Lamb Shahi Korma: A Rich Royal Dish

First things first: Lamb Shahi Korma is -not- diet food.

It is not low calorie.

It is not an everyday dish.

But what it is us an utterly sinfully delectable dish of lamb braised in spices, then cooked with a velvety sauce that is fragrant with spices and thick with toasted, ground nuts. It is the most wicked of curries, not because it is hot with chilies, but because it is so utterly, divinely rich.

It is a dish with its roots in the courts of the Mogul Emperors of northern India, and it reflects the royal tastes of the richest, most powerful rulers of that period.

It is something that I make and eat maybe once or twice a year, because if I ate this more often, well, it would be wretched for my waistline, but when I make it, it always disappears. There are never any leftovers, because it is so good, I once had a woman say that if she thought that no one would look askance at her, she would pick up her plate, stick her face right into it and lick it clean, it was so good.

And it is that good.

The sauce is thick and unctuous with cream, yogurt and ground nuts, and subtly scented with sweet spices, and the lamb is falling-apart tender, and filled with its own unique, mildly gamy taste. Garnished with toasted nuts, chopped cilantro and a fine dice of red onion, and red sweet bell pepper, which adds another dimension of flavor and crunch to the dish, Lamb Shahi Korma is a classic that is perfect for holiday celebrations, weddings and any other special events, because it can be made in large quantities, and it can be made ahead of time, then warmed back up just before serving.

In fact, I think that the sauce is only made better by being made a few days in advance. Letting it sit tightly covered in the refrigerator only gives the spices and toasted ground nuts time to become friendly with each other and meld together into a unified, undefinable flavor that is infinitely complex, since it becomes nearly impossible for all but the most discriminating diner to unravel the aromas of each individual spice from each other.

It simply becomes amazingly delicious, and a perfect dish to eat during a celebration of love and unity, because all of the elements of the dish come together into a seamless, perfect whole, giving it a perfect symbolic resonance to the occasion.

That is my kind of dish.

How is it made? Well, in the old days, it was a very laborious process, because not only did the spices have to be ground by hand, but the nuts had be shelled, then toasted, and then ground in large mortars and pestles by hand. The meat was cooked separately, simmered until it was about to fall off the bones, and then it was cut from the bones by hand, and the lamb broth was skimmed of fat and cooled, to be used as the basis of the sauce, which was spiced carefully with onions browned deeply, then ground into a fragrant paste, a paste of wet and dry spices, then enriched first by the addition of first the ground nuts, then cream, and then yogurt, to add a delicate tang which perfectly balanced the very rich ingredients.

Then, the meat was added to the sauce, and allowed to simmer for good long time, until everything was tender, perfectly spiced and fragrant.

Now, we have access to a few shortcuts, like a pressure cooker to cook the meat, and the availability of pre-made nut butters. I like to use both toasted cashew and toasted almond nut butter, although you can use only one if you like. I still take the time to brown my onions very deeply, however, because such long, slow cooking of the onions brings out their nutty and sweet character and removes every bit of sulfurous bite that they posses in their raw state. They also add to the delicate brown color of the sauce, which is nice, because I don’t really like the look of a very pale, nearly white lamb korma. It just doesn’t look as appetizing to me as the brown-tinted kormas colored with caramelized onions do.

I know that this ingredient list is long. That is just how Shahi Korma is–remember it is a dish that came from the royal kitchens of some of the most powerful, wealthy rulers in the world, and back then, there were folks whose jobs were just to grind spices, mix masalas, and grind up nuts into pastes, not to mention the head cooks, the sauce makers, the grill masters who cooked the game and fowl that came from the royal family’s hunting expeditions and the sweet makers. This is a complex dish, and while I know you won’t have all of these expert helpers in your kitchen, you have to be thankful that we at least have access to electric spice grinders, food processors, gas stoves and refrigerators.

Besides, this is a once a year, special occasion dish. And for once a year events, such a complicated dish is worth it.

I promise.

Lamb Shahi Korma
Ingredients:

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound boned leg of lamb, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1″ cubes
1 pound boned lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1″ cubes
2 bay leaves
1 stick cinnamon
1 black cardamom pod
3 whole cloves
water as needed
4 tablespoons canola oil
4 cups thinly sliced peeled yellow onions
1 teaspoon salt
2″ cube fresh peeled ginger
6 cloves peeled garlic
1″ stick cinnamon
6 whole cloves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 dried Indian chilies
6 whole green cardamom pods with seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 cup toasted almond butter
1 cup toasted cashew butter
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup full fat yogurt with the fat stirred thoroughly into the yogurt
salt to taste
toasted sliced almonds, cashew halves and pistachios for garnish
roughly chopped cilantro and mint for garnish
very finely diced red onion and sweet bell pepper for garnish

Method:

Heat canola oil in the bottom of a pressure cooker or Dutch oven on medium high heat. Pat lamb meat dry with a paper towel, and add them to the pot and brown them on add sides. Add the spices and enough water to cover the meat by one inch. If you are using a pressure cooker, bring to a boil, lock the lid into place on highest pressure setting. Bring to pressure, and turn heat down and cook on high pressure for twenty-five minutes. Allow pressure to release naturally, and open the lid of the cooker. Make certain that the lamb is tender. Remove the lamb from the broth, and set it aside. Put the broth, either in the pressure cooker, or another container, into the refrigerator, so that the fat will congeal on the top of the liquid–it makes it easier to remove most of it. (This portion of the recipe can be done a day or two before you serve it. Just refrigerate the meat and the broth separately.)

