Base recipes

Base recipes

By
Dan Toombs
Contains
23 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849499415

When trying a recipe, first look to see which base recipes you need to make.

Out of all the base recipes I’ve included in this section, only the base curry sauce must be homemade to produce that instantly recognizable BIR-style curry. Everything else is commercially available. Even the mixed powder can be produced using ready-made masalas and spice powders. So you can take shortcuts if you want or you could make them much better.

Making delicious curry-house food is all about building layer upon layer of mouthwatering flavour. Only the best curry houses, like those I’ve featured, prepare everything fresh. This is especially so with spice masalas and pastes that can be expensive and time-consuming to prepare for a packed restaurant. You probably won’t be cooking for that many people, so use it to your advantage and make those awesome layers of flavour go to work for you.

Even pre-cooking your meat, poultry and vegetables can add a lot of excitement to a dish. You could of course cook these from raw but it will take longer and you’ll be missing out on one or more of the things that can make British Indian restaurant cuisine so amazing. These are time-saving preparations that not only make cooking faster but really please the palate.

Spice blends (masalas)

It’s best to purchase whole spices and then roast and grind them as required. Once the spices have been roasted and ground, they lose their aroma and flavour quickly. If I didn’t have to work for a living, I’d definitely do this whenever I cooked Indian food, but I do, so I don’t. I cook a lot of curries every week so it makes much more sense to prepare my spice masalas in larger batches.

I find roasting and grinding my own spice masalas quite therapeutic. In fact, I usually make them after a busy day at work or on Sundays when I’m trying to take my mind off Monday.

These blends can be roasted and ground in minutes, and they can be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark location such as a cupboard for up to two months without losing much flavour. That spectacular aroma you get from freshly ground spices will mellow substantially faster though. When single ground ingredients are called for, such as ground cumin and ground coriander, it is always best to roast the whole seeds first as described in the following recipes. I always have home roasted and ground cumin and coriander on hand.

Spice pastes

Another way to store large batches of spice masalas is to make them into a paste. To do this, mix your masala in a pan with enough water to form a thick paste. Add about 125ml rapeseed oil and fry over a medium-high heat for about 30–60 seconds. Be extra careful not to burn the spices, and stir continuously. Store in an airtight, sterilized glass jar in a cool, dark location like a cupboard or the fridge.

You can make a paste out of any spice masala recipes in this book. These pastes can be added to curries and marinades in the same way you add dry spice masalas.

If you’re interested in making your own spice masalas and pastes, I recommend getting a good spice grinder. I use a Waring spice grinder that is available online. With it, you can achieve very fine powders. I’ve been using mine for years. You could also find less expensive grinders that will do a good job.

The common misconception about the base curry sauce

From Spanish sofrito to Creole holy trinity, almost every cuisine has dishes that begin with a humble mixture of aromatic ingredients. These are the first ingredients to hit the pan, fried in a little fat before the star ingredients like seafood, vegetables or meat are added. In authentic Indian cookery, this is called a base masala, and usually consists of frying finely chopped onions, garlic and ginger paste, chillies, diced tomatoes and a medley of whole or ground warming spices.

Many connoisseurs of authentic Indian food have criticized the one-sauce-fits-all base curry sauce used at curry houses, but personally I feel this is unfair. In most restaurants, this aromatic base sauce is cooked fresh daily. Without it, you would have to wait much longer for your curries when you dine out. It would also mean more last-minute work in front of the stove, and higher prices, as the base sauce makes it possible for chefs to cook, plate and serve many different curries quickly and easily. Visit the kitchen of a busy curry house or Indian takeaway and you are almost certain to see a large saucepan of curry sauce simmering away on the stove, used as a base for most, if not all, of the restaurant’s curries. Although they are usually quite similar, each restaurant has their own special recipe.

Many people have been wrongly led to believe that using the same sauce for all curries makes them taste the same. Perhaps in bad restaurants this is true but not in the best curry houses. The base sauce may be basic but there is so much you can do with it to give each curry its own unique flavour and texture.

The base sauce is essentially what is referred to as a daag in northern India and Pakistan. It is common to see housewives and domestic servants prepare a cooked masala (daag) so that they can conveniently prepare a meal quickly and easily. Daags, like the base curry sauce, can be made in large batches and frozen.

Pre-cooked meat, poultry, paneer and vegetables

I have included a selection of pre-cooked ingredients that you can use in your curries just like they do at UK curry houses. This not only saves time at restaurants but also adds flavour. Pre-cooked stewed chicken and meat, as well as fried paneer and vegetables, can all be added to the classic British curry sauces as you like.

Also hugely popular are barbecued meats, paneer and vegetables. Chicken tikka masala, for example just wouldn’t be the same without those nicely charred pieces of chicken, whereas stewed chicken, in my opinion, is a better bet for a curry like chicken dhansak. That said, these curries are all yours, so use whatever pre-cooked ingredient you like.

Unlike curries in the subcontinent where meat is usually cooked on the bone, British curries are made with bite-sized pieces of boneless meat.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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