A recipe for traditional chicken korma made in the Pakistani or North Indian style with chicken, yoghurt, whole spices and lots of fried onions. Serve with sheermal for the authentic Mughlai touch.
Korma or Qorma is a dish reserved for special occasions in Pakistan. For a fancy dinner at home, for Eid, or for a dawaat. It’s also an essential Pakistani wedding food item served with taftaan or sheermal.
The dish korma originated from the courts of the Mughal dynasty who ruled over the Indian subcontinent between the 10th -16th centuries. One of the techniques introduced by the Mughal cooks was to marinate meat in yoghurt with spices and onion and then simmering to tenderness.
When Indian subcontinent was under British rule, many Indian recipes were simplified to suit British tastes. Lizzie Collingham states in her book Curry “Lucknavi quaramas were transformed into Anglo-Indian ‘quoremas’ or ‘kormas’, which were different in substance as well as name”.
That is why the dish korma normally found in British Indian restaurants is a simplified version of the original.
Why this recipe works
- It’s authentic: This chicken korma recipe is the real deal – it’s a family recipe which I have tested multiple times to get the ratios right.
- It’s adapted for the modern kitchen: It’s got the traditional korma flavour, from the Mughal kitchens in India. Adapted and made easier for the modern kitchen.
- It’s made using pantry staple ingredients: Making a traditional chicken korma or qorma form scratch is super simple, and requires ingredients that are part of any Pakistani pantry. No need to use a store-bought spice mix ever again.
- The colour: The distinguishing feature of a korma is it’s beautiful reddish-orange colour. Which comes from frying off the onions, and the red chilli powder.
- No tomatoes: There are no tomatoes in an authentic Pakistani / Indian korma. In fact, tomatoes were introduced to the Indian sub-continent in the 16th century. If you want to add tomatoes, you can. The recipe will taste good, just won’t be an authentic korma.
- No cream: There is no cream in this traditional korma recipe. Just yoghurt, which is used to braise and tenderise the chicken. Dollops of cream maybe added as a garnish.
There are certain key ingredients that are necessary for an authentic chicken korma – whole spices, fried onions, yoghurt, and bone-in chicken pieces.
- Onions – White or red onions both can be used. Don’t skimp on the oil while frying, else they will soften instead of turning crispy. Bags of fried onions (known as barista) can be purchased from Indian and Pakistani grocery stores.
- Whole spices – These are added for flavour and aroma, not meant to be eaten. Can be removed before serving.
- Bone-in chicken – A traditional korma is made with bone-in skinless chicken or goat / mutton. The bones add flavour and richness to the gravy. This cut is available at Indian or Pakistani butchers, or any Halal butcher. Ask for chicken curry pieces or for a whole chicken, skin removed, and cut into curry pieces. Boneless chicken can be used, just reduce cooking time.
- Yoghurt – full fat whole milk yoghurt. Turn the heat to low, whisk the yoghurt and then add to the chicken qorma. This will prevent the yoghurt from potentially splitting.
- Kewra essence - Kewra is known as screw pine essence in English and is extracted from the thick leathery yellow green flower petals of the pandanus tree. It can be found in Indian and Pakistani stores by the name kewra water or kewra essence. The essence is more concentrated than the water, so be careful in using it.
Check out my guide on how to stock a Pakistani Kitchen + Pakistani Pantry List (with English translation and descriptions).
Making a traditional and authentic chicken korma is super easy.
Step 1: Fry onions in hot oil till they are golden brown. Drain in a colander - this helps them crisp up further. Crush the crispy onions and set aside.
Step 2: Fry whole spices (sabit garam masala) in oil till they release their flavour and aroma. Then add chicken and ginger garlic paste.
Step 3: Once the meat (goat meat or chicken) is browned, add yoghurt. Turn heat to low, and whisk the yoghurt well before adding to the meat. This will prevent the yoghurt from splitting.
Step 4: Cook the meat in the yoghurt till it’s tender, and you can see the oil separating from the top.
Step 5: Add the crushed fried onions, and cook for another 5 - 10 minutes till a beautiful reddish-brown gravy is made.
Step 6: Add kewra water, followed by sliced ginger to finish off the dish.
How to serve
Serve chicken korma with naan or chapati / roti. It can also be served with plain Basmati rice. A traditional bread served with chicken korma is sheermal, a mildly sweet naan made with all purpose flour and yeast that is baked in a tandoor.
Chicken korma can be kept in the fridge for upto 3 days easily. It’s best warmed in a saucepan on the stove. Reserve the garnish of ginger and almonds, and add before serving. It can also be stored in the freezer in an air-tight container.