If you do not have a pressure cooker, cook the meat until it is tender, but not totally falling apart tender. You want it to still be a bit stiff so that it won’t totally fall apart when you cook it in the sauce later.

In a deep Dutch Oven, put the second measure of canola oil, and heat it on medium high heat. Add the onions, and spread them out into as thin a layer as possible, and sprinkle the salt evenly over them. Cook, stirring until the onions turn a deep reddish brown. When they are done, scrape them out of the pot into the bowl of a spice grinder or blender. Add to them the ginger, garlic, and spices, and grind into a thick paste.

Skim most of the fat from the lamb broth and strain it to remove the whole spices. Discard the spices.

Put the pot you cooked the onions in back on the stove on medium heat and deglaze with one cup of the lamb broth. Add the spice paste, and cook, stirring, until it is fragrant. Add the nut butters, and continue cooking, stirring, for another couple of minutes. Stir about two cups of lamb broth, and simmer to reduce by half. Add the cream, and the lamb, and cook, stirring, until the lamb is heated and the sauce is thick. Add the yogurt, in two tablespoon increments, stirring thoroughly between each addition. Allow each addition of the yogurt to incorporate fully into the sauce before adding the next addition.

After the yogurt is added, you can hold the korma at serving temperature (141 degrees F) for several hours before serving to let the flavors meld, or you could cool it, and store it in the refrigerator for a day or two before reheating it to serve. In either case, it will taste lovely, though I prefer to make it a day ahead so that it goes beyond lovely into sublime.

Serve over plain basmati rice, garnished with a sprinkling of the toasted nuts, some roughly chopped herbs and if you like, the very finely diced onion and pepper for added color and crunch.

This recipe serves 8 people as part of a full Indian meal–12 if it is part of a full Indian feast with six to eight more dishes.

21 Comments

RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. Ooh, I am definitely going to have to try this version when I’m feeling decadent!! Do you use this same recipe to make chicken korma? I have to watch myself though, which is why I’m trying to find a passable, lighter version. Maybe I should just be searching for a different recipe with the same deliciousness quotient.

    Comment by Suzanne — February 12, 2008 #

  2. I do use a similar recipe with chicken, though I tend to use less of the nut butters–only 1/2 cup of almond and cashew or one cup of almond alone, and I use half and half instead of cream.

    It lightens it considerably.

    Comment by Barbara — February 12, 2008 #

  3. This looks really incredible. Hmm, I have some almond butter in the fridge already.

    Comment by Danielle — February 12, 2008 #

  4. I loved your kat’s chicken curry, and I should probably try this one. however, i’m a little taken aback on seeing all that butter in the recipe!

    Comment by maninas — February 12, 2008 #

  5. Maninas, there isn’t any butter. Almond butter and Cashew butter are made from finely ground almonds and cashews respectively. They are still fattening, but do not have saturated fat like butter.

    Comment by Barbara — February 12, 2008 #

  6. Jiminy Crickets that looks awesome! Gonna have to try that.

    I have a favor to ask, if you care to indulge. When I lived in Los Angeles, there was a restaurant in my neighborhood that served a positively heavenly chicken bhuna, thick with chunks of garlic and ginger, and I believe mint leaves. I’ve been wanting to find/invent a recipe for this sauce for a few weeks (years) now, but haven’t come up with anything too promising. If you do bhuna (lamb, chicken, or otherwise), will you please share? Thanks!

    Comment by Kristi — February 12, 2008 #

  7. Oh thats sounds so good. Lamb or mutton is something else, isnt it. I have a bhuna mutton recipe, do try it when u get the time. It does take time, but it is worth it.

    Comment by vimmi — February 12, 2008 #

  8. I had a different substitution question: I have made a habit over the years (for reasons of expense, convenience, and the fact that I have good, humanely raised, local beef in my freezer whereas I have no idea where to find local lamb) of subbing beef for lamb, especially in Indian dishes. I think Madhur Jaffrey actually suggested it in one recipe. Do you think it would work here?

    Thanks for posting such a long recipe, by the way.

    Comment by Laura — February 12, 2008 #

  9. If I start saving for the air fare now, I could get to you for the next time you make it…

    Sounds absolutely gorgeous.

    Comment by Toffeeapple — February 13, 2008 #

  10. i know, i meant nut butters

    Comment by maninas — February 13, 2008 #

  11. Kristi, I have access to several bhuna recipes, but they may be different than the dish you are used to eating. Can you give me some more information so I can try and figure out more closely what the versions you are used to taste like?

