Typical British Indian Restaurant (BIR) Curry Cooking Process:
The sequence of adding ingredients varies, depending on the chef, but the following sequence is typical of that found in many BIR kitchens. In a BIR, these stages follow each other, in relatively quick succession, with the whole process generally taking less than about 10 minutes. Each stage may take longer on a domestic hob. Here, a variation of a Chicken Vindaloo (enough for two modest servings) has been made to illustrate all stages that might typically be used when making a BIR curry:
The ingredients are (clockwise, from the top left):
- 300ml of curry base
- 2 tbsp of tomato paste (diluted with 5 tbsp of water to make a runny puree)
- 2 heaped tsp of spice mix + 1 heaped tsp of commercial curry paste + 4 heaped tsp of chilli powder + pinch of milled black peppercorn + 0.33 tsp of salt + 1 tsp of dried fenugreek leaves (crumbled)
- 1 tbsp of garlic puree + 1 tsp of ginger puree
- 1 tbsp of finely diced onions + 1 tbsp of finely diced green capsicum
- Small piece of cassia bark + 2 green cardamom pods + 0.5 tsp of fennel seeds
- 100ml of sunflower oil
- 200g of precooked chicken (centre)
2. Add the oil to the heated pan and heat until almost smoking
3. Reduce the heat and add the whole spices (if using) and fry them, with frequent stirring, until they are sizzling. Take care not to burn them If you smell them burning, remove the pan from the heat and move quickly to the next stage
4. Add the onions and green capsicum (if using) and fry them, with frequent stirring, taking care not to burn them. If they start to burn, remove the pan from the heat and move quickly to the next stage
5. Add the garlic/ginger paste and fry it, with frequent stirring, taking care not to burn it - it should be no more than golden in colour. If it starts to burn, remove the pan from the heat and move quickly to the next stage
6. Add the powdered spices (or a paste of the powdered spices in water, or tomato puree, if you prefer), and fry them, with frequent stirring, taking care not to burn them
7. Add the tomato puree and continue to fry, with frequent stirring, until it reduces and the oil begins to separate from the mixture. At this stage, the spices should be cooked
8. Add the precooked main ingredients (e.g. chicken, lamb, beef and/or vegetables) and stir to coat the ingredients with the mixture
9. Add a little of the curry base (e.g. 60ml or so) and continue to cook, with frequent stirring, and reduce the mixture until the oil separates
10. Add more curry base, a little at a time, taking care not to reduce the temperature of the pan too much with each addition. Continue to cook, with frequent stirring, until all of the curry base has been added
11. Leave the curry bubbling and simmering, stirring only occasionally, until the oil begins to separate (you want the contents to start caramelising around the edges of the pan and to stir these back into the curry)
12. You can now add any other ingredients you wish to add (in this case, a pinch of All Purpose Seasoning, a pinch of Garam Masala, about 1 tbsp of vinegar, about 1 tsp of sugar and about 2 tbsp of the precooked chicken stock were added). Continue to cook, with occasional stirring until the sauce is of the desired consistency (adding a little more curry base or water if the sauce becomes too thick)
13. That’s it! You’re done! Serve and enjoy!
During the early stages of frying the spices (i.e. up to stage 7) you are trying to cook the spices to extract their essential oils and flavour and to cook the rawness out of them. It is important that there is sufficient liquid to keep things reasonably fluid, but not too fluid. Otherwise things will start to burn. If the mixture becomes too thick (and/or starts to burn) add a little curry base. The mixture should be reduced to a fairly thick paste until the oil separates. This is an indication that the spices are cooked sufficiently. These are important stages so take your time over them. Do this well and your kitchen will smell like a BIR! Do it poorly and your curry will be lacklustre.
During the later stages of reducing the curry base (i.e. stage 8 and beyond) you are trying to caramelise the ingredients to extract flavour and body from them. Caramelised ingredients should be evident, as a crust, around the outside of the pan. There may also be some caramelisation happening on the bottom of the pan. This is the “good stuff”! Only occasional stirring and scraping is required to stir the caramelised ingredients back into the sauce. Again, the sauce should be simmered until it is of the desired consistency and the oil begins to separate.
As a final note, it is advisable to prepare all of your ingredients, beforehand, and arrange them in the sequence in which you will add them.