From the Kitchen – Murgh Korma

Ganesha, remover of obstacles, be praised!  We’ve done it!  Finally, we’ve made Indian food that tastes as good as what we get at restaurants.  And all thanks to the magazine, Saveur and its “150 Classic Recpies” issue.  I find that Saveur is one of the best cooking magazines out there.  And yep, still an atheist, but if you’re going to have gods, at least make them nifty elephant headed ones that help humanity and hold intellect and wisdom in high esteem. 

I have, well, an inordinate number of cookbooks.  It all started when my husband brought home The Joy of Cooking and I decided to become a good cook.  Unfortunately, none of my family are particularly good cooks. I have no nonna to run to for family recipes, no hidden delights in a recipe box.  What I grew up on was plain and basic. Paprika and oregano were a big deal back then!  

(By the way, get the older copies of The Joy of Cooking (often found in thrift stores).  If it has the turtle soup recipe in it, you’re good to go. That book will teach you everything you need to know, even how to butcher game…)

With a lot of work, and cookbooks, both my husband and I have become really great cooks. It’s surprising that we don’t both weigh 400 pounds.  But one of the few things we couldn’t get a good handle on was Indian food.  We both love curries but they never tasted quite like what we would get at the local restaurant (favorite local one: Aangan).  I have two Indian cookbooks which are good but still didn’t have that spark. 

Then comes the 150th issue of Saveur, that had Murgh Korma as one of the 150 classic recipes in it. We figured, what the heck, why not try this one?  We had nearly all of the ingredients from attempts at curry and other dishes.  The only things I had to pick up were the raw cashews and chiles.  And, we now have an Indian market about a mile away, I could even get papads for a snack.  The cilantro chutney for them is at the bottom.  Side note about papads, the Lijjat brand is a woman’s cooperative that has helped women in India.  It has a rather curious looking rabbit on the label. 🙂 

Curries can be labor intensive. But I had a weekend where we weren’t doing anything since my husband was recovering from a sinus infection.  From start to finish, this curry took me between 3 and 4 hours, and that included cutting up the meat starting with pieces that were bone-in and with skin, slicing the onions, making the pastes and cooking everything down.  I cooked the onions on a lower heat that the recipe seems to indicate so I never had to worry about it burning.  

I found the Saveur instructions for this recipe a little confusing and wrote them for myself a little differently.  I hope you find them useful. The Saveur recipe is good for getting the complete amounts of each ingredient to start off with; I’ve broken them out for each step. This is definitely a dish that is much easier if you use separate bowls for the ingredients since they go in at different times.  Read the recipe through before you start. You’ll be glad you did.  No photo since curries aren’t the most photogenic of foods.

1. Marinating the Chicken

2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs and breasts, cut into 2″ chunks
1 tbsp. minced ginger
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt, to taste (regular table salt is finer so you need less) 

Toss chicken, 1 tbsp. minced ginger, minced garlic, juice, and salt in a bowl; chill 1 hour. I prefer the thighs, my husband the breasts.  I used my micrograter on the ginger and garlic.  Since we love the curry gravy/sauce even more than the meat, I personally double all of the following amounts to make plenty of it.  Note, I do not peel my ginger. It’s thin skinned, and with this treatment all through the recipe no one will notice it at all. Just hack off any dessicated bits.

2. Nut Paste

¼ cup blanched almonds
¼ cup raw cashews
1 tbsp. poppy seeds
1/3 cup water

Purée almonds, cashews, poppy seeds, and water in a blender. The secret to this dish is to puree the heck out of the nuts.  You want it smooth.  And yes, you’ll get annoyed by the sound of the blender before you get there.  The puree should not be grainy in texture from the almonds and cashews. The poppy seeds will be mostly intact but that’s all the texture you want.  It will be creamy, and thick; kind of a textural cross between peanut butter and mayonnaise 

3. Spice mix and onion paste

½ cup canola oil  (I used a mixture of butter and oil for that “ghee” flavor)
1 tbsp. black peppercorns
2 tsp. fennel seeds
12 dried rose petals (optional)
3 green cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
½ stick cinnamon
3 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
ginger, one 2″ piece, peeled and thinly sliced  
garlic, 3 cloves, thinly sliced
1/3 cup of water

Heat ½ cup oil in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add peppercorns, fennel, rose petals, cardamom, cloves, bay leaf, and cinnamon; cook until toasted, about 2 minutes. Yes, it sounds like an insane amount of black peppercorns.  It isn’t. Remember it’s the whole peppercorn, not already ground black pepper. I was also unsure about the fennel seeds since I do not the taste of it.  You should add them, it makes up the complexity of the curry. I did not use the rose petals.  I’ve had kormas with a strong rose taste and I find it’s a little distracting.

Add sliced ginger, remaining garlic, and onions; cook until deeply caramelized, about 45 minutes.  Stir occasionally. Purée mixture with ⅓ cup water; set onion paste aside.  The carmelization makes the onions very soft and sweet.  They will start to stick at the very end so watch them.  If you blend the onion/spice mixture while it is hot, be careful. The blender will make it blurp out steam unexpectedly and it can burn you like napalm. 

4. Putting things together

¼ cup canola oil (again, I used a mixture of butter and oil for that “ghee” flavor)
onion paste
1 tsp minced ginger
3 green serrano chiles, stemmed and minced
1 tsp. ground turmeric
½ tsp. paprika
kosher salt, to taste
marinated chicken
1 cup water
1 cup plain yogurt (I used whole milk greek yogurt. The brand happend to be Fage.)
Nut paste
6 tbsp. heavy cream

Add ¼ cup of oil to pot over high heat. Add onion paste, ginger, and chiles; cook, until oil separates, about 6 minutes, Add turmeric, paprika, and salt; cook for 1 minute. Add chicken; cook until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add 1 cup water; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Add nut paste and yogurt; cook until emulsified, about 3 minutes. Stir in 4 tbsp. cream; drizzle with remaining cream to garnish.

The local grocery story didn’t have serrano chiles so I used what I think were green cayenne peppers.  That’s what they looked like anyway.   The spices and chiles made for a very nice heat that warmed the back of the throat but didn’t sear the tongue.  I didn’t use much kosher salt in this recipe at all, and that’s unusual since I love salt.  For the whole thing, I probably used 1 teaspoon in the marinade and one in the sauce(kosher, not regular table salt. if you use table salt, use about half as much). 

Rice or bread is an excellent accompaniment.  We love basmati so we used that.  My husband made a loaf of bread (frozen bread dough) and that went along fine, no naan needed.  

Here’s the recipe for the green cilantro and mint chutney to eat with papads (I prefer mine fried in oil).  Tasty stuff and probably insanely healthy for you!  

Cilantro-Mint Chutney

3½ cups tightly packed cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 cup tightly packed mint leaves, finely chopped
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 small hot green Indian chile, stemmed
¾ cup plain yogurt (also used the whole milk greek yogurt here)
3 tablespoons of water
Kosher salt, to taste

“Place cilantro, mint, juice, chile, and 3 tbsp. water in a blender, and purée until smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl, and stir in yogurt; season with salt, and refrigerate until ready to serve.” 

Here I also used the green cayenne, add more if you like more heat  I just threw the yogurt in the blender too.  And don’t poke the leaves down with your favorite spatula while the blender is spinning.  Poor thing was ripped in half.  Sigh….. 

With all of this, we had an X Winery Red X winemaker’s blend found at the local state store for about $10.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that we like blends.  This went well with the rich korma, with both food and wine having a complimentary spice and sweetness.

4 thoughts on “From the Kitchen – Murgh Korma

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