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Peninsular & Oriental lamb korma.

This lovely ‘4 c’ curry is adapted from Theodora FitzGibbon’s description of a curry served on board P&O steamships during the nineteenth century. Curries became a tradition relished by passengers of the line and always appeared on the menus of its ships, wherever they sailed; a sound tradition. Do not be misled by the list of ingredients; this is an easy, even foolproof, as well as authentic Raj curry. For six happy sailors.


  • P-O_Flag.jpg1 cup yogurt (see the Notes)
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1 Tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground clove
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 3 lb decent boneless lamb cut into 1½ inch chunks
  • 3 Tablespoons neutral oil, or, better, 2 of that with 1 Tablespoon mustard oil
  • about 4 cups onion, sliced into thin discs
  • salt
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato sauce
  • 3 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne, more or less
  • about 1 cup lamb stock if you have it, water if not
  • 1 Tablespoon garam masala
  • about ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro (coriander leaves and stems)


  1. Stir the garlic, ginger, cardamom, clove, coriander and cumin into the yogurt and marinate the lamb in the mixture for at least an hour or as long as overnight.
  2. Heat the oil(s) in a heavy pot over medium heat, stir the onions into the pot, salt them and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook the onions until they soften:
    Do not let them brown.
  3. Dump the lamb with its marinade into the pot, bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and let the korma boil for ½ hour.
  4. Stir the tomato sauce, bay and cayenne into the lamb mixture and continue cooking the korma until the oil separates from the rest of the sauce. This should not take long.
  5. Add about a cup of stock or water, let it boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer the korma until a butcher’s fork pierces the lamb with ease; again, this should not take long but the time will vary with the cut, length of time under marinade and age of the lamb.
  6. Stir the garam masala into the pot, remove it from the heat and then stir the cilantro into the korma.
  7. Serve with rice and, if you like, an array of chutneys and pickles.


-Nonfat yogurt emphatically will not work here; the korma will curdle. Get a good brand of Greek yogurt or something else with decent fat content.

-Resist temptation to add more tomato sauce. It should be a hint, not a hammer.

-The reason for letting the sauce oil--anathema to western cookery, we know--is to allow the flavor of the spices or curry powder to permeate the sauce. You can emulsify the sauce later in the cooking process, at Steps 5 and 6.

-Use common sense in adding the liquid at Step 5; your korma should be neither dry nor watery.

-There is nothing either iconic or immutable about the equal proportions of cardamom, clove, coriander and cumin. If you are comparatively less fond of cardamom and clove, use proportionately less of them, whether or not you choose to boost the amount of other spice instead.

-It is better, but not necessary, to measure out the four different ‘c’ spices in this dish, but the disinclined could substitute a good curry powder for them; you would get a ‘curry,’ not an authentic korma. Would-be purists may scoff, but commercial curry powders do have an honorable place in the kitchen and are traditional to Raj cooking, especially in the British Isles.

-Again, the dish no longer will be korma, but coconut milk (canned is fine) instead of the yogurt makes a good curry too; a handy alternative if you cannot find decent (non-nonfat) yogurt.

-You could use beef, chicken, pork or goat for that matter instead of lamb, but lamb has a higher fat content and therefore is more forgiving. If you use beef, pork (… or goat), use 3 ½ pounds of meat. If you use chicken the Editor recommends skinless thighs on (preferred; leave them whole instead of wrestling with a cleaver, unless you are adept; then hack them in two to create a prettier dish and demonstrate your prowess) or off the bone. If you choose thigh on the bone, increase the weight of meat to four pounds and boil the korma for only 15 minutes at Step 3. If your chicken is boneless, then cook it for only 10 minutes at that point; if it is white, make sure you do not dry it out by overcooking at Steps 4 and 5.

-The Old School practice was to serve this or any other curry with naan or poppadoms and an array of accompaniments along with the rice. Sides would include any combination of crumbled bacon, Bombay duck (a preserved fish product), chopped hard boiled egg, shredded coconut, chopped peanuts and the like.

-The cilantro is not strictly traditional. So what?