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  Principles and Secrets of Great Curry Making

This page is intended to explain the general principles for making a curry and can be used to create most curry dishes. I will start by explaining the basics and building blocks required for creating great tasting curries and finally the "Curry Method".

  Spices

Spices are fundamental to all Curry Recipes and there is a huge range of spices which can be used but only a few of which form a basic curry powder. The most important spice for a curry is Cumin seeds, then Coriander seeds and these you will usually see as the most prominent two ingredients in nearly all shop bought Curry Powders. Additional spices in a Curry Powder usually will include Fenugreek, Ginger, Garlic, Turmeric, Cardamom and some others may be included for specific types of curry powder. Ground spices and Curry Powders must always be used fresh and kept in air tight containers. Older stale spices will add nothing but grit to your finished dish and leave you feeling dissapointed with the results. The very best reults will always come from grinding your own spices from whole seeds just before using them. This of course is not always practical which is one of the reasons we have launched our own range of curry powders and spices, these are all made fresh to order and shipped withing 7 days. We toast whole Cumin and Coriander seeds until they crackle then freshly grind and blend in other fresh spices as needed for the curry powder being made, in this way you can be sure of the very freshest most aromatic spices imagineable leading to great results. If however you have the time to make your own before a curry I would strongly urge you to give it a try.

Some dishes not only use ground spices but also whole spices or lightly crushed spices, these add a different dimension to texture and taste. For more information on our Curry Powder Kits - click here

  Chilli

Chilli gives the curry it's heat and can be used in whole fresh form, chilli powder, whole or crushed dried chillies or as chilli sauce or paste. As well as heat, chillies can add some subtle dimensions of flavour which can be dramatically different from one chilli to the next. Habanero and Scotch bonnet chillies have a beautiful buttery, oaky and vanilla tones but are so hot that most people can't really take them. Most Indian Restaurants use predominantly Long thin green cayenne or finger chillies, they have a good taste and high heat level and can be added chopped, sliced or whole as required. The heat level of fresh chillies is reduced somewhat with the length of cooking so add them earlier if you like it milder and later if you prefer it hotter. Always add chilli in whatever form a little at a time, you can always add some more if needed but you can't take it out once you have overdone it. Chilli powder will permeate the rest of the sauce most readily. Finely chopped fresh chillies will need to cook for a while to add to the sauce in quite the same way. Whole and sliced chillies will add their heat mainly when eaten directly. Adding whole chillies to a mild curry can be one way to satisfy the demands of a group with different heat tolerances by serving the chillies to only those who like them, however there is a risk of one or more splitting and making the sauce hot so use thicker skinned chillies and add to the dish when most of the stirring and working has been done, alternatively add some fresh chillies, lightly toasted chillies, or chilli sauce as a table condiment. Adding chilli powder to a finished dish is not a good way to add heat as the spices need to be worked in to the dish which is difficult once served.

  Herbs

Indian dishes typically make very little use of herbs. The most frequent is coriander leaf, this should always be fresh, never dried. Usually coriander leaves are added towards the end of cooking and most often as a garnish. Fresh Basil can sometimes be used though I have never seen it used in an Indian restaurant.

  Seasoning

One of the biggest mistakes made when cooking Indian food is that no salt is added on the assumption that there is so much flavour from the spices that you don't need salt. This is wrong and you should always taste your dish and season towards the end if needed. Our mouths can only taste 5 different things, sweet, salt, sour, bitter and umami (or savouriness). All other flavour (as distinct from the term taste) is detected by flavour molecules stimulating our olfactory gland in the nose. Try the following experiment to see this in action: Take a piece of any strong flavoured food (say cheese or garlic), hold your nose and put it on your tongue and rub it against the roof of your mouth. What can you detect? probably just salt or one of the other 4 taste sensations, now let your nose go and breath in as you taste the morcel of food, suddenly the flavours erupt in your mouth and nose. A well balanced dish needs basic taste stimulation of at least 2 areas of the five as well as flavour and aroma.

