Author and filmmaker Sri Rao says if someone likes the flavor explosions found in Indian cuisine, they will appreciate the sensory overload of Bollywood cinema. His first book, “Bollywood Kitchen: Home-Cooked Indian Meals Paired with Unforgettable Bollywood Films,” is a guide to dinner and a movie, Indian-style.
In his search for the right food to pair with “Bajirao Mastani,” a wartime love story starring actress and heartthrob Priyanka Chopra, Rao considers the film’s key elements — song, dance, love, betrayal — and the setting of the movie. “Bajirao Mastani” plays out in the 18th century, when India was under Mughal rule. So Rao suggests chicken korma, an opulent dish that would have been found on emperors’ tables, is just the thing to eat while screening the film: “Traditionally, chicken korma is a very rich chicken curry that is made with cream and nuts and raisins. What I’ve done with that dish is streamlined the recipe and made it a lot more accessible and healthy for home cooks.” He says it’s “21st-century korma made with simple techniques to suit our modern lifestyle but with decadent flavors to suit the emperor inside us all.” Roll the tape.
Chicken korma is a traditional Mughal dish, that would have been eaten in the era of “Bajirao Mastani.” (In the film, the Mughals are the Muslim invaders who Bajirao and Mastani defeat in the story). Much like the film, korma is traditionally luxurious and over-the-top, with meat braised in a rich sauce of yogurt, cream and nuts. I love the flavor of korma but have always looked for a simpler and healthier way to prepare it. This is my solution. I start with thinly-cut chicken pieces because they cook quickly and stay juicy the whole way through. (There’s nothing worse than dry chicken breast). If you’re using regular chicken breast, all you need to do is place each piece between a folded sheet of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin or the smooth side of a meat tenderizer until roughly ¼-inch in uniform thickness. Then, a quick yogurt marinade ensures the spices penetrate the meat to give it a faux braised taste. Instead of simmering the gravy for an hour, I make a quick pan sauce that’s poured over the breast to give it that classic korma flavor.
Yield: Makes four servings.
1 cup Greek yogurt (2% or whole)
1½ Tbsp garlic paste (or minced garlic)
1 Tbsp ginger paste (or minced ginger)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Indian red chili powder (or cayenne)
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground turmeric
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly-cut
2 Tbsp canola oil, divided
Chopped fresh mint, for garnish
Pan sauce ingredients
4 shallots, sliced (about 1 cup)
¼ cup sliced almonds, plus extra for garnish
1½ cups milk (whole or 2%)
½ cup golden raisins
Buttery naan, for serving
Marinate the chicken: In a large bowl, whisk together all the marinade ingredients. Place the sliced chicken in the bowl with the marinade and stir well to coat the pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to marinate for 30 minutes. If you have more time, 2 to 3 hours is even better.
Cook the chicken: When you’re ready to cook the chicken, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Using tongs and a spatula, remove the chicken from the bowl and scrape off as much of the marinade as possible, reserving the marinade in the bowl. Decrease the heat to medium and cook, replenishing with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil as needed, for 5 to 7 minutes on the first side, then flip and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes on the other side. (You could also do this on an outdoor grill for a nice charred effect.) To see if the chicken is done, cut into the thickest part of each piece and make sure the meat is not pink. When each piece is finished, arrange the chicken on a platter.
Prepare the pan sauce: For the sauce, remove the larger, burned remnants from the pan but don’t clean it out completely because the brown bits have tons of flavor. Decrease the heat to medium-low and add a touch of oil to the skillet if needed. Add the shallots and almonds and cook, stirring, until the shallots have softened, about a minute. Then add the marinade from the bowl, along with the milk. Whisk well. As soon as the sauce begins bubbling, decrease the heat, stir in the raisins, cover and simmer, allowing the raw spices to be cooked, for 3 to 5 minutes. Taste the sauce. If it’s too intense or too thick, add more milk to thin it out.
Assemble the dish: Pour the pan sauce over the chicken breasts on the platter. Garnish with chopped mint and serve with buttery naan.
Photo by Sidney Bensimon