A note on chicken curry pieces
The type of chicken meat cuts used in Desi (Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Nepali etc) curries is bone-in skinless chicken, cut into pieces. South Asian cooks rarely buy specific cuts of chicken (like chicken breast or chicken thigh) as the whole bird, skinned and cut into pieces, is used in curries.
The sub-continental style of cooking chicken in a gravy ensures that even though a mix of different cuts is used, the meat doesn’t dry out. This cut can be found in South Asian or Middle-Eastern butchers abroad. Or buy a full chicken, skin it, and cut it into pieces yourself.
. This recipe can be used for goat meat / mutton or lamb. Best to use bone-in goat or lamb curry pieces. Increase the total cooking time, adding extra water if required.
If you don’t have 1 - 2 of the spices, you can skip them. If you don’t want to go through the effort of getting the spices, you can use a store-bought spice mix (details below).
To make korma in the pressure cooker, cook the meat till it’s almost tender. Release pressure, and add the crushed fried onions. Use saute / sear mode to continue cooking for another 5 minutes to finish off the cooking process.
Yes, you can. The one that I have used is by Shan Foods. However, National is also a good brand.
Fried onions are an essential part of Pakistani cuisine forming the base of many different gravies. The process of frying them can take time, which is why bags of fried onions (known as barista) can be found in Indian and Pakistani stores easily. Make sure you get the ones that aren’t dusted with cornflour. Use around 1 - 1 ¼ cups for the amount of onions in this recipe.
Looking for more Pakistani & Indian recipes for your weekly dinner inspiration. Check out the following:
Would love it if you could try out and rate the recipe, and let me know how it was in the comments below!
Traditional Chicken Korma
- ⅓ cup oil
- 3 medium onions, sliced see note 1
Whole Spices (Sabit garam masala)
- 8 - 10 green cardamom (choti elaichi)
- ½ teaspoon black peppercorn (sabit kali mirch)
- 4 - 6 cloves (laung)
- 1 inch piece cinnamon (dar chini)
- ½ teaspoon black cumin seeds (optional) (kaala zeera)
For the chicken
- ½ kg bone-in chicken pieces
- 2 cups yoghurt
- 1 tablespoon ginger paste
- 1 tablespoon garlic paste
- 1 teaspoon red chili powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 drops kewra essence see note 2
- 1 teaspoon sliced ginger for garnish
- ½ tablespoon sliced almonds for garnish
- Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over high heat. Add sliced onions, and saute the onions till they are golden brown and crispy. This process can take about 15 - 20 minutes. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and put them in a steel colander or kitchen towel. This will absorb the oil, and make them crispy. Once the onions are cool, crush them lightly and set aside. Alternatively you can use store-bought fried onions (see note 1).
- In the same oil that was used to fry off the onions, add the whole spices (green cardamom, black peppercorn, cloves, cinnamon, black cumin seeds).
- Fry for 1 - 2 minutes to release the flavour of the spices and then add the chicken pieces. Fry for 2 - 3 minutes on medium - high heat and then add the ginger paste and the garlic paste.
- Add red chili powder and salt.
- Cook for another 2 - 3 minutes till chicken colour changes from pink to white, and the water evaporates.
- Turn off the heat, and add the whisked yoghurt to the chicken. Turning off the heat will help the yoghurt to not split.
- Mix through the yoghurt and turn heat to low-medium. Add 1 - 2 cups of water, and cook for 30 minutes - 45 minutes till the chicken is cooked through. The timing will differ based on the size of the chicken pieces you are using.
- Once the chicken is almost done, add the crushed onions and let it simmer for around 5 - 10 minutes.
- Add kewra essence (if using). The chicken korma is ready when the oil separates and rises on the top.
- Garnish with sliced almonds and sliced ginger. Serve hot with naan, sheermal or taftan.
- Fried onions: Fried onions are an essential part of Pakistani and Indian cuisine forming the base of many different gravies. The process of frying them can take time, which is why bags of fried onions can be found in supermarkets and Desi stores easily. If using store-bought fried onions, add them at the same time you would add the normal onions - just cook for 2 - 3 minutes. Additionally, make sure that the onions you purchase from the store are fresh and not dusted in cornflour.
- Kewra: Kewra is known as screw pine essence in English and is extracted from the thick leathery yellow green flower petals of the pandanus tree. It’s used in meat dishes as well as desserts and can be found in Indian and Pakistani stores by the name kewra water or kewra essence. The essence is more concentrated than the water, so be careful in using it.