chicken korma – lucknavi style

Chicken korma, or murgh kurma,  is a characteristic Mughal recipe – it is mildly spiced, delicate and elegant. This is the way the dish is prepared in Lucknow and is a splendid example of Awadhi cuisine.

Korma dishes can be traced back to the 16th century and the Mughal incursions into present-day Northern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

A korma is a braise of meat or vegetables in yogurt or cream. The technique covers many different styles of korma, and is discussed in what is korma?

The flavour of a korma depends upon a subtle mixture of spices and yogurt kept below curdling temperature, incorporated slowly and carefully with the meat juices.

This recipe could best be described by what is NOT in it. There is no chilli. This recipe pre-dates the arrival of chillies into India by centuries. Such heat as the dish has comes from the so-called “hot” spices – cumin, coriander, cassia, cardamom, and cloves. There is no fresh ginger. Many northern Indian dishes do not use fresh ginger, but use dried ginger powder, as this one does. There are no onions or garlic. Some traditional beliefs say that onion and garlic “heat the blood” and must be avoided, so asafoetida is used instead. There is no turmeric.

The chicken won’t be swimming in a rich, creamy, sloppy sauce. You need to be careful adding the yoghurt, and the amount described will give a small amount of sauce to hold the dish together. Most people’s experience of a korma is usually from a curry house, and most of those tend to prepare the dish with copious quantities of cream and yoghurt – not how the dish should be.

Because of the suggested overnight marination, you should start this recipe the day before.

To be successful with this dish do not hurry. It doesn’t take long to cook, but if you try to do it too fast you will curdle the yoghurt. Don’t be tempted to add chilli as this is not what this korma is about. If you want a hotter dish, try our recipe for a south Indian korma instead.

What you will end up with is a mild and aromatic dish. It has a delicate flavour and is very elegant in its structure.

This is a staple dish in our home cooking repertoire. We would typically serve this at home with a pulao, or some chapatis.

It’s simple elegance and easy preparation make it an excellent choice for entertaining. If doing so and you scale the quantities up, make sure you use a big pan. You need to ensure you braise the chicken rather than stew it.

the recipe

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  • wide pan with lid


  • 800 g chicken thigh fillets - skin removed and cut into 3cm pieces

for the marinade

for the sauce

to serve


to marinate

  • Place a small frypan on medium heat and add the coriander seeds. Toast the spices until they become aromatic then remove them from the heat. When cool enough to handle, grind to a fine powder. Set aside.
  • Put the ghee in a small frying pan over medium heat. When hot, put in the cassia, bay leaves, cardamom pods, cloves and cumin seeds. When they start to sizzle, take off the heat and allow them to cool.
  • Once cooled, remove and reserve the bay leaves. Transfer the remaining spice mix to a blender and add the ground coriander seeds and salt. Add a little water and blend to a paste of the same consistency as mustard.
  • Place the chicken in a mixing bowl, cover with the paste from the blender and mix well, ensuring that the chicken is evenly coated. Add the reserved bay leaves. Cover, refrigerate and marinate overnight.

to cook

  • Warm the milk, then add the saffron threads. Stir and set aside to infuse.
  • Heat the ghee in a wide frying pan over medium heat and when hot, add the asafoetida and ginger powder. Stir and fry for 30 seconds.
  • Add the chicken and marinade, mix well, and cook for five minutes or until the chicken starts to colour.
  • Reduce the heat to low and add the yoghurt one tablespoon at a time, ensuring it is well combined before adding the next tablespoon. Cook the chicken, uncovered, on a very low simmer for 15 minutes.  Do not allow it to boil, or the yoghurt will split and curdle.
  • When the chicken is almost cooked, raise the heat to thicken the sauce, stirring gently to not break up the chicken. This will take around 10 minutes.
  • Stir in the saffron infused milk and mix well.

to serve

  • Remove from heat, then sprinkle with coriander leaves and almonds to serve.

private notes

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Serving: 250 g | Calories: 659 kcal | Carbohydrates: 10 g | Protein: 37 g | Fat: 53 g | Saturated Fat: 20 g | Cholesterol: 245 mg | Sodium: 487 mg | Potassium: 634 mg | Fiber: 3 g | Sugar: 4 g | Vitamin A: 365 IU | Vitamin C: 2 mg | Calcium: 163 mg | Iron: 3 mg

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