This East African Kuku Paka recipe is the absolute best! Chicken pieces are tenderly marinated in spices, grilled, then served in a flavorful coconut sauce.
A video of this recipe has been provided on the recipe card at the bottom of this page, so do not forget to watch it.
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This is certainly a great recipe to add to your summer grill or make when you simply want to enjoy some grilled chicken with friends or family. Serve it with some ugali, pilau, or kachumbari, for a complete meal.
In addition to my Kenyan sukuma wiki, Pilau Masala, and Samaki wa Kupaka recipes, this is one of the many recipes I learned to make from my mother and I am so happy to be able to finally share it with you today. If you haven't tried them then I certainly recommend that you check them out!
what does Kuku Paka mean?
Kuku Paka, which is also known as Kuku na nazi, is a Swahili chicken recipe that basically refers to grilled chicken in coconut sauce. It is a recipe that is particularly popular in East Africa, especially in Kenya, and Tanzania. In terms of origin, Kuku Paka has Indian, Arabic, and African influences.
Okay, I know the list seems a bit long, but don't let it intimidate you, these are mostly ingredients that you have in your kitchen or that you can easily get in your local supermarket. The ingredients list below is a summary, please see the recipe card at the bottom of the page for the full measurements.
- 1 full medium-sized chicken - the traditional way to make Kuku Paka is with skinless and bone-in chicken. You can, however still, use your favorite chicken pieces, such as the breast. I would not advise you to keep the skin as it affects how the marinade works.
- some lemon juice or a tablespoon of white vinegar to clean the chicken. Now, washing chicken is generally not advised because droplets filled with bacteria could land on other kitchen surfaces and cause contamination. But to truly represent how we make this dish in East Africa, I have decided to include this step. Feel free to skip washing the chicken, if you prefer.
- olive oil or your favorite cooking oil - this helps to tenderize the chicken as well as combine the spices used together.
- some finely minced or crushed garlic and ginger.
- spices - turmeric powder, black pepper, garam masala, red chili powder (optional), coriander powder, and cumin powder.
- one medium-sized yellow or red onion - finely diced or julienne sliced.
- some tomato paste.
- coconut cream - do not confuse it with the much lighter coconut milk that comes in a box; rather, use canned coconut milk.
- bell pepper (also known as pili pili hoho)- use any color of bell pepper you prefer.
- fresh coriander (cilantro or dhania) - to garnish.
- salt to taste.
- This recipe uses a whole, skinless, bone-in chicken. Other cuts will also do fine so feel free to use them if you prefer.
- Do not skip marinating the chicken - the oil and the coconut milk help tenderize the meat. Also, marinating allows all the seasoning to sip into the flesh. The lemon juice tenderizes the proteins on the surface of the meat.
- Grilling - traditionally, we make Kuku Paka in East Africa using a charcoal grill (which goes by the name jiko). Now, if you know a bit about East Africa, then you certainly have heard or seen some jikos. However, feel free to use an electric grill or your oven. Do not set the grill on high. Grilling on high only results in a chicken that is quickly grilled on the outside, but not properly cooked on the inside.
- Minimum internal temperature - the FDA recommends a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F (74 degrees C) but I would say keep an eye on the chicken and make sure the juices are running clear. It is in this case, ok to cook the chicken longer to an internal temperature of 180°F (82°C), as we are using bone-in chicken.
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East African Kuku Paka Recipe
- 1 full medium-sized chicken (skinless and bone-in or, your preferred cut, such as the breast).
- 1 ½ tablespoon tablespoon olive oil (or favourite cooking oil).
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder (ground turmeric)
- 1 ½ tablespoon lemon juice
- juice of half a lemon to clean the chicken
- 1 tablespoon ginger finely minced
- 1 tablespoon garlic finely minced
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon red chili powder optional
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder (ground cilantro)
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder (ground cumin)
TO MAKE THE COCONUT SAUCE
- 2 tablespoon suitable cooking oil (olive oil, coconut oil or your preferred choice of cooking oil)
- 1 medium-sized onion (finely diced or julienne sliced)
- 1 large bell pepper (chopped)
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder (ground turmeric)
- ⅓ cup tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon ginger (finely minced or crushed)
- ½ teaspoon garlic (finely minced or crushed)
- 1 ½ tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ cups coconut cream canned
- ½ teaspoon cumin powder (ground cumin)
KUKU PAKA MARINADE
- Clean the chicken by filling a large pot or bowl with water and squeezing in the juice of half a lemon. Alternatively, you can clean the chicken by patting it dry using a paper towel.Next, cut the chicken to servable pieces, trim off excess fat from the chicken, and make diagonal slits on the surface to allow the marinade to penetrate through. Transfer the prepared chicken pieces to a bowl.juice of half a lemon
- To the bowl with the chicken pieces, add lemon juice, minced garlic, ginger, black pepper, red chili powder, coriander, cumin, turmeric and salt. Stir in the olive oil then give it a good mix to combine. Cover, place in the refrigerator and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes or overnight for best results.1 ½ tablespoon tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon turmeric powder, 1 ½ tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon ginger, 1 tablespoon garlic, ½ teaspoon black pepper, ½ teaspoon red chili powder, 1 teaspoon coriander powder, 1 teaspoon cumin powder, 1 full medium-sized chicken
GRILL THE CHICKEN
- Preheat the grill to between medium and medium-high. If using a coal grill or jiko, make sure that the flames are not too hot.Remove the chicken from the fridge while the grill is heating and allow it to come to room temperature. This will allow the chicken to get the right internal temperature, and not to overcook on the outside while the inside is still too cold.1 full medium-sized chicken
- Once the grill is hot enough, brush the chicken pieces with some cooking oil on both sides and lay them on the grill. Grill for about 5 minutes then flip and grill on the other side for another 5 minutes.
- Continue to alternate sides for a total MINIMUM time of at least 25 minutes or until the chicken pieces have attained an internal temperature of 180 degrees F (82 degrees F). The FDA recommends a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F (74 degrees C).
- Once cooked through, set the chicken pieces aside and proceed on to prepare the sauce. You can cover them with foil paper so they do not cool too much.
- Place a non-stick pot or pan on the stove and allow it to heat under medium heat. Next, add cooking oil and the sliced onions. Fry until the onions are translucent and fragrant.2 tablespoon suitable cooking oil, 1 medium-sized onion
- Add the tomato paste, salt, minced garlic and ginger, turmeric and ground cumin then stir to combine. Add the coconut cream and lemon juice then give it a good mix.½ teaspoon turmeric powder, ⅓ cup tomato paste, ½ teaspoon ginger, ½ teaspoon garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 ½ cups coconut cream, ½ teaspoon cumin powder, 1 ½ tablespoon lemon juice
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and allow the sauce to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Next, stir in the bell pepper and coriander and allow to cook for a further 2-5 minutes.1 large bell pepper
- Lay the grilled chicken pieces on a serving plate and spoon the hot coconut sauce on top. Garnish with chopped coriander or sliced chilli, and serve.
- This recipe uses a whole, skinless, bone-in chicken but other cuts such as chicken breast will also do fine so feel free to use them if you prefer.
- The FDA recommends a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F (74 degrees C) but I would say keep an eye on it and make sure the juices are running clear. It is in this case, ok to cook the chicken longer to an internal temperature of 180 degrees F (82 degrees C), as we are using bone-in chicken.
- Kuku Paka is traditionally grilled on charcoal grills but you can also use an electric grill. Do not set your grill too high. This will only overcook the chicken on the outside, while the inside is still undercooked.