I’m the type of indecisive person who can never pick favorites when it comes to most things in life. But somehow when it comes to food, where I would assume it’s hardest for me to pick favorites given how much I savor eating everything, there is one dish that for me has always ruled supreme: homestyle Bangladeshi chicken korma.
Of all my cravings, this is the most frequent. Of all my blissful childhood memories of food, this is the fondest.
This dish, for me, is associated with happiness, celebration and love. The sweet aroma of cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks and onions caramelizing in ghee (clarified butter) that fills the kitchen as I set out to make this, is one that automatically triggers joyful memories of my childhood. I have so many happy recollections of waking up on Eid mornings to find my mother fussing over a pot of this delightfully fragrant chicken korma with its slightly sweet-savory and nutty gravy, to be mopped up with homemade porotas (buttery South Asian flatbread) for breakfast/brunch first and then eaten alongside polao (Bengali rice pilaf) and many other dishes that are prepared later on throughout the day. There are memories of coming home to find chicken korma simmering away on the stove for impromptu weekend gatherings or small family celebrations. And equally countless memories, some tinged with guilt (and shame, in admitting this), of staying up late on weekends to sneakily indulge in leftovers and a movie well past midnight when guests from my parents’ dawats would have been long gone. My mom knows how much I enjoy this dish, and when I visit my family in Dhaka now, she lovingly makes sure it’s always at the table for my first and last meals at home, as well as many more in between. So whenever I make this dish at home in New York, even if it is only for myself, it always feels like a special occasion and a treat.
Every Bangladeshi/Bengali family probably has its own version of chicken korma, the way every South Asian household has its own chicken curry recipes that are unique in their own way. Some people omit chilies, others add raisins and nuts, while yet others will add ground poppy seed paste or use “mishti doi” (Bengali sweet yogurt) instead of regular yogurt. My mom makes hers with a spice paste that she grinds herself at home. Lazy kin, I make do with store-bought powdered spices. This is quite different from what my mother makes, I’ve simplified the cooking approach a bit while trying to ensure that it still reminds me of the childhood korma that I grew up with.
I hope you give it a try and that becomes one of your favorite dishes too!
This recipe was featured as part of a culinary tasting, executed by Chef John Hutt, for Knights of the Raj, a pop-up art exhibition at the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD) in Brooklyn, New York. Curated by artist Mohammed Ali, Knights of the Raj shed light on the stories and contributions of the Bengali diaspora, through “Indian” restaurants that are owned and operated by Bangladeshi immigrants, that have shaped much of today’s South Asian food scene in the UK and USA. The culinary tasting segment of the exhibit featured recipes from the Bangladeshi community in New York, in an effort to give guests a true taste of homestyle Bangladeshi food.
If you make Bangladeshi chicken korma using this recipe feel free to share a photo or feedback with me on Instagram (@noorieboorie) — I’d love to hear from you and would be happy to re-share any photos you send, if you want.
Homestyle Bangladeshi chicken korma is a mild yet delightfully fragrant and deeply flavorful dish. This is much lighter and very different in flavor from most Indian chicken kormas, with only a hint of sweetness that is balanced out by mild heat and aromatic spices. It's best eaten with Bangladeshi polao (rice pilaf) or porota (flatbread).
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 2 tablespoons ghee
- 6-8 cardamom pods
- 3-4 cloves
- 2-3 cinnamon sticks
- 2-3 Bay leaves
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
- 1-2 teaspoons salt, or to taste (this will depend on the tartness of your yogurt)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder (optional -- don't use this if you want lighter color)
- 6 chicken thighs, cut into medium sized pieces
- 4 tablespoons yogurt
- 1/4 cup milk
- 3-6 green chillies, whole
- 1-2 teaspoon sugar, or to taste (also dependent on tartness of yogurt used)
- 2-3 teaspoon lime juice
- 2-3 tablespoon water, or as needed
- 1/8th teaspoon kewra water (optional)
- Raisins, small handful (optional)
- Fried onions, for garnish
- Slivered almonds, for garnish (optional)
- Set a pot or deep pan over medium-high heat and pour in oil and ghee when the surface is hot.
- Once the oil & ghee has heated up, add to it the cardamom, cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks. Fry for a minute to release the flavors.
- Add the onions and sautee for several minutes until they are translucent and mostly cooked through, about 5-7 minutes.
- Add the ginger & garlic pastes, salt, cumin, coriander and garam masala (if using) and continue cooking for a few minutes, adding a sprinkle of water every now and then so that the mixture doesn’t get too dry or burn.
- When the oil has separated from the onions & spice mixture, add in the chicken pieces.
- Cook the chicken on medium high heat, stirring frequently, for about 5-8 minutes, or until it changes color and starts to release some water.
- Add in the yogurt, milk, green chillies and sugar. Cook for several minutes until the liquids start to boil, about 6-10 minutes.
- Turn the heat down and simmer with the lid on for 10-15 minutes, or until the chicken looks tender and is cooked through.
- Remove lid and cook another few minutes to thicken the korma as desired.
- Add lime juice, kewra water and raisins (if using).
- Taste and adjust seasonings as needed at this point, adding more salt, sugar or lime juice to balance out the flavors before removing from heat.
- Garnish with fried onions and slivered almonds (if using).
- Serve hot.
- For best results use bone-in chicken, which adds more flavor but note that it will also increase the total cooking time by another 10-20 minutes.
- To keep the recipe more traditional, consider using onion paste instead of chopped onions for a smoother gravy, but note that this will require using a bit more oil and more time to fry the onions. Otherwise, for a smoother gravy you can also use an immersion blender to blend in the onions (just make sure to pick out the whole spices first!) after they have sauteed long enough to cook through and before the chicken is added in.
- Grinding fresh cumin seeds and coriander seeds into a spice paste also helps impart more fragrance into this curry, if you don't mind the additional steps.
- You can also make this dish with milk and lime or lemon juice instead of yogurt. I've heard of Bangladeshi families in the US substituting sour cream as well instead of yogurt (I've personally never used it in mine but it sounds like a good alternative if you don't generally buy yogurt).