology. 1985;39(6):47–52.

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    Sure, there's not enough salt - but that's not nearly the half of it. It's a truly terrible recipe, with zero method. It's going to be under-salt, over-perfumed, almost soup consistency with chicken like bullets.
    – unlisted
    Aug 11 at 15:09
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    Yes, the recipe is suboptimal - that I agree with wholeheartedly. Given that @Brandon Kauffman already made it and only complained about blandness, correcting the salt content would be the first and easiest step in salvaging any leftovers. Aug 11 at 15:17
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    AFAIK kosher salt is just less salty because it has more air in it. It's the same saltiness by weight, but less salty by volume.
    – bdsl
    Aug 11 at 21:48
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    @Daevin - making a decent facsimile of a BIR curry was something that eluded me for 20 years, no matter what I tried [this was not helped at all by a move from the North of England to London, where very few BIR curries are anywhere near as good as where I grew up]. By the time I finally got it, it all just fell into place. Have a look at the link in my answer below - that boils down a lot of technique into an easy to follow structure.
    – unlisted
    Aug 12 at 14:10
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    @bdsl May be the case, but given the recipe has everything measured by volume (teaspoons, tablespoons, cups) and not by weight (grams, or more likely ounces since it's using Imperial units), this is still a possible source of error. Aug 12 at 16:10
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You just don't make a curry by throwing all the ingredients in a pan & heating them for a while.
Even using good ingredients & putting enough salt in, that recipe will come out bland. I'd also imagine it would be a little bitter too because of the tomato paste thrown in 'raw' & the amount of garam masala is complete overkill.

Curry is all about method as well as ingredients. Two different people given the same ingredients will make two different curries, on method alone.

The onions, garlic & ginger should be fried, the spices should be fried, the tomato paste should be fried [if you don't, it will be bitter]. The coconut milk & cream should go in near the end, so should the garam massala.
The butter should be ghee - different flavour profile.

See https://cooking.stackexchange.com/a/121074/42066 for more detail on general curry methods.

It's honestly just a lazy recipe - as comments indicate, it's a clickbait recipe. It doesn't belong on anyone's list of 'how to make curry', of any sort.

The more I look at even the ingredients list, the more I worry about it. It's a truly terrible recipe.
Even if we're using generic supermarket curry powder, there's nowhere near enough. There's also far too much garam masala [possibly to try cover for the fact it's going to be cooked into submission rather than added late so you can taste it].
There's not enough onion to make the sauce properly, so it's making up 'gravy' with a lot of additional liquid ingredients. I've never known quite so much 'wet' in what purports to be an "Indian" curry - coconut, cream and yoghurt. Maybe one of those, not all three.
…and cooking skinless chicken breast for 4 hours is going to come out like bullets.

So… under-salt, under 'curried', over-perfumed, consistency of soup & inedible chicken… what's not to like? ;)

If you read the comments under the online recipe, then once you get past the 'paid to give it 5 stars' reviews, you find complaints about each of these points.

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    +1 The recipe is terrible, it looks like a standard SEO clickbait recipe that was written (or generated) first and foremost so that it would float near the top of google search results. I wouldn't bother trying to fix it. The most significant problem is the big lack of salt borkymcfood's answer gives (I'd start with 1 tsp for the volume of ingredients given). Another big one is cooking boneless skinless chicken breast for 4 hours. Just find a better recipe.
    – Dan C
    Aug 11 at 14:45
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    @DanC - yup, I just added another para about the abysmal balance between ingredients. I've never ever tried slow-cooking chicken breast so idk how much like pencil erasers it's going to be after that kind of time, but yup, you'd just drop it less than 10 mins before serving, so it's still actually chewable ;) [The comments underneath the recipe are funny too, apart from the 'friends glowing reviews', the rest mention watery, tough chicken, way too much garam masala...
    – unlisted
    Aug 11 at 14:52
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I think the "Healthy" recipe title says it all here - although with the butter and cream components I think the author was stretching that point somewhat!

Seriously though, many healthy recipes are just reworked "Unhealthy" ones with reduced salt, sugar or fat content. These three ingredients are why so much processed food tastes so good, and why our taste buds crave for more.

As you have discovered, even a heavily spiced dish can taste bland if there is not enough salt or umami flavouring.

In the case of your Butter Chicken recipe, first of all I'd ensure the spices you use are fresh, and clearly have an aroma. Stale spices won't taste of much.

Secondly, a good dish is a balanced dish. Each flavour should compliment or contrast its neighbour. That is why chilli and chocolate go together. In the BC dish, there is a lot of richness to cut through, the danger here being that the dish ends up too rich or "Sickly". I'd be tempted to add some lemon juice or dry white wine at the end to cut through all the fat and cream. Another possibility would be to increase the amount of yoghurt and decrease the cream content etc.

Finally, the biggest issue with this dish. It is barely seasoned, and that explains why most professional recipes add "Or to taste" to salt measurements etc. It is a tricky one though, some people are more/less salt tolerant than others. The best guidance recommends tasting everything for seasoning before serving, and adjusting accordingly. If you must stick to such low salt levels (e.g. for health reasons), you could try increasing the salt level a bit but using a low sodium salt instead. Alternatively, you could add some MSG (monosodium glutamate), but I don't know what health implications this would have for someone on a low sodium diet, negative I presume.

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    The answer seems to suggest it's impossible to make a good-tasting and healthy version of the dish. I question whether that is the case. Although of course healthy is subjective. Aug 11 at 15:48
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    I've always been led to believe that a good BC is deliberately decadent, and not a dish for everyday consumption due to the sheer amount of calories etc. I'm sure there are healthy variations out there, but they will always be a compromise of calories and ingredients versus taste, which is just as subjective.
    – Greybeard
    Aug 11 at 17:59
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    @MichaelMior There's plenty of delicious healthy meals one can make but you can't just take the "unhealthy" bits out of dish and expect it to work. Aug 12 at 7:31

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