    Such as: what color is the curry? Can you tell if there are tomatoes in it? Is it tart? Is it sweet? Is it hot with chilies? Can you discern any particular spices? Does it have whole spices in it?

    Is it very saucy, or is it fairly dry with all the sauce clinging to the main ingredients? Are there fresh herbs? Do you taste any coconut or coconut milk or any dairy products in it?

    With more of this sort of information, I can do a better job trying to develop a recipe that will suit your taste.

    Maninas–sorry, I wasn’t sure if you got it. You can cut the nut butter amounts down considerably. It will still be korma and will still be good, just not as rich as the royal versions this is based on.

    Which is fine–we don’t want to eat like a king every day, do we? It isn’t good for us to eat richly all the time, anyway.

    Toffee–if you let me know you are coming, I can pop a pot of korma on the stove at work or at home in a trice, and have it hot and ready when your plane lands. Of course, the nearest airport is an hour and a half drive from us in Columbus, but hey–that just lets your appetite build up, right? ;-)

    Comment by Barbara — February 14, 2008 #

  12. I’ve been wanting to try this recipe since I found it. Today is my fiance’s birthday (He’s from Kashmir) and I decided to give it a try. You know, I couldn’t find cashew butter anywhere? So I bought some roasted cashews and threw them in the food processor with a bit of oil – turned out great!

    I did add two more ingredients – a few strands of saffron and a bit of garam masala – and it’s currently simmering happily on the stove and filling the house with the most incredible aroma ever! I cannot wait til dinner :) Thanks so much for this recipe!

    Comment by Kim — April 4, 2008 #

  13. Hi there,

    I followed this over from food porn on LJ,
    I know you posted this ages ago, but I’d be grateful if you could tell me one thin about the recipe – at the start it says to add the spices to the lamb, and later in the recipe it says to add them to the onions – which spices and how much of them do I add at these two stages? – if I ad them all to the lamb, there will be none for the onions

    Many thanks

    Lisa

    Comment by Lisa — September 23, 2008 #

  14. Lisa–I wasn’t careful enough in my wording. I’m sorry–the first spices–the bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves are the ones you put in with the lamb.

    The others later in the recipe go in with the onions.

    Comment by Barbara — September 23, 2008 #

  15. Thanks a million!
    I’ll be making this for the other half at the end of the week. She loves lamb.
    I can’t stand it but I’m going to work out a veggie version for myself :)

    Comment by Lisa — September 29, 2008 #

  16. I tried this recipe last year; slow-cooked the onions as directed, made a couple of substitutions (ground cashews instead of the nut butters) and I can tell you that it made for one of the best dinner parties I have had. It was as yummy and worth the effort as claimed, creamy and rich and left people saying ” When are you making curry again?!” I have never found any short-cuts or packaged spice mixes that equal the time spent doing it the long way (and I’ve looked as I don’t always have the time to do this and am not familiar enough with the flavours of Indian spices to use them without closely following a recipe). So thank-you for this, am making it again today!

    Comment by Claire — February 18, 2009 #

  17. It always makes me happy to hear from readers like you, Claire, who have tried my recipes and had great success with them, and who want to make them over and over again.

    I agree–there is no substitute for taking time with Indian food, but there are less elaborate curries that are not celebration dishes, but more every day curries. Those are good, too, and much easier–give my every day chicken curry a try sometime. It is very good and much faster to cook.

    Comment by Barbara — February 18, 2009 #

  18. Hello Barbara,
    I am looking forward to making this receipe but would like a clairification on the nut butters please. Two local Indian grocers did not recognise the term, and one thought that I must add dried peppers in with the nuts. So if I made it myself, is it simply grinding the nuts very fine and using it at the amounts given?
    Thank you,
    Eric

    Comment by eric j — March 26, 2009 #

  19. Eric–you get nut butters at health food stores or regular grocery stores. All they are is roasted, ground nuts–the reason I use them is because they are ground much smoother than you can usually do at home unless you have a special grinder that can handle nuts.

    They are like peanut butter–only without added sugar and emulsifiers or preservatives.

    Go to any natural foods or health food store and ask for cashew and almond butter and they will take you right to them.

    Comment by Barbara — March 26, 2009 #

  20. Barbara that sounds AMAZING. I went to a restaurant call Peacock and had Murg Kurma, it is a creamy white dish with chicken and cashews and I dont know what kind of spices, the guy didnt want me to get it because he said it was bland but I enjoyed it. I am trying to find a recipe but i cant find a dish that looks like it. I am going to try yours but do you think that you have something that is similar to the dish i described.

    Comment by Jenn — September 24, 2010 #

  21. Barbara, is it ok if the almond and cashew butters have sugar in them? Or do you use butters with no sugar added? I can’t wait to try this recipe!

    Comment by Shanna Gabel — November 15, 2011 #

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress. Graphics by Zak Kramer.
Design update by Daniel Trout.
Entries and comments feeds.