  Onions, Ginger and Garlic

No curry is truly complete without these three ingredients which are always best used fresh. Onions are nearly always finely chopped and sauteed until translucent or brown as the first or second step in any curry. Ginger is usually grated and garlic can be sliced or crushed or both in the same dish.

  Oil and Fat

Oil is essential in all curries as the medium which carries the spices. Without oil the spices are harsher and gritty with much less flavour and aroma. Indian restaurants tend to use Ghee which is a clarified butter, but Olive oil, Sunflower or Groundnut oil can be used instead. Add plenty of oil when starting the dish, it will separate and excess oil can be skimmed off at the end of cooking and kept covered in the fridge for use with your next curry.

  The Main Ingredient

Your curry will of course have a main ingredient such as meat, chicken, fish, seafood, vegetables or cheese. Always use the best quality ingredients that you can afford and play to it's own strengths. For meat you should try and get free range meat which had come from animals which have led happier lives and fed on pastures rather than artificial feeds. It always pays dividends to find a specialist butcher, grocer, fishmonger whom you can trust to provide good quality foodstuffs which they know the origins of and about which they can talk knowledgably. Likewise local farm shops which sell their own produce can be invaluable sources of good main ingredients.

  The Sauce Body

Most sauces outside of Indian cooking are thickened with flour either wheat or cornflour. Indian cooking usually requires pureed vegetables, yogurt, cream, coconut milk or similar in order to either thicken the sauce or create the final flourish to differentiate the dish. Some popular choices are:

  Stock

Anyone who knows me, will usually comment on the fact that I am always making stock. Stock can be made from leftover meats and vegetables easily without much fuss and attention once you know what you are doing. They are invaluable for adding some liquid to a curry to prevent burning in the early stages and at the latter stage to prevent the sauce being too thick. If you do not have stock then water can do the same trick but stock will bring added flavours and aromas as well as nutritious goodness. For meat stocks, never mix meats, the exception being that veal can be added to most other meats in stock form or to a finished dish, but you shouldn't add beef stock to a chicken curry. To make stock, take bones and meat, wash them and then blanch and refresh them. Put them in a big pot of cold water and bring gently to a simmer and cook on a low simmer for up to 24 hours but at least 2 hours. The simmer time depends on the type of meat and bones and teh size, smaller pieces take less time. After the first half an hour or so you should skim off any frothy scum on the surface and then you can add any additional flavourings such as whole spices, vegetable such as carrots, celery, onions and garlic. When you have finished simmering the stock, drain and then reduce down by at least half to two thirds to make a more concentrated stock. The meat you make stock from can be cooked or uncooked to start with, cooked browned meats will give a stronger flavour because of the browning and do not need to be blanched and washed, uncooked meats will give a lighter flavoured and coloured stock. Meat adds most of the flavour to a meat stock while bones lend a little flavour but mainly gelatine for a thicker stock.

To make a vegetable stock, bring a pot of water to the boil and add whichever vegetables you plan to use. I normally use at least carrots, celery, onions, and garlic but optionally potatoes, fennel, beetroot, parsnip, leeks etc can be added. Simmer gently for 1-2 hours but no more then drain and reduce down as needed.

Cooled stock can be frozen and kept in the freezer and added from frozen. For more flavourful stocks you can make double stock by using the stock juice of a previous stock to simmer a new stock, typically I will make a vegetable stock then add meat for a meaty double stock. And of course even triple stock can be made. While spices and herbs can be added to stocks, never season them as you will invariably season the final dish anyway.

  The Curry Method

Finally we get to pulling all of the above together to create a curry. Some of the following steps are optional and depend on the curry being made or your preference.
Depending on the main ingredient, most curries are quite tolerant of longer cooking and will keep on a low simmer while other cooking catches up. Alternatively remove from the heat then reheat through just before serving.

  Hints and Tips

The folloiwng hints and tips may be useful.

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