When it comes to Indian cuisine, two dishes that are often confused with each other are chicken korma and butter chicken. While both are delicious curries made with chicken, they are quite different from each other in terms of their flavor profile, ingredients, and preparation. In this article, we will explore the differences between these two classic dishes and help you understand what sets them apart.
Origin and History
Let’s start with a brief history of these dishes. Chicken korma is believed to have originated in the Mughal era in India, which spanned from the early 16th century to the mid-19th century. The Mughals were known for their love of rich, indulgent food, and korma was one of their favorite dishes.
Korma was typically made with lamb or beef, but over time, chicken became a popular alternative. Butter chicken, on the other hand, is a much newer dish, with a history that dates back to the 1950s. It was created by a chef named Kundan Lal Gujral, who ran a restaurant in Delhi called Moti Mahal. Gujral was experimenting with leftover tandoori chicken and decided to simmer it in a tomato-based gravy with cream and butter. The result was a rich, creamy, and flavorful dish that quickly became a hit.
One of the biggest differences between them is their flavor profile. Korma is a mild, aromatic curry that is typically made with a mixture of spices, including cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and cumin. The dish is often thickened with a paste made from ground nuts or seeds, such as almonds, cashews, or poppy seeds. Yogurt is also commonly used to give the curry a creamy texture and tangy flavor. Butter chicken, on the other hand, is a rich and creamy curry that is known for its sweet and tangy flavor.
The dish is made with a tomato-based gravy that is simmered with cream, butter, and a variety of spices, including garam masala, cumin, and coriander. The meat is first marinated in a mixture of yogurt and spices before being cooked in a tandoor oven or on a grill, which gives it a smoky flavor. The cooked meat is then added to the tomato gravy, which is thickened with cream and butter.
Korma typically contains a variety of spices, including cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and cumin. It also contains a mixture of nuts or seeds, such as almonds, cashews, or poppy seeds, which are ground into a paste and added to the curry to thicken it.
Yogurt is another key ingredient, which gives the curry its creamy texture and tangy flavor. Butter chicken, on the other hand, contains a tomato-based gravy that is made with onions, garlic, ginger, and a variety of spices, including garam masala, cumin, and coriander. The meat is marinated in a mixture of yogurt and spices, which gives it flavor and tenderizes the meat. Once cooked, the meat is added to the tomato gravy, which is then thickened with cream and butter.
Their preparation also differs significantly. Korma is typically cooked slowly over low heat to allow the flavors to develop fully. The meat is first browned in oil and then set aside while the onion and spice mixture is cooked until fragrant. The ground nut or seed paste is then added, followed by the yogurt and meat. The curry is then simmered until the meat is cooked through and the sauce has thickened.
Butter chicken, on the other hand, is a bit more involved. The chicken is first marinated in a mixture of yogurt and spices for several hours or overnight. The marinated chicken is then cooked in a tandoor oven or on a grill to give it a smoky flavor. The tomato-based gravy is prepared separately by cooking onions, garlic, and ginger until soft, then adding spices and pureed tomatoes. Once the gravy is cooked, the cooked chicken is added along with cream and butter to thicken the sauce.
Differences in spice blends
Korma is known for its aromatic blend of spices, which includes cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and cumin. These spices give the dish its distinct flavor and aroma, and they work together to create a complex and balanced taste. The spices used in chicken korma are often milder than those used in other Indian curries, which makes it a popular choice for those who prefer less spicy dishes. Butter chicken, on the other hand, is made with a different blend of spices. While it also contains cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves, it typically includes more pungent spices like garam masala, cumin, and coriander.
These spices give the dish a richer and more intense flavor profile, which is balanced out by the cream and butter used to thicken the gravy. Butter chicken is often considered to be a more indulgent and decadent dish than korma, and its spice blend is a big part of what sets it apart. While both of them are made with a blend of spices, the differences in the specific spices used and their proportions are what create the distinct flavor profiles of each dish. Whether you prefer the mild and aromatic flavors of korma or the rich and intense flavors of butter chicken, both dishes are delicious and satisfying choices.
