If there is one dish the world might collectively be grateful for existing, it is probably the Chicken Korma. With its roots firmly embedded in Mughal courts, this sinfully creamy regal delight is made in a bed of yoghurt and is laden with pieces of melt-in-your-mouth meat. Due to its mild taste and sweeter notes, Korma has quickly become the most favoured Indian origin dish globally, over the spicier Vindaloo or Chicken Tikka Masala.
Food writer Pat Chapman describes the sway Korma held in the royal kitchen in his book India: Food and Cooking as being the dish that determined the position of the Khansama (cook) in the hierarchy. He says that if a cook knew how to make Korma, he would be hired by the Mughal court. But if he knew how to create other types of the dish, he would be promoted to serve the emperor personally.
It is said that the Mughlai iteration of the dish was conceived by the Rajput cooks employed at Emperor Akbar’s royal court, and its name is derived from the Kurma tribe of Rajasthan. To prepare this dish, the meat was marinated in an array of spices such as coriander, ginger, cumin seeds and yoghurt, then braised in a covered pot on low flame until the meat fell off the bone. Since turmeric wasn’t a common feature in royal kitchens, the dish may not have originally featured turmeric at all.
Korma was one of the earliest dishes to incorporate pressure cooking. The vessel containing the meat and stock was often sealed with dough and cooked for hours until the meat was cooked through. It is said that both Do Peyaza and Rogan Josh are derived from Korma.
Not just meat, but even vegetables were meted out royal treatment at the Shahi Bawarchi Khana. It is said that Navratan Korma (a dish made with nine types of vegetables) was also a result of Akbar’s affinity towards Hindu kings. The vegetables used to prepare the Navratan Korma ranged from potatoes to carrots, beets and onions. Cauliflower wasn't used in this preparation, because the vegetable was introduced much later to the Indian subcontinent with the British incursion.
This delectable meat stew with a rich flavour and even richer history has been recreated in innumerable different methods, but the four kinds of Korma gravy that attract the most number of patrons are Mughlai, Kashmiri, South Indian and Shahi. The addition of coconut milk and grated coconut into the gravy lends the South Indian variation a characteristically tropical flavour, which is widely different from its north Indian counterparts.