Chicken fit for a shah

I have a new passion: Indian cooking. After an "Indian Food Odyssey" reviewing local Indian restaurants for another publication, I was intrigued. I purchased two classic Indian cookbooks, and before even beginning the recipes, I became absorbed in chapters devoted to regional cuisine, religious taboos, and Indian spices.

I am fortunate to have a couple of Indian grocers less than a mile from my house. For years I rarely ventured beyond the counter, where they kept a cardboard box soaked with fat and filled with savory samosas still just 75¢ each. Today I've collected a pretty good assortment of exotic spices, though I'm still an amateur in the kitchen.

I am going to skip for you the first 113 pages of Julie Sahni's "Classic Indian Cooking," right past the history, ingredients, equipment, techniques and meal planning, and present a simple but elegant and delicious recipe. "Royal Chicken in Silky White Almond Sauce," also known as "Shahi Murgh Badaami," is a splendid example of Moghul food, essentially Northern Indian cuisine, of the type often served in good restaurants.

Moghuls were Moslems who settled in Northern India, influenced by Persian cuisine and lovers of fine things. They prided themselves on elegant presentation of foods, including elaborate rice dishes layered with meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts. They introduced the korma, kofta and kebabs¸ and tandoor clay ovens that provide the foundation for the Indian cooking we are most familiar with in the West. Moghul meat dishes are notable for their fragrant spices and silky, butter or yogurt-based sauces, such as Ms. Sahni's delicious almond chicken recipe.

Shahi Murgh Badaami


- 1 3-lb. chicken cut into 8-10 pieces (or any combination of cut-up legs pieces)

- 10 TBS vegetable oil

- 4 1/2 cups thinly sliced onions

-6 TBS slivered blanched almonds

- 4 TBS coriander seeds

- 4 tsp green cardamom pods

- 4-8 hot red pepper pods, or - 1-2 tsp red pepper, according to taste

- 1 cup water

- 2 cups plain yogurt

- 2 1/2 tsp Kosher salt


1. Cut off the wing tips and pull skin away from all of the chicken pieces, or use skinless boneless chicken pieces.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat in a wide, heavy-bottomed pan. When the oils is hot, add the chicken pieces, a few at a time, and cook, turning constantly, until they loose their pink color and begin to sear. Do not allow them to brown or the sauce will turn dark. Take them out with a slotted spoon and reserve them in a bowl. Continue with the rest of the chicken pieces until all are seared and set aside.

3. Add the remaining 8 tablespoons of oil to the pan, along with the onions. Fry the onions until they are wilted and pale golden (about 10 minutes), stirring constantly to keep them from cooking unevenly. Do not let the onions turn brown or the sauce will be dark.

4. Add almonds, coriander, cardamom, and red pepper pods (if using powder, add later) and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes or until the almonds are lightly colored and the cardamom pods are puffed up. If you are using red pepper powder or cayenne, add now. Stir. Turn off the heat.

5. Put the entire mixture, along with 1 cup water, in a blender or food processor and mix until a fine, smooth puree.

6. Return the puree to the pan along with the chicken pieces, yogurt, and salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the chicken is melting tender and the sauce has thickened (about 45 minutes). At this point, the oil will begin to separate and form a thin glaze over the sauce and the chicken. Turn off the heat and let the dish rest, covered, for 1/2 hour before serving. (This tastes even better if refrigerated at this point and reheated a day or two later, after the flavors have mingled.) When ready to serve, reheat until piping hot, check for salt, and serve with a fragrant rice pilaf, vegetable dish and hot baked naan (Indian bread).

This is a good dish to try if you're just dipping your toes into Indian cuisine. It features familiar ingredients, a modest amount of spices, and adjustable heat level. I promise more to come, as "May It Please the Palate" continues explore the fascinating flavors of India.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine in Ann Arbor. He can be reached at His blog is

Published: Thu, Jun 11, 2015