Differences in the use of nuts and seeds
Another significant difference between them is the use of nuts and seeds in each dish. Korma is typically made with a paste of ground nuts or seeds, such as almonds, cashews, or poppy seeds. This paste is added to the curry to thicken it and give it a nutty and slightly sweet flavor. The use of nuts or seeds is a common feature of Mughlai cuisine, which is known for its rich and indulgent dishes.
Butter chicken, on the other hand, does not typically include ground nuts or seeds. Instead, the creamy and rich texture of the curry comes from the use of cream and butter. The tomato-based gravy is simmered with cream and butter to create a luscious and velvety sauce that coats the meat. The absence of nuts or seeds in butter chicken makes it a good choice for those with nut allergies or sensitivities. However, it also means that the dish may be less complex in flavor than korma, which benefits from the addition of ground nuts or seeds.
Differences in the use of yogurt
Yogurt is a common ingredient in many Indian curries, including both of them. However, the way it is used in each dish differs significantly. Korma typically uses yogurt as a thickening agent to create a creamy and tangy sauce. The yogurt is often added towards the end of the cooking process and stirred gently to prevent it from curdling. The tanginess of the yogurt balances out the sweetness of the ground nuts or seeds and helps to cut through the richness of the curry.
Butter chicken uses yogurt in a different way. The meat is first marinated in a mixture of yogurt and spices, which helps to tenderize the meat and infuse it with flavor. The yogurt also helps to create a delicious crust when the meat is cooked in a tandoor oven or on a grill, giving it a smoky and slightly charred flavor. Once the meat is added to the tomato-based gravy, cream, and butter are used to create the creamy texture of the sauce.
Serving and Pairing
Both of them are typically served with rice and/or naan bread. Korma is often served with plain basmati rice to help balance out the richness of the curry. Butter chicken, on the other hand, is often served with buttery naan bread to complement its creamy texture.
When it comes to pairing these dishes with drinks, a crisp white wine or a light beer would pair well with korma. The mild flavor profile of the curry would not overpower the flavors of the wine or beer. As for butter chicken, a red wine such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Malbec would pair well with the rich and creamy tomato-based gravy.
Which dish is more traditional?
Chicken korma is considered to be more traditional than the other recipe, as it has been around since the Mughal era in India, while the butter recipe was invented in the 1950s.
What is the difference between Indian and Pakistani chicken korma?
Indian korma typically uses a blend of milder spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and cumin, while Pakistani korma uses a spicier blend of spices such as coriander, paprika, and cumin.
What is the difference between North Indian and South Indian butter chicken?
There is no such thing as South Indian butter chicken as the dish is primarily associated with North Indian cuisine. However, there are variations of the dish that can be found in different regions of India, such as Murgh Makhani in Punjab and Makhanwala Murgh in Maharashtra.
Can both of them be made gluten-free?
Yes, both of them can be made gluten-free by using gluten-free flours or thickeners instead of wheat flour, and by ensuring that all other ingredients used are also gluten-free.
Are there any regional variations?
Yes, there are many regional variations of both of them that can be found throughout India and even beyond. These variations may differ in terms of the spices used, the types of nuts or seeds used, or the preparation methods.
Which dish is easier to make?
Both of them can be fairly time-consuming to make, as they require a lot of prep work and simmering time. However, korma may be slightly easier to make as it does not require the additional step of grilling or cooking the meat in a tandoor oven as butter chicken does. Ultimately, the ease of making either dish will depend on the individual recipe and the cook’s level of experience.
In conclusion, while both of them are delicious Indian curries made with chicken, they differ significantly in terms of their flavor profile, ingredients, and preparation. Chicken korma is a mild, aromatic curry that is thickened with a mixture of ground nuts or seeds and yogurt. Butter chicken, on the other hand, is a rich and creamy curry that is made with a tomato-based gravy that is thickened with cream and butter. Despite their differences, both dishes are beloved by Indian food enthusiasts all over the world, and both are definitely worth trying.