I was at a party the other day when the conversation turned to Indian cookbook authors. The person I was speaking to mentioned Madhur Jaffrey, whom I have the highest regard for. But what did she think about Julie Sahni? She wasn’t aware of Sahni, who has written timeless cookbooks such as Classic Indian Cooking and Classic Indian Vegetarian.
Shazam, I suggested starting with this super easy, fragrant moghul chicken korma recipe from a lesser well-known book of Sahni’s called Indian Regional Classics. If you’ve never heard of Julie Sahni or thought that her cookbooks, most of which are devoid of photos, are hard to follow, try this recipe, which is also known as murgh korma.
What is korma?
A korma is not a curry, which is a misnomer for many dishes in the Indian repertoire. A korma is in a class of its own. It’s an elegant, saucy concoction that’s typically not very spicy hot, explains Sahni, though she invites you to add cayenne to this korma for heat. The Moghul (Muglai) style of cooking has roots in the Indo-Persian culture of the Moghul Empire which began in the 16th century. Of northern Indian heritage, kormas can be fancy court kitchen dishes or every day fare.
My first adventure in Indian cooking involved preparing a very special almond and chicken korma. I was entranced with a dish from an Indian restaurant and followed a recipe in slim volume on Indian cooking. The korma took hours to prepare, with multiple stages of dum cooking — slow cooking that creates sumptuous flavor. After that korma experience, I kept my distance from the convoluted recipes. They were too labor intensive.
Simple but Smart
Then I came across Sahni’s Indian Regional Classics and its wealth of simple recipes, which liberated me from the tyranny of strict traditional cooking. I blasted through the volume, whipping up meals that included fluffy naan, spicy Moghul-style hamburgers, this creamy chicken korma, and cumin potatoes.
In the book’s acknowledgments, Sahni describes her motivation with a quote from the late great chef, Pierre Franey: “Write a book of simple, delicious food you would serve us (family and friends) that will introduce Indian cooking to a novice in a small town, such as Flint, Michigan.”
Sahni also credits her mother for workarounds such as using Rice Crispies as a convenient crunchy addition to fritter batter. Music to my ears! Smart home cooking and the desire to encourage everyone to make foreign dishes and savor their wonderful flavors. All back in 1998 when the book was first published and then in 2001 when it was reissued.
Quick Korma Tips
If you think that a spectacular Indian meal on a weeknight is out of your reach, make this chicken korma recipe. Here are some tips:
Have homemade garam masala in your pantry to ensure spectacular flavors; (my recipe is at the end of the korma recipe as a Note). In a pinch, select a fragrant blend at the market. Spicely is usually reliably good.
Get some rice going before you start the korma. Basmati is perfect but jasmine or another long grain is terrific. (If you want rice cooking tips, go to this post.)
The original recipe from Sahni’s book used chicken breast which is great for healthy eating but if you want succulence, employ boneless skinless thighs.
What’s with adding the spices at the end? I was skeptical about that and tried it both ways, adding the garam masala with the garlic and cayenne and add the garam masala at the end. The final addition creates a wonderful, long lasting perfume. In fact, I froze some of the curry for 3 months, and when I thawed and reheated it, the spice was right there as if I’d just made the korma.
For a touch of richness, add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of virgin coconut oil, butter, or other kind of flavorful oil when toasting the almonds. The result is a special garnish that was a cinch to make!
With a short ingredient list and easygoing cooking, this Moghul chicken korma comes together in a flash. If you like it, well, double the batch (use a bigger pot) and freeze some for future meals.
Moghul Chicken Korma
- 2 tablespoons toasted slivered or sliced almonds for garnish
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cups finely chopped yellow onion
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne optional, for gentle heat
- 1 1/4 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs or breast, cut into 1 ½-inch chunks
- 1 cup full-fat unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut cream scoop from the top of an unshaken can of coconut milk
- 2 teaspoons garam masala see Notes
- In a large heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat, toast the almonds, stirring for about 2 minutes until lightly browned and fragrant. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Warm the oil in the pan over medium-high heat, add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until some of the onion has browned, about 8 minutes. Add the cayenne, cook for about 45 seconds, until the onion is rusty orange, then add the chicken. Cook, stirring, until it loses some of its pink color, about 2 minutes.
- Stir in the coconut milk and salt. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat to around medium-low to gently simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover and increase the heat to simmer strongly for about 5 minutes to thicken the sauce a bit. Add the coconut cream and garam masala. Let heat through, 1 to 2 minutes, then let rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Season with salt, if needed, then transfer to a warm shallow bowl. Sprinkle with the almonds and serve.