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Chicken Kurma in White Sauce

This is a truly delicious rendition of a classic Mogul dish - kurma means braise.  The chicken is delicately scented with garam masala and served in a white yogurt-cream sauce.  The recipe originates from "Indian Home Cooking" by Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness.  I have modified it only slightly by adding more water, to make additional sauce, and cornstarch for thickening.  I also sear the chicken (my western cooking preference showing through.)  As the original recipe simply calls for braising the chicken in the yogurt sauce feel free to omit this step.

3 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3" piece ginger. minced
1/3 cup canola oil
1" piece cinnamon stick
12 green cardamom pods pounded to open the shells
16 whole cloves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (see notes)
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
5 whole bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon white or black peppercorns
3 whole dried chiles (see notes)
1 teaspoon salt (more if desired)
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 cup plain yogurt, whisked until smooth
~2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1-2" pieces
2-1/2 cups water, divided
2 tablespoons garam masala, divided
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons corn starch (see notes)

Combine the corn starch, if using, with water and stir to form a slurry.  Set aside.

Lightly oil the chicken and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the garam masala.  Heat a skillet large enough for the whole dish to medium-high and sear the chicken pieces on both sides.  Remove chicken and set aside. (see notes)

Reduce the heat in the skillet to medium and add the oil.  When the oil has heated through add the cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, bay leaves, peppercorns and red chiles and allow to simmer, stirring, until the cinnamon stick unfurls - 2 to 3 minutes.  These whole spices, if ground and blended, come together to create garam masala, the most common curry seasoning used in north Indian cooking.

Add the onions, ginger and garlic and cook until the onions are caramelized, about 15 minutes.  As the onions begin to stick add water about 1 tablespoon at a time to deglaze the pan.  Use a spoon or spatula to pull up the sugars and keep them from burning.  As the water sizzles in the pan it will help to caramelize the onion.  Keep doing this until the onions turn a golden brown.

Add the ground coriander and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute then add the yogurt 3 tablespoons or so at a time and cook, stirring, until the liquid is cooked out.  Keep repeating this until all the yogurt has been incorporated.  Add the reserved chicken pieces and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add 1-1/2 cups of the remaining  water and return mixture to a simmer, cover and allow the mixture to cook an additional 5 minutes until the chicken is just cooked through (cooking the chicken much beyond this point will dry it out).  Stir in the garam masala and simmer, stirring, for an additional 2 minutes.  Stir in the cream and return to a simmer.  Lastly add the cornstarch slurry a bit at a time until the sauce has thickened to your liking.

Remove from heat, cover and let rest for an hour to allow the flavors to blend and infuse the sauce.

Serve with Basmati Rice.


  1. Quite often in Indian cooking whole spices such as seeds are used early in the process to infuse the cooking oil with these wonderful flavors.  If you plan on doing this type of cooking frequently it is worthwhile to invest in whole spices.  If you don't have one of them it is okay to substitute the ground spice.
  2. Skinny red chiles such as Thai chiles, chile-de-arbol or even cayenne chiles would be of the type most often used in Indian cooking.  You put them in whole if you wish although I usually split the chiles lengthwise and then scrape out the seeds.
  3. If you wish to thicken the sauce i usually use corn starch mixed with just enough water to create a slurry.
  4. I see the searing of the meat as adding another layer of delicious flavor.  As the original recipe simply calls for braising the chicken in the yogurt sauce feel free to omit this step.



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