Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Curry #3

After a fun session at an Indian cookery class at the weekend, I thought I'd give my new skills a whirl. On tonight's menu was lamb and potato curry (adapted from a pork and potato curry taught on the day) and pilau rice. If there's one thing I can tell you before you start, check the levels of spices in your spice jars. I have embarrassingly run out of turmeric and have had to improvise a little, the results of which are below. I also was an onion down because one of the ones in my onion-and-garlic bowl was off. So I'll post the proper recipes (tried and tested and great) below, but explain where I messed up. The list of ingredients might look pretty off-putting, but if you like curries and make them reasonably regularly, a well stocked spice rack takes the pre-shopping down a notch. I usually have all of these at hand as I cook them a lot, along with onions, garlic, ginger and rice, so I'd normally only need to buy the meat and potatoes for this.

First things first, we make the curry. You'll need, for two people:

Two lamb steaks, chopped into roughly 1 1/2 inch dice
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 onions diced very finely
2 teaspoons root ginger, grated
2 - 3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
Chilli powder to taste
3 medium-small potatoes, chopped into chunks of about twice the size of your top thumb knuckle

First step is to gently fry the onions until they are golden brown and starting to mush up. This is the most vital bit of all - the base of your sauce - and cannot burn. If they look as if they might catch, add a little bit of hot water. This takes quite a while, around 10 minutes or so.

When the onions are virtually melting in the pan, add the garlic and ginger and fry on a low heat for another 5 - 10 minutes. This should smell just gorgeous. Again, add a little bit of water if things might catch. If a little bit does - fish it out of the pan.

Next add all the powered spices into the pan, and fry for another 5 - 10 minutes. The smell coming from this should be redolent of curry now. The spices need to be cooked - important to do this step thoroughly as this is the aromatic heart of your curry. Again, if things look like they might burn, add a little splash of hot water. 

Richard, the guy who taught the cookery course and his wife Suzy are a Christian Indian couple from Chennai, hence the original of this recipe including pork. It surprised me - most of the Indian curries I have known and love are veggie, or with lamb, chicken or prawns, so I figured I'd be fairly safe including lamb instead. It worked great.

Take the diced lamb and add to the curry base. Stir fry it (you can turn the heat up a little for this stage) until the meat changes colour, then add the potatoes and enough water to create a liquor but not so much you'll make the sauce watery... this really has to be done by eye, but you'll need enough in there to cook the potatoes. Then simmer until the potatoes are cooked through and the meat is soft. If you put in a little too much, it's okay, especially if you use floury potatoes. As Suzy pointed out, this type soak up more of the water (and the flavour), and as they cook a little longer and fluff up a bit, will thicken the sauce anyway. So all recoverable! This will take a while, so it's time to start the pilau rice. Just before you do though, taste it: this curry appreciates salt and is surprisingly bland without it. I hardly ever use salt during cooking (using pepper, herbs and spices to add flavour) but this needs it.

For the pilau, you'll need (this serves four):

500g basmati rice, washed three times in a bowl to get rid of the excess starch which makes the rice sticky (although I quite like sticky rice, it's not the texture we're aiming for here)
1 onion, diced (this is the one which turned out not to be right, so I had to do without it tonight)
1/2 inch piece of root ginger
4 cloves
3 cardamoms
1 inch of cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons of cooking oil
1 teaspoon of turmeric (again, which I found out too late I had run out of, so this picture comes from Saturday instead - this is what it is meant to look like!)
Salt to taste

First, fry the cloves, cinnamon and cardamoms in the oil, adding the onions after a minute or two, and then the ginger when the onions are transluscent. Fry together for a couple of minutes. Add the rice, and fry for another couple of minutes. Sprinkle turmeric over the rice, and add water so that it just covers the rice. Stir well, and then put the smallest gas burner on your hob to the lowest flame, and put a lid on the pot.

As Suzy said, this part is "the bit where you will have to experiment, and only regular practice will breed success (!) Don't keep lifting the lid to check on the rice." 

When the curry is done, the rice should be done at about the same time. Fluff it up with a fork. Whilst you're dishing up, fish out the hard spices or make sure the recipient knows they are not for eating. Whilst I had no turmeric, so my rice tonight looked a little anaemic, and slightly missed the onion, it tasted fantastically aromatic thanks to the hard spices. You can garnish the rice and curry with a whole range of things: fried crispy onions, chopped coriander, or toasted nuts. I went for toasted cashews, a particular favourite from my Mum when it comes to curries. 

Delish, and whilst the start of the curry is a little faffy, you're only in the kitchen actually doing things for about half an hour, so totally doable on a week night. 

One of the things that surprised me was the lack of tomatoes in the sauce - it tasted amazing, and is just a different way of cooking curry from the recipes I've used before. This recipe is eminently adaptable, and instead of water to make the sauce, I might use tomatoes next time. I also might finely dice some chillis and fry along with the onion for the curry base, as whilst the curry powder is nice, I slightly prefer the Russian-roulette approach to curry cookery. Hope you give it a whirl, and if you do, let me know how you get along!