Korma Means to Braise
Korma is one of the classic sauces of India and it means to braise. And you can play until your heart’s content with what you would like to feature in this sauce. Indian chicken korma is a favorite North Indian dish served at celebrations. It can be rich with cream and butter and pureed nuts, or light and aromatic. Also, it can be mildly hot from chilies or fiery, depending on your taste. Korma’s exotic flavor comes from fenugreek seeds, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom or fennel, depending on the region and the cook. South Indians add grated coconut or coconut milk to this curry.
Make it Vegetarian
The most common vegetarian kormas are made with potatoes or paneer. Navratan korma is a vegetarian version of this masala containing nine different vegetables. And chicken and mutton (goat in India, but lamb in the West) are favorite non-vegetarian additions. For this recipe, I decided to go full out and present a weekend project dish, though it only requires a 1-hour pause for marination. So you can prepare this korma from start to finish in one cooking session if you wish.
The most time-consuming aspect of this recipe is the 35 to 45 minute cooking of the onions until they become deeply caramelized. As with most curries, you can break the cooking steps up to fit around your schedule. By doing short chunks of the preparation over several days, you will make an even more flavorful Indian chicken korma in the process.
Indian Chicken Korma
The outline of my chicken korma comes from a 2012 Saveur magazine article, written by a chef from Tulsi, a much loved Indian restaurant in New York City. Murgh (chicken) korma was included in the 150 classic recipes in their 150th issue. As usual, I have made some tweaks. I’ve reduced the 3/4 cup canola oil to 3 tablespoons of ghee or oil. And because I prefer a fairly mild curry, I pulled back on some of the heat from chilis. The black pepper called for became my favorite red Kashmiri chili powder instead.
I have heard of using cashews to make “cream,” but since I am not vegan, I’ve never tried it. Wow! I love how smooth and rich this sauce is from the ground cashews, and I will definitely use it other dishes, whether sweet or savory.
See the notes before you cook.
Indian Chicken Korma (Shahi Korma)
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs ~ Cut in quarters, see first Note below
- 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste ~ Or 1 1/2 tsp each garlic & ginger, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup raw cashews
- 1 tablespoon Indian white poppy seeds ~ Optional; see second Note below
- 3 tablespoons ghee or a neutral oil
- 2 teaspoons whole fennel seeds
- 3 green cardamom pods
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 2-inch piece of cinnamon ~ Broken into pieces
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Substitutes
- 2-inch fresh ginger ~ Peeled & sliced OR 2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste
- 3 garlic cloves ~ Thinly sliced OR skip if using the paste above
- 2 cups yellow or white onions ~ Thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon table or sea salt
- 1 small Indian chili ~ Seeded and minced (1/2 tsp) OR substitutions; more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon paprika ~ Not smoked
- 1 cup plain full-fat yogurt
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/4 cup heavy cream, optional ~ I usually don't add, but you decide if the dish needs it!
- 1/4 cup cilantro ~ Coarsely chopped
- toasted almonds or cashews ~ Whole or chopped
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream or yogurt ~ To drizzle
- Place 1 tablespoon of the ginger garlic paste in a bowl with lemon juice and salt. Mix and add chicken pieces. Marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
- Puree cashews, poppy seeds (if using), and 1/3 cup of water in a blender (see last Note). Set aside.
- In a small skillet over medium-high heat add fennel seeds, cardamom, cloves, bay leaf, and cinnamon stick. Toast for a minute or two, until fragrant. Let cool for several minutes.
- Using a spice grinder, blend to a fine powder. Pass the powder through a sieve, grinding any larger pieces again. Sieve again and discard the small amount of coarse spice left behind.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of ghee or oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and add sliced ginger, sliced garlic, onions and salt. (If using ginger garlic paste, add after the onions have been cooked.) Cook until deeply caramelized; 25 minutes. Stir every couple of minutes and add a tablespoon of water, or more as needed, if the onions begin sticking on the bottom of the pan. Also, lower the heat if necessary, to avoid burning. Add the 1 tablespoon of ginger garlic paste now, if using instead of the sliced ginger and garlic, and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the ground spices and the ground red chili to the onions, and stir for 1 minute to cook through and the paste no longer smells raw.
- Puree mixture with 1/3 cup water and set aside.
- Add remaining 1 tablespoons of ghee or oil to the pot, over medium-high heat. Add onion paste, the last tablespoon of the ginger garlic paste, and the green chili. Cook until the oil separates. About 5 to 6 minutes.
- Add turmeric and paprika. Cook for 1 minute.
- Add the marinated chicken and cook for 4 minutes. Pour in 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook at a very gentle simmer, covered for about 12 minutes (8 minutes if using white meat), or until done.
- Stir in the nut paste, yogurt, and lemon juice. Cook about 3 minutes, until the sauce is combined.
- Stir in 4 tablespoons of cream, if using. Taste for salt, acid, and heat. Add more lemon juice if needed.
- Garnish as you wish with the ingredient suggestions.
- I don’t typically recommend chicken breast in Indian chicken korma because it tends to dry out. This is one dish that you can get away with using white meat, if you are careful not to overcook it. Lamb would be delicious too.
- Indian poppy seeds are white and if you can’t find them, leave them out. You are going for a light-colored masala for this dish.
- To create the magic of this curry, do not hasten the browning of the onions. Put on an audiobook, listen to a podcast, or better yet, have some engaging company in the kitchen, with a glass of something fun while you enjoy this step.
- If you want a vegetarian meal, substitute paneer, or cubed potatoes instead of chicken.
- If you want a dairy-free dish, substitute coconut yogurt for regular yogurt.
- If you are having trouble getting a smooth paste for your nut and poppy seed puree, here are some solutions:
- If you have a Vitamix or Indian grinder/mixie, both are perfect for getting a smooth consistency.
- Also, a personal blender like a Bullet or Tribest, works very well.
- I have found that my Ninja blender failed, given the small volume of ingredients that you need to blend for this recipe.
- Another option is to grind the cashews and poppy seeds (if using) in a spice grinder, then proceed with the recipe as written. Use a strainer to remove the larger pieces, if you find it is necessary.
- Lastly, giving the nuts a soak for 15 minutes will help them break down.