There are some dishes that transcend cultural and political boundaries, and persist — strengthened by time and regional variation. Such is the case for Korma, an Indian cuisine classic. Korma was brought to the Indian subcontinent by the Persian Mughals in the 16th Century. Korma is a Hindi word meaning braised, the manner in which the meat is simmered in any number of luscious liquids. Undoubtedly, the north Indian inhabitants of places such places as Kashmir contributed their extensive knowledge of flavorful spices from India, helping to shape this quintessential Indian dish — one fit for a Mughal Emperor.
Kormas vary significantly in ingredients. Many meats (lamb, goat, chicken) can be braised with various spices for a korma. They can be very spicy or mild, they can include nuts and raisins. The sauce can be made with heavy cream, yoghurt, or coconut milk. What has come to be a standard in Delhi and a favorite in the west, is a creamy chicken korma with a slight spiciness.
Here I offer you an authentic Delhi-style chicken korma, prepared in a contemporary manner as you might find in an upscale restaurant at Kahn Market. It is a creamy korma, but sensible with a yoghurt sauce enriched by a reasonable amount of cream, and enhanced by the nuttiness of cashews. The meat is very tender and flavorful due to a marinade in spiced yoghurt. A spiced yoghurt marinade may seem odd or exotic to the uninitiated, but the little extra effort is so very rewarding in results.
Don’t let any concern of Indian spiciness hinder your attempt at this korma. The amount of chillies in this recipe impart a peppery flavor, but not a fiery heat. If heat is your pleasure, you can easily add more cayenne (ground capsicum) to suit your preference.
Cooking this particular recipe from scratch does take some effort and some time, but it is the perfect dish for a long stew on a weekend.
This recipe serves apx 4 with leftovers (which are always tasty!) but you could easily halve or double it. I typically make a large stew pot full, using about 4 1/2 – 5 pounds of chicken, then freeze half.
Apx 30 -60 minutes, depending on how much effort you want to put into preparation of spices, and what cut of chicken you choose.
At least 3-4 hours, or overnight
About 1 1/2 – 2 hours
2 pounds chicken breast, trimmed and cut into 1 to 1 1/2″ chunks
Ingredients for the Marinade:
2 t poppy seeds
2 t coriander seeds
2 t cumin seeds
1 t black peppercorns
3/4 t ground cinnamon
4 whole cloves
4 green cardamom pods
2 black cardamom pods
2 t ground turmeric
2-3 T (heaping) strained plain yoghurt (Greek style in America)
Directions for the Marinade
- In a dry pan, roast the poppy, coriander, cumin seeds, peppercorns, cloves, and cinnamon until fragrant. This, THIS is the scent of heaven! Allow to cool. Combine with seeds of the black and green cardamom pods (husks removed), and nutmeg.
- Grind to a fine powder, add ground turmeric and mix.
- (NOTE: there is not only one way to make korma, so you could greatly simplify this by substituting an Indian spice blend or omitting some ingredients. One option would be to use a similar amount of ground garam masala (a meat spice blend found at your local import market) instead of roasting and grinding whole spices. However, NOTHING compares to freshly roasted and ground spices. My old burr-style coffee grinder is now a dedicated spice grinder, and I will never go back. Try it and you will be mesmerized by heavenly scents!)
- In a non-reactive bowl, thoroughly cover chopped chicken meat with spice blend, then stir in yoghurt to thoroughly coat.
- Allow to marinate in fridge for at least 3-4 hours, or overnight.
Ingredients for the Base
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 chillies, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and diced
1″ ginger, peeled and grated
11/2 C (apx) strained yoghurt (Greek style in America)
1/3 C cream
2 T chopped cashews
1 t garam masala
1 t salt (to taste)
1 1/2 t paprika
1 t salt
1/2 t cayenne
1/2 t black pepper
1 t garam masala
Oil to sauté (ghee or butter for richness, plain vegetable oil is fine)
- In a large pot sauté chopped onions and peppers (a food processor makes quick work of this) until softened and starting to brown.
- Add diced garlic and grated ginger, sauté until fragrant
- Remove and set aside
- In the same pan, add oil and reheat if necessary, then add the marinated chicken. Cook until meat whitens and edges just start to turn brown; reduce heat.
- When pan is cool, gradually add yoghurt, stirring frequently if your pan is too hot, your yoghurt will separate and make for an unpleasant texture).
- Gradually add the cream, and sautéed onions and peppers.
- Bring to simmering temperature, cover with a tightly fitting lid and allow to simmer for at least 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Simmer uncovered to achieve desired consistency of sauce
- Stir in the chopped cashews
- Adjust spices to suit you flavor: I add 1 1/2 t paprika1 t salt, 1/2 t cayenne, 1/2 t black pepper, 1 t garam masala (or you can use the garam masala as directed below for a grand finish)
- Chop a handful of cilantro finely, and stir half into the korma, reserve the remainder for garnishing.
The Grand Finish
For a grand finish, temper spices as follows: in a small skillet, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil. When hot, add the 1 t garam masala and cook for about 30-45 seconds to release spice’s fragrant oils. Pour the hot spiced oil into the korma, stir in.
Serving and Garnishing
You can serve on a bed of fragrant basmati rice, or simply with naan. Garnish with a paprika, cilantro. I like the spicy note and the texture offered by freshly diced hot red peppers.