Chicken korma is a rich, fragrant chicken curry made by cooking succulent pieces of chicken in a rich cashew-based sauce. Learn how to make the best authentic shahi chicken korma at home, with this easy, step-by-step recipe!
(This recipe was originally published in Nov 2020 and has been updated)
What is 'Korma Chicken'?
There are many versions of 'korma' – the original version was made during the Mughal era in Northern India and uses a heady blend of freshly ground whole spices. If you want to make a traditional lamb korma, take a look at my recipe for Old-Delhi-style lamb korma which is very close to the original korma recipe.
In this authentic recipe for Korma Chicken, I use a blend of spices that are freshly ground, and add cashew paste to give the korma a richer, creamier taste. This is a dish that our entire family loves – kids included. Tastes so much better than the restaurant-style chicken korma you get at most Indian restaurants!
For a vegetarian version of this recipe, try my Vegan Korma Curry recipe.
What is the difference between 'Korma' and 'Shahi Korma'?
So Korma refers to a sauce-based curry dish - usually made with meat marinated in yogurt and cooked in a sauce that is thickened with blended cashews or almonds or coconut or even with poppy seeds. The combination of blended nut paste and yogurt is what truly makes a 'korma'.
'Shahi' literally means 'Royal' and refers to Korma that was made in the royal kitchens of the Mughal Era in India. This 'Shahi Korma' uses cashew paste, and is simmered in cream to make the korma sauce extra rich - this gives it that 'royal' quality.
Why this recipe works
- Authentic Indian recipe, so much better than the restaurant version! Once you make chicken korma this way, you wouldn’t want to order-in again
- No shortcuts – Use freshly blended garam masala (recipe given in instructions) with browned onions to make a world of difference in the taste!
- This is the 'shahi' version of chicken korma - in which cashews are blended to a paste for extra flavor and richness
Recipe Ingredients and Substitutions
To make this shahi chicken korma, you will need:
- Boneless chicken – Use thigh or breast pieces of chicken. I tend to prefer thigh meat as it is more flavorful. You could also use bone-in chicken.
- Onions – Browned onions give the korma depth and flavor. Red onions work best because they are stronger in taste and are used in most Indian recipes that call for onions. You could use yellow onions as well, however, they will be slightly on the milder side.
- Ginger-garlic paste – Another staple in Indian cooking, I always keep a jar of homemade ginger and garlic blended together. You can also use minced ginger and garlic.
- Cashew Nuts – This is what gives the chicken korma that extra richness and creaminess. Cashew nuts need to be soaked in hot water for 20-30 minutes and then blended to a smooth paste. Cashews can also be substituted with peeled almonds.
- Garam Masala – For best results, make a small batch of fresh garam masala powder. This will make a huge difference to the taste, as compared to store-bought pre-packaged garam masala powder. The whole spices you will need to make garam masala are:
- Bay leaves
- Cinnamon Stick
- Fennel Seeds
- Star Anise
- Whole cardamom pods
Simply roast the whole spices in a pan for 3-4 minutes (without oil) on the stovetop until aromatic. Then cool down the spices and blend or use a coffee grinder to grind them to a coarse powder.
- Yogurt - This is used for the marinade. You can make this recipe dairy-free by replacing yogurt with dairy-free yogurt.
Step-by-step Recipe with images
Marinate the chicken in a mixture of yogurt, red chili powder, turmeric, salt and ginger and garlic paste (or use minced ginger and garlic). Keep the chicken in the fridge to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
Prepare the cashew nuts for blending - soak them in hot water for 20-30 minutes. After soaking, blend with a couple of tablespoons of water to form a smooth paste. Keep this aside for later.
In a wok, heat the ghee and add the chopped onions. Saute until they are browned. This will take you around 15 minutes.
Once the onions are browned, add the marinated chicken to the wok, and continue to saute, using a spatula to move the chicken pieces around to cook them evenly.
Add the tomato puree, and continue to cook, moving the chicken around to coat them evenly in the spices and tomato puree.
At this point, you can cover the wok with a lid and let the chicken simmer on low-medium heat for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, take off the lid, add in the blended cashew paste and mix well.
Add the garam masala powder, thin the sauce with a little water, and mix well. Ensure that nothing is sticking to the bottom of the wok.
Add 1/4 cup of cream and mix well. Cover the wok with a lid and let the curry simmer for 5 minutes more.
Expert Tips for making perfect korma
Brown the onions: This step is key to building up those layers of flavor in the chicken korma. You need to brown the onions until they are nice and golden. Use red onions, preferably, as they are stronger and sharper in taste. You can also buy pre-packaged deep-fried onions at your local Asian store, and use them as a substitute for browned onions.
