Citizens, chicken (chandi) korma is always a popular choice for anyone visiting an Indian restaurant seeking a more mild alternative to a fiery vindaloo or phaal curry. However, what is almost always served is tough chicken served in a boring cream sauce nearly devoid of flavor.
This is the true, authentic recipe for Chicken Korma, as once prepared for the Emperors of India in ancient times – try and it and see what all the fuss is really about. My version of this recipe is based closely on one first created by the famous Indian chef Jiggs Kalera, with a number of tweaks by me.
Yes it’s complicated – and yes, it really uses genuine silver foil to gild the final results! Don’t be afraid, Citizens – it’s totally edible and according to the Indian Ayurvedic medical tradition is VERY good for you. They’re right – it is.
The Ain-e-Akbari (life chronicles of the emperor Akbar written by Abul Fazl) suggests that Korma was created in the royal kitchens of Akbar the great, and though Korma is not one of the 30 recipes mentioned in the Ain-e-Akbari (Akbarnama), it is safe to assume that its cooking method and ingredients have remained the same for more than 500 years. The Korma was always white to symbolize purity and the divine nature of the Emperor.
As noted in a fantastic article on dawn.com, the history of chicken korma is inextricably tied to the royal Moghul court of India.
Korma probably derived from the Persian Koresh, a ghee-based mild stew the Moghuls indianised using cream, yogurt, ground almonds, saffron and aromatic spices.
It is said that if the Indian cook could cook a Korma he could cook for the Moghul court. If he could cook a dozen variations he would be the king of the kitchen and cook for the emperor’s table,’ writes Pat Chapman the English food writer, in his book India Food and Cooking.
But some believe that the Korma has central Asian roots and is referred to askhorma, qorma, kurma and kavurma and its mughlai version was created in the 16th century through the experimentation of Rajput cooks in the royal kitchens of Akbar the Great, under the supervision of Mir Bakawal, the master of kitchens and one of the court navratans (Akbar’s nine gems).
The Rajput cooks on creating the dish, named it Korma, in honour of the warrior Rajput ‘Kurma’ tribe.
Korma literally means braising the meat, and the method for cooking Korma was initial braising of meat in ghee (clarified butter), yogurt and spices and then simmering it in water until completion; blanched and finely ground nuts were also used as thickening agents.
It is said that the cooks in the royal kitchens marinated the meat in yogurt, fried onions and spices before cooking it for the emperor’s dinner table, and after the initial braising of the meat, the dum-pukth method was initiated until completion, or open lid simmering, but the temperature was always controlled hence the yogurt was never allowed to curd.
Citizens – I hope you will gird your culinary loins and give this complex dish once reserved only for the Emperor of India a try!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
4 chicken breast fillets, halved
50 g butter, unsalted
60 g yogurt cheese or if unavailable, try Quark (preferred) or Farmers cheese
30 ml heavy cream
20 g ginger paste, strained
10 g garlic, paste, strained
1 pch Himalayan pink salt, to taste
75 ml butter, clarified (desi ghee)
9 white peppercorns
9 black peppercorns
Seeds from 8 green cardamom pods
6 cloves (lavang)
1 ½ teaspoons grated nutmeg
1 black cardamom, halved
1 Ceylon cinnamon quill (daalcheeni)
2 bay leaves
2.5 g black cumin seeds (shahi zeera)
200 g onion paste, boiled
20 g ginger paste, strained
10 g garlic paste, strained
150 ml yogurt + 10 g green chili paste, mixed together
30 g almond paste, fried
30 g sieved khoya (unsweetened condensed milk)
1 liter chicken stock
1 pinch Himalayan pink salt, to taste
10 ml lemon juice
2.25 g green cardamom powder (chotti elaichi)
1.5 g rose petal powder
12 nuts, pistachio
Silver Varq foil (JH note – this is वरख in Hindi and can be purchased online at Amazon here)
Clean, trim, flatten with a wooden bat, then wash and pat dry. Whisk yogurt cheese in a bowl, add the remaining marinade ingredients, whisk until homogenized. Rub the marinade evenly on the chicken and reserve for 30 minutes.
Melt the butter in a frying pan over high heat, sear the marinated chicken evenly for 4 minutes. Remove, place on a paper towels and keep aside.
The Spiced Yoghurt Gravy:
Heat desi ghee in a handi/pan over medium heat, sauté peppercorns, green cardamoms, clove, cinnamon, bay leaves and black cumin seeds until the cardamoms begin to change color.
Add the boiled onion paste, bhunno/stir-fry until specks of fat begin to appear on the surface, then add the garlic and ginger pastes. When specks of fat begin to appear on the surface, add the yogurt mixture, stir, add in the almond paste and khoya. Stir-fry until specks of fat begin to appear on the surface, add in the stock and bring to boil.
Reduce the heat to simmering, stirring occasionally, until reduced by a quarter. Pass the gravy through a fine mesh soup strainer into a separate handi/pan. Return the gravy to heat, add the seared chicken fillet, bring to boil and reduce to simmering until the chicken is cooked, stirring constantly.
Add in the green cardamom, rose petal powder, lemon juice and adjust seasoning.
Arrange 2 cooked chicken pieces on each serving plate with sauce, garnish with pistachio slivers and cover with varq. Serve immediately.