Chicken Moghlai from the 1980s

As part of this year's nostalgic and somewhat bemused review of the food styles and recipes that so far I've neglected in the blog, I got to thinking about classic curries. I've included a couple of time-honoured (or, some might say, hopelessly out-of-date) curry recipes already - Goat Rogan Josh and Lamb Bhuna - but I couldn't resist adding this one. If you search for Moghlai cooking then you might well find it described as combining ancient traditions of Persian and Indian cooking. I'm sure that's the case but I've derived this dish from the more recent tradition of British curry houses of the 1980s. This is a delicate, rich and fragrant korma that's very characteristic of some of the dishes you'd find being celebrated back then.

I've been reasonably faithful to the recipe of the time, but I've reduced the amount of cream a bit. The other change I've made is to use chicken thighs. Back in the 80s, you weren't thought to be making an effort unless you used the whole chicken and jointed it yourself. I think the thighs give a more consistent result and are less of a faff. On the other hand, the one thing that was absolutely non-negotiable in the recipes that I collected back then was that the chicken should always be cooked and served on the bone. It does make a difference and I wouldn't dare change that.

Chicken Moghlai
Ideally, buy the chicken thighs with the skin on and remove it yourself. You can then render the fat from the skin in a dry frying pan, use that fat to cook the onions and, at the same time, produce some nice crispy chicken skin for scattering on the finished dish. (OK, that's probably a 21st century affectation). If you don't have the chicken fat, then just use a couple of tablespoons of oil.

Add some rice and this will serve at least 4 people but, in the tradition of 1980s curry houses, it will serve more when accompanied by a motley selection of other curries and side dishes and shared by a motley group of chums carrying Filofaxes.

2 onions, sliced
1 kg of chicken thighs, bone in, skinned
50 g cashews
5 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cm of peeled ginger 
1 tsp ground coriander
5 tbsp yoghurt 
5 tbsp double cream
5 cardamom pods, seeds only
3 fresh red chillies, finely chopped (or less if you don't fancy the heat)
1 small lime, juice only

To serve: toasted cashews, crispy fried shallots or onions, crispy fried chicken skin

Fry the onions slowly in either the chicken fat or oil until they're completely softened and have taken on some golden brown colour. This will take a while and it's best not to rush it. 

While that's happening add the cashews, garlic and ginger to a mini processor (or a pestle and mortar if you're feeling strong) and whiz until you get a thick paste. Stir the ground coriander, cardamom seeds, yoghurt, double cream and some salt and pepper into the paste.
Once the onions are ready, increase the heat a little and fry the chillies for a minute or so. Add the chicken thighs to the pan and fry briefly on all sides. Add the paste and 100ml water and stir in thoroughly.

Cover and simmer very gently for 40 minutes. Make sure that it doesn't dry out during this time. Uncover and continue simmering for 10 minutes until the chicken is thoroughly cooked and the sauce has thickened. Stir in the lime juice.

Just before serving, scatter over a few toasted cashews, a few pieces of crispy fried shallots or onions and, if you have any, some small pieces of the crispy chicken skin.


  1. I do remember ordering this dish way back, and yes I did have a Filofax. In fact I still use my Filofax, I find it much less intrusive and invasive than my phone. Phones have a mind of their own. Filofaxes have just me and my pencil, they largely do as they are told and don't try to sell me anything.
    This sounds delicious, although I would have to omit entirely the chilli. There is enough heat in ginger for me these days!

    1. This dish doesn't rely on chilli to make it tasty. It's the spices and nuts in the creamy sauce that make up the main character of the dish. Although I admit I do enjoy a bit of chilli heat personally.
      If memory serves, I had a lookalike, cheaper version of a Filofax but I found that I was just buying the plain, notebook inserts to scribble in. After a while I decided it would be easier and much cheaper to buy simple notebooks. But then people seemed to think I was making an ironic gesture intended to satirise the fact that the Filofax had become more of a status symbol than a useful tool. In fact, I was just being a cheapskate.

    2. Friends who are completely enslaved to their mobile phones see me as an object of ridicule when I get out my Filofax and pencil, using it as a diary and notebook. And a rubber to make alterations. However, they are envious when their phones have run out of battery and my pencil still works!

  2. Didn't have a Filofax, didn't need one! This recipe sounds delicious, and I adore cashews and chilli. Only thing I'd leave out is the coriander, as I dislike it. I don't think it would be missed.

    1. The recipe will be fine without the coriander, the cardamom is the more significant flavour. To be honest, I think that quite a large number of Filofax owners in the 1980s didn't really need one either but felt it was important to be seen with one.

  3. Phil, I'm way behind on my own blog and on visiting my favourite blogs, but here I am! And this sounds wonderful. I don't care whether a dish is "dated" or on trend, authentic or not, I'm looking for flavour; and this dish has it, that's plain to see!


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