A rich and aromatic dish, korma originally belonged to the shahi dastarkhwans (royal kitchens) of Mughal emperors. Deep rooted in aristrocasy, the mughlai cuisine, thus, is redolent of sweet-smelling, unique spices,delicate herbs, liberal use of ground nuts & dried fruit as well as exotic ingredients like saffron & rose petals in cooking.Dating back to the era of invasions and subsequent period of rule by the Mughals, indian cuisine, particularly north indian evolved and embraced the said style of cooking ranging from extremely spicy to mild curries,rice preparations and bread making.
With addition of ghee, nut pastes and dairy (mava (milk solids) /milk/ cream), mughlai cuisine is not your everyday fare. It is once in a while thing in our kitchen but something which we look forward to at mealtime.Those are the days when we don’t care about calorie counting or healthy eating. Nothing can beat the indulgence of soaking up all of that nutty sauce in yeasty naans or ladling it over hot steaming basmati.Nothing compares to the comfort that such hearty food brings.
The most important thing to be kept in mind when preparing mild curries is that you cannot go overboard with your selection of ingredients.That regal flavor of korma sauce needs deft proportions keeping in mind that one ingredient does not overpower the other. On those rare three or four occasions in a year when we dined out at the Karims, a place nestled in lanes of the Jama Masjid in Purani Dilli (Old Delhi), a restaurant with great history and luscious mughlai food delicacies, dad always fondly remarked how perfect this dish was done there ,a single morsel of the sauce tasting of tang from yogurt with pleasant richness from the nuts & dairy and finishing notes of warmth from cardamom, he said.I clearly remember that korma there had this distinct hint of kewra(screw pine essence) and with a simple jeera pilaf, it was all you could want at that particular time and day in your life.
It took a few attempts to come up with this recipe keeping in mind those expectations and the memories.I do not claim to taste like restaurants, but this recipe is definitely a keeper. It came out pretty good, if I say so myself and we really enjoyed it.
I use a bit of turmeric in mainly for the color and to enhance that hue,I finish the sauce with saffron infused in milk at the end.If you prefer more of a whitish korma, skip the turmeric and just add the saffron strands (without soaking).Another unusual thing in my recipe is the addition of kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves), a flavor which I really enjoy in creamy curries, you can skip if you like.
Ingredients (Serves 2-3)
- 1.25 lb chicken thighs, boneless & skinless, cut into bite size pieces (see notes)
- 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 3 tbsp plain whole milk hung yogurt (not greek, see notes)
- 3/4 tsp garam masala
- scant 1/2 tsp white pepper powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
For the Sauce
- 3 tbsp oil (any neutral oil)
- 4 cloves
- 5-6 green cardamom
- 1/2″ cinnamon stick (see notes)
- 1/4 tsp shahjeera (caraway seeds)
- 2 small blades javitri (mace,a really strong spice, a little goes a long way)
- 1 large tejpatta (indian bay leaf)
- 3/4 cup chopped yellow/white onion
- 1.5 tsp fresh garlic, chopped
- 1.5 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
- 2-3 Thai bird green chillies, chopped (adjust to tolerance)
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- scant 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 6 tbsp raw broken cashews (or 5 tbsp whole cashews)
- 2 tbsp melon seeds (skip if not available)
- 2/3 cup plain whole milk hung yogurt (not greek)
- 2-3 tbsp ghee
- 1/2 cup-3/4 cup water (depending on how thick/thin you want the sauce)
- 1/2 tsp kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves, optional)
- salt to taste
- 5-6 tbsp heavy cream (I quantity can up to 1/2 cup, depending how how rich you like)
- a generous pinch of good quality saffron (crushed between palms to fine dust),soaked in 1 tbsp warm milk
- 1/4 tsp green cardamom powder
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 2-3 tbsp golden raisins
- Chopped cilantro for garnish
- I like to use dark chicken meat when making curries but you can go ahead and use chicken breast in this recipe too. Even bone in chicken will work.Just remember to adjust the cooking time so that the meat dosent dry out or remain uncooked.
- Hung yogurt is nothing but yogurt tied up in a cheesecloth/muslin and hung for 30-40 minutes to let its water drain.
- Indian cinnamon is very sharp as compared to western sweet cinnamon. If using the latter, go ahead and add a bit more.
- If you prefer more of a whitish korma, skip the turmeric and just add the saffron strands (without soaking in milk) at the end.
Wash the chicken pieces and pat dry using a paper towel. Mix up lemon juice, 3 tbsp yogurt, garam masala, pepper powder, salt, ginger & garlic in a small bowl to a thick paste and rub this paste over the chicken. Marinate the chicken for atleast 4 hours or preferably overnight, refrigerated.
When ready to cook the korma, takeout the chicken from the refrigerator and let sit on the kitchen counter. Soak the cashews and melon seeds (if using) in 1/2 cup water for 10 minutes. Drain and discard the water.
In a heavy bottomed pot or kadhai, heat up the oil on medium high. Add the cloves,cardamom,mace, shahjeera, cinnamon, tejpatta to hot oil and let the whole spices crackle, about8-10 seconds or till you smell an aroma.
Next add the onions, ginger and garlic and saute for 3-5 minutes until the onions starts to turn light brown. Add the soaked cashews and melon seeds(if using) next along with green chillies. Saute for 2-3 minutes. Reduce the heat to very low now and add the coriander, turmeric along with 2/3 cup hung yogurt. Do not stir immediately else the yogurt will curdle. Wait for atlas a minute and then slowly stir around to mix yogurt with everything else in the pot.Cook the yogurt along with the masala for 5-7 minutes on low heat until you see oil separating on the sides.Put the stove off, pick out the bay leaf & cinnamon,about half of the cloves & cardamom and tip rest of the contents into a blender. The mixture is going to be hot so wait for 10-15 minutes before you start blending it.Blend (do not use water if possible during blending).I do not make a very smooth paste, you could decide the texture of the sauce at this point).
Meanwhile,in the same pot or another pot, heat up the 2-3 tbsp ghee on medium. When the ghee is hot enough, start searing the marinated chicken on both sides.You do not need to brown but a light sear is just about enough. You could do this is batches. Once all the chicken is seared, add all of it together along the blended sauce to the pot. Stir around on and cook on medium- low heat. The chicken will render its moisture and fat as it cooks and the sauce will thicken and deepen in color.Let cook till the chicken is about 95% cooked, about 6-8 minutes.
Next, add the water depending on the desired consistency of sauce (I add 1/2 cup water)along with crushed kasuri methi. Check and adjust the salt. Let come to a boil on medium. Next add the cream, saffron infused milk, cardamom powder, sugar and raisins. Let simmer (not boil) for 8-10 minutes on very low heat. Once simmered, put off the heat and let sit covered for 2 hours.
Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.