I did not grow up on chicken korma.
Growing up in a traditional Indian home, chicken was served maybe a couple times a week. Although those meals would be a treat, chicken curry was mainly what my mom cooked.
Kormas are for very, very special occasions, like weddings or grand parties, and rightfully so! They are so rich and luxurious. Pieces of chicken are gently simmered in a rich, creamy sauce with layers of sweet and spicy flavors. This dish is what dreams are made of!
What Is Korma?
Korma is prepared by marinating and then braising a meat in a yogurt or cream base. The dish is traditionally cooked on low heat for around an hour until the meat is tender and the sauce turns into a rich and creamy glaze.
When the Mughals came to India from Central Asia, they brought with them their own cuisine, including the slow braised, yogurt-based (or sometimes cream-based) dish, korma.
In India, being different from their native land in respect of climate, spices, and crops, the recipe evolved over time to include more spices like coriander and cumin. Some kormas also combine meat and vegetables like spinach and turnips.
With time the dish evolved, and various recipes came into being. Vegetarians make navratan korma where nav means nine and ratan means gems or jewels, referring to the nine varieties of vegetables used in the dish. Korma prepared in the southern part of India has coconut in it, given of the heavy use of coconut in South Indian cuisine.
How to Make This Korma Recipe
I have shaped this recipe for chicken korma to make it more approachable without compromising authenticity or flavor.
Instead of slow cooking bone-in meat, I have used boneless chicken thighs, which make the cooking process fast enough to whip up the dish on a weeknight.
I have tried to use minimal spices, which are also easily accessible. This dish is not heavy on spices anyway, but it does rely on several flavor profiles. I prefer to use green cardamom pods over other varieties. You can use black cardamom, but it will change the flavors of the dish.
Like most Mughlai dishes, this one uses nuts, dried fruit, and spices in addition to cream. Fried onions give the Korma a slightly sweet flavor, yogurt adds acidity, spices give the dish a warmth, and nuts add richness.
The addition of unsweetened coconut (fresh or desiccated) came over time. Most South Indian kormas use it, probably a result of easy availability of coconut in a South Indian kitchen. You can find desiccated or freshly grated coconut at your local Indian store or on Amazon. But I’d suggest you simply omit the coconut if it is too difficult for you to find.
How to Make This Dish Ahead of Time
You can cook this dish in advance and refrigerate it for 2 to 3 days, or freeze for up to a month. Before serving, thaw the korma and then reheat it either on a stovetop until it's warmed through, or in the microwave on high for 2-3 minutes, before serving.
What to Serve With Korma
Typically kormas are served with some kind of bread, probably because a korma doesn’t have enough sauce to be served with rice.
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- For the sauce:
- 12-15 raw almonds
- 2-3 green cardamom pods
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked peppercorn
- 1-inch cinnamon stick
- 2-3 whole cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1/4 cup plain yogurt
- 1 1/2 teaspoon shredded coconut (optional)
- Silvered almonds and chopped cilantro (for garnish)
- For the marinade:
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 1/2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- For the onions:
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced, about 1 cup
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
Make the almond paste
Soak the almonds in 1/2 cup water for approximately 2 hours. Peel the skins off. In a blender (I use Nutribullet) grind the almonds into a smooth paste. Feel free to add 1-2 tablespoons of additional water to help with a smooth grinding.
Marinade the chicken
In a medium-sized mixing bowl combine yogurt, turmeric, ginger garlic paste, salt, and cayenne pepper. Using a spoon or a whisk, mix it all together. Add chicken to the marinade. Coat the chicken well with marinade. Cover with a plate and set aside in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Fry the onions:
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Line a plate or sheet pan with paper towels and set this near the stove. Check to see if the oil is hot enough by dropping a strand of onion into the pot. If it sizzles then the oil is ready. Add the rest of the onions to the pot.
Cook for 7-10 minutes on medium-high heat while moving them around until the onions turn golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to take the onions out of the oil and spread into the paper-towel-lined plate or sheet pan lined to soak up the excess oil.
Set aside for later. You will use these onions to make a paste. Leave about 1 tablespoon of oil in the pot and discard the rest.
Start cooking the chicken:
Add cardamom, peppercorn, cinnamon, cloves, and bay leaf to the pot with the oil and reduce the heat to medium. Gently stir. Add chicken, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-8 minutes, until the chicken turns opaque.
Make the onion paste:
In a blender or food processor, add the fried onions and a couple of tablespoons of water. Pulse until it becomes a coarse paste.
Add the fried onion paste, salt, and coriander to the pot with the chicken. Mix everything together. Cover and let it simmer for 5-8 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
Finish the dish
Remove the lid, and add the yogurt, almond paste, and shredded coconut (if using). Stir well. Cook on medium-high heat (uncovered) for another 2-3 minutes, until the sauce turns creamy and oil starts to separate.