A Special Kind of Braising
Heritage of Central Asia
“The northern versions of these curries have different names. Korma is the queen among them.” — Shanthi Rangarao
Korma or Braising is a special technique of Indian cooks for preparing meat or vegetables in which they are braised with a small amount of liquid and spices in a tightly sealed container to produce a rich and tasty dish.
The key to korma cooking is, after searing the main ingredient to seal in its liquids, to cook under carefully controlled conditions in such a way that the liquids of the main ingredient are absorbed back into the food being cooked. It is done with a very small amount of liquid and under very low temperatures.
While usually used for meats, such as chicken or lamb, the korma technique can also be used for vegetables. The liquid used is either
- yogurt or
- cream, or
- a mixture of two or more of these.
The actual form or texture of korma can vary from a thick gravy to a thin glaze to a crispy finish to the main ingredient.
The korma technique probably arose in Central Asia among the ancestors of the Mogul Emperors of Delhi in ancient times and has continued to be associated with the court cuisine of North India.
“They are rich and spicy, but not hot; usually served with Pillau, Kitcheree, or Coconut Rice.With few exceptions the meat is marinated in a mixture in which the chief ingredient is sour curds.” — E. P. Veerasawmy
Charcoal on the Lid: In its original form, the cook would put charcoal on the lid of the pot being used and cook the pot over more charcoal or in an oven. In more recent times, if an appropriate pot is not available — or the charcoal, in many modern kitchens — the dish can be finished in the oven, but the lid of the pot is often sealed with dough to make it airtight.
When korma dishes are being cooked, the cook has to be careful not to open the lid but to mix the ingredients from time to time by shaking the pot.
To make korma dishes, the aromatics are added two or three times. First —
- when marinating
- second, after the initial searing and before braising and
- sometimes,finally, after the dish is done and when glazing or finishing the dish.
The pot will be sealed as necessary with a strip of dough or in a modern kitchen sometimes a piece of kitchen foil to keep all the liquids inside. If it is not cooked with live charcoal on the pmbot lid, but in a conventional oven, the oven temperature will be kept at the lower temperature during the braising time.
The korma technique has many variants depending on the ingredients and style of flavoring desired, and is not easy to learn. Once mastered, it can be used to produce delicious, intensely flavored dishes with a variety of ingredients.
In the North of India, where meat is more commonly eaten, korma is usually thought to be primarily a way of cooking meat. In the South, where vegetarian dishes are more common, there are a wide range of vegetable dishes prepared in korma style, and these tend to be spicier than in the North.
For Further Information:
Attia Hosain and Sita Pasricha, Cooking the Indian Way (London: Paul Hamlyn,1963) — http://www.amazon.com/Cooking-Indian-Way-Attia-Hosain/dp/B000PH0WN8
“Korma,” article, Wikipedia — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korma
Shanthi Rangarao, Good Food from India (Bombay, Jaico Publishing, 1957)http://www.amazon.co.uk/Indian-Cookery-Penguin-Handbook-Dharamjit/dp/0140461418
Dharamjit Singh, Indian Cookery (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1970, 1975) — http://www.amazon.co.uk/Indian-Cookery-Penguin-Handbook-Dharamjit/dp/0140461418
E.P. Veerasawmy, Indian Cookery (Bombay: Jaico Publishing, 1956) — http://www.amazon.com/Indian-Cookery-E-P-Veerasawmy/dp/0882531972