Chicken korma is a mild curry dish originating from traditional Indian cuisine. Boneless chicken pieces are braised in a rich, creamy sauce made from yoghurt and nuts (almonds and cashews are favourites), with delicate, aromatic flavours, such as cardamom, rosewater and saffron.
The word korma is derived from the Turkish word kavurma, which literally means ‘cooked meat’. As a dish, korma has many variations, but they are all based on meat braised in a yoghurt or cream sauce.
East vs west
In sixteenth-century India, chicken korma was a favourite of the Moguls who came from Central Asia and took over the trade routes and businesses. It was a rich and velvety dish based on cream, nuts and dried fruit, made with expensive spices and exclusive flavourings. In short, a showpiece to be proud of.
Once the curry reached European restaurants, however, the sauce became a shadow of its former self. The subtle flavours disappeared and chicken korma became a dish for children and unadventurous eaters. Sinful and unjust, frankly, because a good korma is a meal fit for a king.
Did you know?
Chicken korma is one of the most popular dishes in the UK. It is so popular, in fact, that a YouGov poll launched in 2016 found that it ranked top of all curry dishes, 3% higher than the spicier chicken tikka masala. The spice mixtures used to make curry are called masala and the main ingredient in korma is turmeric, though the proportions will vary depending on the chef. In the UK, coconut milk is often used in the sauce rather than cream.
The chicken is marinated for a few hours in yoghurt and is then briefly fried. Milk or cream is infused with the subtle flavours of rose water and saffron. Onions, garlic, ginger, spices and nuts are ground into a ‘cheese’ (not peanut butter, but almond cheese or cashew cheese) and then baked and mixed with the yoghurt to form the sauce. The chicken is simmered for another half an hour, then the subtly flavoured milk or cream is finally stirred in before serving.
Chicken korma is usually served with white basmati rice or pilaf rice. For those who like an extra kick, a side dish of papadums (or poppadoms as they are sometimes called) and selection of spicy sauces, such as lime pickle, or sweet mango chutney are popular.