Don’t add extra tomato puree or cream: Many restaurants are guilty of giving korma the heavy-cream treatment or cooking it in too much tomato puree. This kills the taste of a true authentic korma. You want the tomato puree to be just enough to balance out the richness from the cashew paste. In my recipe, I have used just ¼ cup of cream, to give it just a touch of richness. Overdoing either tomato puree or cream will alter the taste of the chicken korma.
Make it Ahead: As with most meat and poultry curries, preparing the curry a day or two ahead of time will give the shahi chicken korma enough time for the spices to mature. Korma always tastes better the next day! Makes it a great option for meal planning or making it ahead for a party.
Frequently Asked Questions
Butter chicken has a characteristic tang that comes from a dominant flavor of tomatoes in the sauce. In chicken korma, the flavor comes from browning the onions and slowing building up the flavors. Also, in a butter chicken, the chicken is grilled and added towards the end to the butter chicken sauce and simmered in the sauce for just a few minutes. In a korma, the chicken is cooked along with the korma sauce in the same wok.
No! Curry powder is not even close to garam masala - curry powder uses coriander and cumin and sometimes fenugreek seeds. Garam masala does not! Using curry powder will alter the taste of the korma. I strongly recommend making your own batch of home-made ground garam masala if you plan on making Indian food more often. The key to this authentic chicken korma is in the freshly ground spice mix given in the recipe. If you cannot make fresh garam masala, you can use store-bought garam masala. Here is a guide to Indian spices that explains which spices can be used when.
Korma Paste is a thick, rich paste used in cooking Indian curries. It is recommended that you make your korma paste at home instead of buying the jarred version in supermarkets. The recipe for korma paste can vary - but one common ingredient for korma paste is cashew nuts, which are used to add a rich taste and to thicken the korma sauce. Some korma pastes use poppy seeds and some use coconut as well. In addition, whole spices such as cumin, coriander seeds, and ground spices such as garam masala and turmeric powder will also be used.
Kurma is the South Indian version of korma. Both refer to a curry made with a thick sauce, however, the South Indian kurma usually has coconut in addition to cashew nuts in it. The North Indian korma doesn't use coconut.
More Indian Chicken Recipes
Chicken Korma Recipe
- 700 grams boneless chicken
To marinate the chicken
For the garam masala
- 1 tbsp cloves
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds
- Cinnamon stick 1 inch piece
- 4-5 Cardamom pods
- 2 Whole star anise
- 3-4 Whole bay leaves
Make the garam masala (skip if using store-bought garam masala)
- In a pan on the stovetop, dry roast the whole spices on medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring it to heat evenly. Once they release their aromas, turn off the heat and let cool.
- Transfer the whole spices to a blender jar of spice grinder and grind to coarse powder.
- Use 1.5 tablespoons of the garam masala spice mix for this recipe
Marinate the chicken
- Marinate the chicken in a mixture of yogurt, red chili powder, turmeric, salt and ginger, and garlic paste (or use minced ginger and garlic). Keep the chicken in the fridge to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
Prepare the cashew paste
- Prepare the cashew nuts for blending - soak them in hot water for 20-30 minutes. After soaking, blend with a couple of tablespoons of water to form a smooth paste. Keep this aside for later.
Make the korma
- In a wok, heat the ghee and add the chopped onions. Saute until they are browned. This should take you around 15 minutes.
- Once the onions are browned, add the marinated chicken to the wok, and continue to saute, using a spatula to move the chicken pieces around to cook them evenly.
- Add the tomato puree, and continue to cook, moving the chicken around to coat them evenly in the spices and tomato puree.
- At this point, you can cover the wok with a lid and let the chicken simmer on low-medium heat for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, take off the lid, add in the blended cashew paste and mix well.
- Add the garam masala powder, thin the sauce with a little water, and mix well. Ensure that nothing is sticking to the bottom of the wok.
- Add 1/4 cup of cream and mix well. Cover the wok with a lid and let the curry simmer for 5 minutes more.
- Take off the lid, and check for seasoning. Add salt if needed. Garnish with chopped cilantro and ghee-roasted cashew nuts.
- Cashewnuts can be replaced with blanched and peeled almonds
- Use Kashmiri red chili powder - it is low on heat, yet adds a nice red color
- Browing the onions is key to giving depth and flavor to the chicken korma, do not skip or speed up this step
- The garam masala powder can be substituted with store-bought garam masala powder (not curry powder)
- Korma always tastes best the day after - make ahead if you can