Friday, June 12, 2015

Chicken Korma

by Sheila Connolly

Years ago, when I was working on a political campaign in Philadelphia, we often ordered takeout from a hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant a couple of blocks away. I fell in love with the lamb korma, but I’ve never found it since, and lamb is hard to come by around here, for reasons that mystify me, so I can't make my own.

The great culinary resource Wikipedia (you do know I’m kidding, right?) says that “Korma (from Turkish kavurma), also spelled kormaa, qorma, khorma, or kurma, is a dish originating in Central Asia consisting of meat or vegetables braised in a spiced sauce made with yogurt, cream, nut or seed paste.” A bit oversimplified, but you get the basics: meat simmered in sauce that includes yogurt and a bunch of spices. The nice thing is, you can vary the spices and the heat any way you want.

So when I saw this recipe earlier this year in the New York Times, I pounced on it. And then I started changing it, of course. The original version was kind of sweet, incorporating cloves and cinnamon. I respect the tradition, but I’m not a big fan of the flavor combination. I decided to hang on to the cardamom, though, because that has a very distinctive flavor.

So here goes my excursion into Bangladeshi cooking (in case you don’t remember, Bangladesh was once known as East Pakistan, and it’s next door to India). 

Chicken Korma

2 lbs skinless, bone-in chicken pieces (dark meat works best. As it happens, I had a whole chicken, and the two hind-quarters weighed almost exactly two pounds. And the sauce was just about the right amount for those two pieces.)
1 tsp salt
1 medium onion, peeled
1 1-1/2” knob of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup whole milk yogurt
4-6 green cardamom pods, cracked open
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2-3 small hot green chiles (optional)
2 Tblsp butter
2 Tblsp vegetable oil

Season the chicken pieces with salt and place in a medium-size Dutch oven. Thinly slice a quarter of the onion and set it aside. Roughly chop the rest of the onion, then puree it in a blender with the ginger, garlic, and 3 Tblsp water until smooth. If it thickens too much, add a little more water.

Yes, I have a blender. It was a wedding present.
It is Harvest Gold. It still works.

Combine the onion puree with the yogurt, cardamom, bay leaves and peppercorns. Spread it over the chicken in the Dutch oven. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring. Cover the pot until the chicken releases its juices, in 5-7 minutes.

Uncover the pot and adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring and flipping the chicken occasionally until it is tender and the sauce is as thick as gravy, about 35 minutes. (It took this long to cook the chicken through. It’s kind of a juggling act to keep the sauce from boiling too hard while making sure the chicken is cooked.) If you need to, you can thin the sauce with water. If you’re using the hot chiles, now is the time to add them. Taste to see if you want more salt.

Heat the butter and oil in a small pan over medium-high heat. After it foams, add the sliced onions and cook, stirring, until they are well browned, about 3-4 minutes. Add a pinch of salt, then add the onion mixture to the chicken.

Serve with steamed basmati rice. This kind of rice has long been a staple in Indian/Pakistani cooking (it’s no harder to cook than any other kind of rice, except maybe Minute Rice, which is still around). You can use regular long grain or Jasmine rice, but it won’t have the same flavor.

The sauce

One note: the original (authentic?) recipe called for whole peppercorns and cardamom pods, which are a bit hard to chew. If you prefer, you can add ground black pepper, and remove the seeds from the cardamom pods (or even use ground cardamom).

Privy to the Dead! Came out last week! What do you mean, you don't have a copy yet? (Come to think of it, I may have mentioned that Philadelphia Indian restaurant in the book, or one that came before it.)

Find it at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

On a related note, I did mention a sandwich place down the street from the "Society" in Philadelphia, but I had long since forgotten the name of the real place: More Than Just Ice Cream (I walked by it last month--it's still there!)


  1. The dish looks delicious! Thank you for the recipe.

  2. I can almost smell this! I love anything with complexity when it comes to flavors and Indian cooking does that so well. I'm even bringing Mr. Meat and Potatoes around to liking it. I'll be making this soon!

  3. Basmati rice is amazing! It makes the house smell so good.
    This looks like a winner.
    I went to college in central Penn. and lamb was not to be found. I wonder why there are areas that just don't have it?
    And why is it so hard to find a good Indian restaurant?
    Guess that's why there are wonderful recipes like this for us to use.

    1. I haven't figured it out yet. I've read that over 20% of the people of the town where I live have an Irish background, but you can't make a lamb stew unless you accept lamb from New Zealand.

  4. Sheila, this looks yummy! I agree with you on cloves and cinnamon in savory dishes and this seems to be a great adjustment. This will go on my TBT pile. (That's like To Be Read pile with books, only it's recipes To Be Tried:)

  5. I love chicken korma and this recipe looks very good - great photos as usual. I look forward to trying this at home instead of ordering it in a restaurant. Thanks, Sheila!



  6. Lamb korma is one of my Indian restaurant favorites. I'm so glad you shared this. How curious that the onion doesn't cook with the chicken. It adds so much flavor.

    1. I found it interesting that the onions were added at the end, after they're well-cooked. It's different! Either way, the chicken stays nice and juicy.

  7. What an interesting dish, Sheila. Thanks!

    Daryl/ Avery