Distinguishing Features of British Indian Restaurant (BIR) Curry Cooking:
There are several distinguishing features of BIR curry cooking. BIRs generally produce a wide variety of curries, to order, quickly and to minimum cost. That BIRs typically produce curries to a minimum cost suggests that the use of exotic and expensive ingredients is not generally a feature of BIR curries. That is not to say that spices, and other ingredients, shouldn’t be fresh; they should be. Stale spices will be useless. If they are not fragrant, ditch them and buy some more. Stored correctly, powdered spices will be good for around three months and whole spices will be good for around a year.
The main distinguishing features of BIR curry cooking are the use of ingredients prepared in advance of normal service. The most significant of these are:
- Main ingredients (e.g. precooked meats and vegetables)
- Curry base (or “gravy”, “sauce” or “garabi”)
- Spice mix (or “mix powder” or “mixed powder”)
Main Ingredients (i.e. precooked meats and vegetables):
The use of precooked ingredients is fundamental to making BIR curries. These include precooked meats (e.g. chicken, lamb and beef) and precooked vegetables. These ingredients are precooked, in a mildly spiced water/oil mixture, to subtly flavour and precook the ingredients. These precooked ingredients are then simply added to curries (perhaps with a little of the stock from the precooked ingredients), when they are subsequently made, and reheated.
Some recipes state to add raw chicken breast when making your curry. Since raw chicken breast cooks quickly, it is not strictly necessary to precook it in advance of making your curry (although that is what BIRs invariably do, for logistical reasons). We suggest that you try both and see which you prefer.
Curry Base (or “gravy”, “sauce” or “garabi”):
An (if not “the”) essential feature of BIR curry cooking is the use of a curry base. A curry base is a mildly spiced onion and vegetable stock which is used to make most curries. Because it is used to make a wide range of curries, including very mild curries, it is important that it is mildly spiced. Additional ingredients are then added, when the curries are made, to develop a wide range of curries from very mild (e.g. korma) to very hot (e.g. phal).
BIRs generally produce many litres of curry base (typically of 60 litres capacity, or more), using a large stock pot, in advance of normal service hours. There are probably as many curry base recipes as there are BIR chefs. The exact recipe is likely to be a closely guarded secret by many of them.
Spice Mix (or “mix powder” or “mixed powder”):
BIRs generally use a pre-prepared blend of commonly used powdered spices (i.e. “spice mix”, “mix powder” or “mixed powder”) which is used in a wide variety of curries. Additional spices are then added, when the curries are made, to develop a wide range of curries. A spice mix generally comprises ground coriander, ground cumin, ground turmeric, ground chilli (or ground paprika), a commercial ground curry powder (e.g. Mild Madras) and, often, ground garam masala. Grinding whole spices (e.g. coriander, cumin) is preferable if you wish to produce a quality spice mix. Commercially ground spices are okay but grinding fresh, when required, is undoubtedly best.
Again, there are probably as many spice mixes as there are BIR chefs and, again, the exact recipe is likely to be a closely guarded secret by many of them.