How to cook the perfect chicken korma

korThe poor old korma would be well justified in seeking revenge on the British palate in this world or the next. A noble dish that once graced the banquet tables of the imperial Mughal court, rich with cream and nuts and heavily scented with expensive spice, has become a byword for bland, a “starter” curry, beloved of children and others with unadventurous tastes. As Lizzie Collingham writes in her book, Curry: a Biography, the name korma has become a codeword for anything “mild and creamy”, just as vindaloo carries the warning sign: HOT!

And though, having grown up on them (before graduating to the spicy heights of the chicken tikka masala), I have to admit a certain residual fondness for the almost marzipan-like flavours of a classic British curry house korma, I think we’re all big enough now to appreciate the more sophisticated flavours of the real deal. Which, despite my distinct lack of imperial kitchen space, proves surprisingly simple to make at home.

The chicken

chThough I find several older recipes for mutton korma, chicken seems to predominate in modern versions, which I think makes sense with such a delicate sauce. Many suggest using a whole bird, jointed, though I find that you don’t get much flavour from the bones in such a brief cooking time. The boneless thighs inMadhur Jaffrey’s recipe in her Curry Bible are somewhat easier to eat, as well as having a juicier texture and better flavour than chicken breast.

Dan Toombs, a Californian now living in Northallerton, who has devoted a slightly unnerving amount of his time to recreating the food of his local curry house at home (anything to distract from the British weather, I suppose), cooks his chicken breast before adding it to the sauce, writing that “the fast pace of most Indian restaurant kitchens makes in necessary to pre-cook the meat used in their curries”. I find this leaves it particularly dry, however – breast is much more tender when slow-simmered, rather than sauteed in a pan.