About these recipes

About these recipes

Dan Toombs
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing

If you enjoy cooking and great British Indian restaurant (BIR) food, the fun is about to begin. In this cookbook I’m going to show you the best kept secrets for making some of the most loved curry-house style curries, tandoori and side dishes at home. What’s more, after you make the essential base ingredients, you’ll be able to whip up the classic British curries in just ten minutes. They will taste as good as, if not much better than those produced at your favourite Indian takeaway or restaurant. As much as I do love dining out, I’ve saved one heck of a lot of money and enjoyed some amazing curry feasts with friends and family at home, and you can too.

I came up with these recipes after watching them being made many times at restaurants, taking notes and photographs and, of course, through a good deal of experimentation. It’s the experimentation that I found most enjoyable. Like me, you will learn not only the famous recipes but also be able to tailor them to your own tastes and dietary requirements.

With this in mind, please feel free to adjust the recipes to your own personal tastes. If you want more coconut or sugar in your chicken korma, add it. If my lamb madras isn’t spicy enough for you, add some more chilli powder or fresh chillies. If lamb vindaloo doesn’t appeal to you but king prawn and mushroom vindaloo does, why not?

Remember, we’re not baking cakes here. An extra teaspoon of curry powder or a little less garlic and ginger paste than called for won’t ruin your curry. One exception to this is when adding chilli powder and fresh chillies. If you’re not sure about the spiciness, always use less than called for. You can always add more to taste but it is difficult to cool a curry down once added.

Weights and measures

I’d like to emphasize that during my many visits to curry-house kitchens, I was rarely given exact ingredient measures for different recipes. Carefully measuring a tablespoon of this or a teaspoon of that just isn’t done in busy Indian restaurants. I have yet to see a curry-house chef using kitchen scales, measuring spoons or jugs. Everything is eyed up on the spot and added until the dish they are making looks, tastes and smells just right.

The only measuring tool they use is their handy chef’s spoon. This is a long-handled spoon that holds 30ml, so it’s the equivalent of 2 tablespoons. They dip this spoon into large sauce, spice and paste containers and take out what they need. It’s like watching a conductor, with the containers of spices and other ingredients all part of the symphony orchestra.

When writing these recipes, I used heaped generous tablespoon and teaspoon measures. After watching these chefs simply dip their big spoons into this or that ingredient and transferring it to the curry, it just didn’t feel right to take a tablespoon of a spice and then carefully flatten it off into a level tablespoon. This just isn’t that kind of cooking; it’s much wilder.

So please use my recipes as a guideline. They are the way I make them at home, although admittedly I worked out the exact measurements for this book. After you make a few recipes, you’ll soon learn how much of this or that ingredient to add to make the perfect BIR feast for you, your family and friends.

A note about ingredients

Copying the recipes as I learned them was not always an option. I had to decide whether to show you the recipes as I most often saw them prepared, with commercial pastes and sauces, or go for homemade alternatives used by many chefs hoping to make their mark. I chose the latter.

When you consider how busy curry houses get at the weekends, it’s no wonder many chefs choose to use commercially available pastes, spice masalas and other products. It would be a full-time job to produce homemade spice blends and pickles, which just wouldn’t be economically viable for a low-cost curry house.

Personally, I enjoy experimenting with my own spice masalas and pastes and have included some of my recipes. To simply tell you to use a brand name spice paste didn’t seem right for a cookbook. What I have on offer for you here are my own homemade alternatives, just as many of the chefs I’ve met only use their own masalas and pastes. That said, if you’re in a rush or simply don’t like spending a lot of time in the kitchen, the ready-made products are there for you, and from time to time I choose to use them too.

Which oils?

I use cold-pressed rapeseed oil for frying. Normal vegetable oil is used most often at curry houses but I like rapeseed oil as it is one of the healthiest oils for cooking. It can be used at high temperatures and has a neutral flavour. Rapeseed oil is often confused with canola oil, which is made from rapeseed and is supposedly even better for you, so it can be substituted. In the UK rapeseed oil is often sold as vegetable oil; check ingredients on the packaging.

Ghee and mustard oil are also recommended in some recipes. Recipes just seem to taste better with ghee but I do consider it a treat and not the norm. There was a time when ghee was used a lot more in restaurant curries but these days people are more concerned about their health so it is used less often.

I love the sharp and pungent flavour of mustard oil. It has been used in Indian cookery for centuries. It has, however, been banned for sale for human consumption here in the UK, and in the US, and this is stated on the labels of every brand I know. If you’ve ever dined out at a curry house or high-end Indian restaurant, you’ve probably been served dishes that were prepared with this oil.

You can of course substitute rapeseed oil but the flavour will not be the same. If using, it is best to heat it up until it begins to smoke and let it cool before heating it up again to use in your cooking.

Seasoned oil

Seasoned oil is made and used at most good curry houses. It is the byproduct of several recipes in this book. The fried onion recipe, onion bhaji recipe and the skimmed oil from the base curry sauce can be used to add flavour to curries in place of plain vegetable or rapeseed oil.

How and when ingredients are added

I add ingredients as I was taught, using authentic subcontinent cooking techniques to achieve optimum flavour. I want to point this out because as you begin to create your own recipes, the order in which you add ingredients is important. Oil is added first, followed by whole spices, if using. To that, chopped vegetables like onions, peppers and chillies can be added and fried before other aromatics like garlic and ginger paste go in.

Some ingredients burn faster than others, which is why they need to be added in a specific order to the hot oil. Inexpensive spices such as turmeric, chilli, cumin and coriander powder can withstand heat and cook happily from the beginning of cooking. More expensive and delicate spices such as ground cardamom seeds, nutmeg, saffron, mace, dried fenugreek (methi) leaves and homemade garam masala are best added at the end of cooking just before serving, as prolonged cooking results in them losing a lot of their flavour.

When and how you add the base curry sauce in the classic British curry recipes is also important. Just a little is added at first, which quickly begins to boil down and caramelize in the pan. There is so much flavour in the caramelized sauce and it needs to be stirred in before the rest of the base sauce and stock are added. With more liquid in the pan, this second batch can simmer away untouched unless it looks like it is burning. Some of this batch will caramelize too, which again can be scraped into the sauce for even more mouthwatering flavour.

Don’t worry, all is explained in each recipe, so no need to grab your highlighter.

Cooking heat

In the following recipes, I suggest cooking over a medium-high heat. In most restaurants, the chef cooks over intensely high heat, much hotter than most domestic hobs can achieve. Once you get to know the recipes, you might like to try turning the heat up, but while you’re practising, medium-high will be just fine. I have adjusted my recipes so that you should be able to get great results whether you are cooking on a gas or electric hob.

Serving sizes

When curries are prepared in curry houses, they are usually cooked in small one- to two-person portions. I have chosen to write most of my recipes to serve four. I find this better when people are getting to know how BIR cooking is done. All of the recipes can easily be halved if you wish.

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