This space reserved for photos by Terri Coles.
This korma is a yogurt-based “curry” featuring almonds and plenty of spices. I’ve got curry in quotes because now is maybe a good time to remind everyone that Indian cuisine historically never used the word “curry”. Add that to the fact that the things we label “curry” are so diverse that it’s nearly meaningless and you’ve got a lot of ambiguous foodstuffs here. So I’m always a bit confused when people say they “don’t like curry”. What is it they’re referring to? The sauce? Not all curries have sauce. The heat? Not every curry is hot, and so on.
Korma (this one anyway) is rather mild, in regards to chili content. The chili powder that is used is smothered in the creamy yogurt sauce, which will cut the sharpness from the heat. We’re also going to use that yogurt to marinate the chicken. That means you’ll have to plan this one a day in advance. Man, I just made this last night and I’m still salivating over it. It’s just full of flavour without feeling too heavy in your stomach. Rich but not overpowering. And once again, pretty easy once we break it down into it’s components.
That’s the thing about a lot of Indian recipes. They may look impossible, but there’s a logic to them, and when you find it you can start playing with the recipes and modifying them, etc. How many people feel comfortable opening a jar of plain tomato sauce and adding your own ingredients (olive oil, red peppers, mushrooms, black pepper, ground beef, whatever)? That’s probably because you understand, through experience, what amount the sauce can handle, what tastes good together, and how to add it without ruining dinner. Well, the same concepts obviously apply to all cooking, and “complex” curries are no different. It’s just a matter of learning some new flavours and how they work together.
Let’s break this recipe down: First we’re going to marinate the chicken in the yogurt, garlic and ginger. That all goes into a bowl and that’s one major component. Chicken in a yogurt paste. Next we fry the spices and onion together, then blend it with the almonds and more spice. This makes a spiced onion paste, which forms the bulk of the actual sauce and is the second major component. Then you just brown the chicken, add the onion sauce and simmer until the chicken is cooked. Basically you are just adding the two components together and cooking them until they combine flavours. That’s it, really. So let’s get into it.
Marinade Ingredients (serves 4):
- 6 chicken thighs, cut roughly into 1-inch chunks (don’t worry about larger pieces, it’s cool)
- 1/4 cup of plain yogurt (I use Balkan-style – 6% MG – it’s got a cow’s head on the label)
- 2-inch by 1-inch by 1-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled
- 3 cloves of garlic
What you will need: medium glass bowl, knife and cutting board, measuring cups
- Chop the garlic and ginger. It doesn’t have to be too fine, just make sure there’s no pieces larger than a centimetre wide, roughly. You want the garlic and ginger flavour to permeate the yogurt and the chicken, and small pieces will help this. If you have one, I’d run them through a small food processor to make a paste if possible.
- In a medium-sized bowl, mix the chopped garlic and ginger evenly into the yogurt. Then add the chicken pieces.
- Cover the bowl with some plastic wrap, and store in the fridge overnight. You could cook this recipe after the chicken’s marinated for a few hours, but overnight is better. The first time I made this, the chicken was actually left to marinate for over 2 days, by a set of untimely circumstances. It was ridiculously tender and flavourful. Anyway, leave it in the fridge for a day.
Tomorrow’s Sauce Base Ingredients:
- 2 tbsp ghee (use unsalted butter or vegetable oil if you can’t get ghee, but ghee is so good)
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp whole cloves
- 6 green cardamom pods
- 3 black cardamom pods
- 3 3-inch sticks of cinnamon
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large yellow onion
- 1/2 cup of almonds (no salt)
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt or coarse sea salt (if you only have table salt, use 1 tsp only)
- 1/2 tsp cayenne chili powder
- 2 tbsp cilantro leaves
What you will need: knife and cutting board, large/deep frying pan (about 3 inches deep), measuring cups and spoons, wooden spoon, a blender or small food processor, three small bowls for organization’s sake
Serve With: steamed basmati rice, biryani, Indian breads
- In one bowl, measure out all the dry spices (peppercorns, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and bay leaf). In another bowl, measure out the almonds, salt and cayenne.
- In the last bowl, we’re going to add the onion, after we chop it. So do that. Chop it. It just needs to be a rough slice (strips about 1/4 inch thick, inch or two long)
- Now, we start cooking. Turn the burner on to medium heat (4 on my dial) and add the ghee.
- Once the ghee is melted and the pan is getting hot, add all the whole spices. Luckily, you’ve put them all in a nicely organized bowl, so it’s very easy to just pour them all in at once.
- Fry the spices in the ghee for about 1-2 minutes. Just until they start smelling really good. Any longer and they will burn and the flavour is ruined. So just keep your nose around the pan. Give it a sniff around 1 minute and you should be just about right, but don’t get hung up on time, if the spices are smelling great, move on.
- Add the chopped onion and fry it until the pieces are translucent and the edges are lightly browned. This should take about 5 minutes, but again, just keep an eye on the onions and not the time. If your pan isn’t as hot as mine, it will take a bit longer. That’s ok. Stir the onions every minute or so to make sure they cook evenly.
- Once the onion is cooked, pour the entire contents of the pan into a bowl and remove the pan from the heat for now. Let it cool for a few minutes. This is going into your blender/processor. Before we get to the next step, you’re going to remove the cinnamon sticks and the bay leaves from the onions. Don’t throw them out!
- In a small food processor, blend the onion and the spices into a paste.
- Add 1 cup of warm water to the paste.
- Add the almonds, salt, and cayenne to the onion paste. Process them until the nuts are worked into the mixture. The final product should be a gritty light beige mixture.
- Let that sit for now. Go to the fridge and get out your bowl of marinating chicken.
- Turn the heat back on and heat up the same pan to medium-high heat (5-6 on my stove)
- Pour the chicken and all of the yogurt paste into the pan. Cook until the chicken is no longer pink on the outside. This will only take 4-5 minutes at most. Make sure to stir the chicken so both sides get browned.
- Pour in the onion spice paste, and return the cinnamon sticks and bay leaf to the pan. In the processor, add another 1/2 cup of water to wash out the paste that’s stuck to the sides, and pour that into the pan as well. Stir all the ingredients together.
- Allow the entire mixture to come to a gentle boil (bubbles on the surface) then lower the heat to low (3 on my dial) and simmer the chicken until it’s cooked all the way through. This will take maybe 15 minutes. This will also reduce the water content in the sauce so it thickens up slightly. Once the chicken is cooked (test this – remove a piece and cut it in half) turn the heat off and remove the pan from the burner. Let it sit for 3-5 minutes while you prepare the table for this meal. Letting it sit will allow it to thicken a bit more into a creamy, rich sauce.
- Spoon the curry into serving bowls and tear up some cilantro leaves and sprinkle over the curry. Done.
Now, bask in the adoration of your friends as they savour your rich, nutty, aromatic korma. Chuckle to yourself as they wonder how you were ever able to make something like this. Oh hey, the above recipe looks like a lot of steps, right? I tend to ramble. What’s up there isn’t all that hard, is it? Just a lot of reading, but it’s worth it, because there’s a lot of eating at the end.