One of my earliest memories involves curry.
Bond Street, Bristol...I must be about eight or nine. Indian cuisine was something entirely new and different. So radical in fact, that it caused my parents to organise the one and only occasion that our family ever went to a restaurant. I know that my parents weren't keen on the food (probably like most Bristolians in the early 1970's, they didn't have a single clue about any of the items listed on the Indian menu). I recall the thrill of the 'giant crisps' (poppadoms) that came out in a large bowl. Mother hated the spicy food. Father's reaction is absent from my memory, but the restaurant certainly never saw us again.
Some people profess to find meaning in tea leaves, or wax lyrical on the day they discovered religion while ironing their socks. In a similar way, a friend and I 'discovered' curry in the early 1990's. For a while, curry was all-consuming and dominated the food chain. Serious books were purchased. International Curry Clubs were joined. Lengthy discussions broke out in pubs, concerning the best type of ghee (clarified butter) to use, or whether it was proper to stick to the 'pure' cinnamon sticks, or risk cheaper supermarket ground cinnamon in one's signature dish. Cream or natural yoghurt? Red onions, white onions or shallots?
This was my first true love for food and the delicate balances of the kitchen intrigued me. Eventually, I would move away from Indian cuisine and branch out into other styles - especially Italian (recipe for Kev's Cannelloni to come).
The onset of diabetes has compelled me to mainly eat foods of my own creation or only use strict recipes. If I don't know what's in food then it doesn't tend to pass my lips...my body will soon let me know if I stray too far from the path and it won't be a pleasant experience.
And so, curry makes a grand return to the dining table. Fresh ingredients, healthy options, no artificial crap...great for a diabetic and pretty good for the human race in general.
Below is a recipe for a medium-spiced chicken dish. A recipe for a milder and more creamy type of curry will follow very shortly. It's possible to do a whole range of different types and - if I ever get around to locating my library of old curry books (never, EVER lend out a good recipe book) then I'm sure I can add some unusual/one off recipes to this Blog.
First, some ground rules. I know I sound like I used to worship at the altar of the Curry Gods, but...ok, hands up, I freely admit to it...but I also realize that the best food is cooked while relaxed and happy. In the past I've shamefully thrown entire woks of food into bins, because 'the chilli was the wrong texture' or 'the rice isn't ricey enough'...dammit Jim, I'm a writer, not a three star chef!
So, rule #1...enjoy the process. I find experimentation is both very important and HUGE fun. With curry, there are few rules, especially when it comes to taste. I like a certain amount of chilli...you may not. So...rule #2...flexibility. If you like the taste of ground coriander then add it...if a recipe book doesn't mention that you should, then assume that it's having an off day - probably still sulking about the time you over-salted the Chicken Korma back in 1997 and never quite managed to say sorry. Leave it to its prolonged sulk and add some coriander. When it comes to taste...erm...well, it's down to personal taste. I'll lay out some basic ingredients, some tips and then it's down to you. Good luck!
Oh...I'll also go through making a basic curry sauce. The supermarket jars of curry sauces are no good for me as they contain huge amounts of sugar. Likewise, I cannot eat in an curry restaurant...the sugar levels would put me into a diabetic coma. I don't even want to think about artificial food colourings...the slightest whiff of an E-Number and I'm liable to start 'speaking in tongues'. A simple 'Pot Noodle' could easily make me believe I am 'King of the Potato People'. As I said, I don't usually do additives.
I am also aware that some people are better cooks than others. I don't know how many people will read this, nor have I raided each of your dustbins, read your personal diaries, interviewed your nearest and dearest...all leading to an in-depth, scientific survey on your individual cooking skills and experiences. I will therefore assume that everyone knows what a wok is, how to use a saucepan and from which end you fill up a jug...thereby aiming the tone of this recipe at people who might say, 'Yes, I DO know one end of a kitchen from the other, but perhaps I might NOT YET be able to make a curry sauce, however I CAN strip a chilli without blinding myself, the dog or next door's goldfish and I haven't lost a single finger yet!'
If I do say anything that makes you go 'Oh FFS, of COURSE that's how you do it, you four-eyed baboon!' then I sincerely apologise...but I have to aim it somewhere.
