The curry for people who don’t like curry.
Normally bland, tasteless and swimming in cream, the average Asian restaurant korma is as far away from the real deal as it’s possible to get.
I’d hesitate to say that the humble korma is the most abused of the curry house staples – that honour goes straight to the vindaloo – but the difference between a real korma and it’s Anglicised, watered down cousin is palpable.
It’s not clear when and how the korma developed, but it probably came into being in the Moghal’s Islamic courts in around the sixteenth or seventeenth century. On the sub-continent, a korma is a rich, special occasion dish that uses a lot of expensive spices and other top quality ingredients. It’s a party or banquet dish, made once in a while to celebrate something special, a long way from the standardised English approximations.
This recipe firmly takes the traditional Asian path. It’s a an exquisite dish with a hint of luxury about it from Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible.
To start, take a deep breath, ignore the cost and put a teaspoon full of saffron threads into a mug and pour four generous tablespoons of warmed double cream over them. Stir the cream until it starts to turn a mellow yellow colour and set it to one side.
This will be your final flourish.
Now for the spices.
As with any good curry, the base of the dish is a heady concoction of spices, in this case twelve cardamom pods, four medium sticks of cinnamon and six bay leaves, which should go into a large, hot pan with a very decent glug of a neutral oil such as groundnut in it. The spices will hiss and you’ll be able to smell them immediately, a huge aroma bomb exploding in the pan.
Next fry 2.3kg of chicken thigh meat in batches until it starts brown.
The chicken should be skinned, off the bone and cut into big pieces. I think that it’s good to cut meat for curries on the large size, as so often in an Asian restaurant, it’s cut on the small side, and some of the essential earthiness and rusticity of the dish is lost.
As you brown the chicken, try to keep as many of the spices in the pan as you can.
No curry is complete without the Holy Trinity of onion, garlic and ginger, so in they go.
First up, slice two onions into fine rings and gently cook them in the same pan until they start to brown, then add eight cloves of crushed garlic and two tablespoons of grated fresh ginger. Cook for a few minutes.
This korma is about luxury, so there should be some more fine ingredients in it. Add four tablespoons each of peeled, whole almonds and sultanas.
You need some more kick, a bit more depth of spice flavour, so add two tablespoons of ground coriander and a tablespoon of ground cumin. Coriander and cumin are powerful spices, and provide essential backbone to the finished dish.
Things are starting to come together now, and the main flavours are in the pan already.
Slide the browned chicken back into the pan, along with any accumulated juices, and stir in 250ml of plain yoghurt. The yoghurt forms the basis of the korma’s characteristic creaminess.
There are a couple of things missing. Some salt is essential, about two and a half teaspoons, and there needs to be some heat.
In Britain, a korma is a mild, bland dish, so adding anything up to two teaspoons of cayenne pepper might seem unusual, and if you taste your creation after its cooked for ten minutes on a medium heat, partially covered, it’ll taste unusual too – harsh, fiery and utterly out of control.
Do. Not. Panic.
It’s going to calm down.
Remove the lid and turn the heat up so that the sauce reduces and starts to cling to the meat. Be careful not to let the sauce catch on the bottom of the pan.
The sauce will have mellowed out a little now, but to help it on its way, stir in the saffron cream and up to 120ml of water, just enough to let the sauce down to a thick, creamy consistency.
Stir in half a teaspoon of garam masala, cover the pan with its lid and reduce the heat to the lowest possible and cook for a final five minutes before serving with basmati rice.