In life - and in the kitchen - I find that 'simple' works. Hence, we'll use 'simple' as our base foundation and go from there. If that's still unacceptable then naturally you are perfectly free to buy a recipe book out of your pocket and make your own fecking curry.
MEDIUM CHICKEN CURRY WITH BASMATI RICE
Ingredients for curry sauce:
Range of spices: Choose from - ground cumin, turmeric, paprika, ground coriander, mild/medium chilli, ground fenugreek, garam masala...experiment with different spices for different tastes. (Good quality spices are key - Schwartz are expensive but high quality. Bart spices are good, but cheaper. Avoid cheap quality spices like the plague...just not worth the effort. You can start with say 3-5 spices and gradually build in more as time goes on. A good basic 5-spice curry sauce would be cumin, paprika, turmeric, coriander and chilli)
Bay Leaves (2 or 3)
Chicken - For simplicity and convenience, I tend to use good quality chicken breasts, although chicken legs can provide a tasty alternative.
Fresh Garlic - alternatively, you can find excellent quality 'Lazy Garlic' jars in all supermarkets.
Fresh Ginger - as above...'Lazy Ginger' is easily found. Use sparingly.
Fresh Chillies - an easier option is to buy 'Lazy Chillies' in white wine vinegar - available in jars from supermarkets.
Chopped Onions - optional to taste - good quality white onions, red onions or shallots. All are good. I'm currently experimenting with caramelised red onions. If you don't like onions, leave the little buggers out.
Salt & Pepper
Basmati Rice - loose.
Coriander Leaves - fresh is best.
Peppers - One of my personal favourites and well worth experimenting with different types & colours, Be careful of overusing peppers as their taste can completely overpower a wok. In a medium-spiced curry, red and green peppers are well suited for a warm or bitter texture.
Cream/Natural Yoghurt - I tend to use these like a 'fire blanket'. If I overheat a medium dish then these offer relief from too much fire.
Naan Breads, Poppadoms, Chapatis...goes without saying.
LET CURRY-MAKING COMMENCE
1 - Making The Marinade.
a) Chop chicken into small cubes. Place in casserole dish and put to one side.
b) Make the curry sauce. Making up a basic curry sauce is a lot easier than it sounds.
c) Take a jug or small bowl. Pour in a good few squirts of tomato purée.
d) Add a little water and stir.
e) Add your chosen spices - a good rule of thumb is about half a teaspoon per person.
f) Add more water and stir well.
g) Place your bay leaves in the casserole dish with the cubed chicken.
h) Pour your sauce over the chicken, making sure that no spices are left at the bottom of the bowl or jug.
i) Add seasoning - sea salt and crushed peppercorns are wonderful.
j) Add lid to casserole dish and place in fridge for anything up to 24 hours. At least a few hours.
2 - Making Stuff In The Wok.
Before we touch the wok, this might be a good time to mention rice. I tend to use loose Basmati rice, although any good quality, long-grain rice is fine. Microwave cook-in-the-bag rice is a creation of Satan and all his disciples. It tends to clump into lumps...which is never a good experience.
Measure out 100g of rice per person and place into a saucepan. Cover the rice with water and leave alone for 30 mins. This should dislodge the bulk of the starch in the rice. OK...the wok.
a) We're going to start with a garlic, ginger and chilli base. First step is to place your wok over a low heat.
b) Take some groundnut oil and cover the base of the wok. The oil should be lightly steaming.
c) If you're using fresh garlic, chilli and ginger, you will have crushed the garlic, stripped and cut some ginger and prepared the chilli. (most take the seeds out...I know some who adore the heat and keep chilli seeds in. It's your curry; your call) If you're using the 'Lazy' varieties of these (from a jar) then simply take a teaspoon of garlic and chilli and one half teaspoon of ginger.
d) Carefully, add each to the heated oil and stir well. It's going to spit at you, so be careful...I tend to keep a table spoon or two of the curry sauce from the casserole dish and add it to the wok. This will keep the spitting to a minimum, but won't interfere with the delightful aroma of garlic, ginger and chilli, all cooking together. Stir well.
e) After about a minute, add your chopped onions. How much depends on you...I usually use about half of a chopped large onion. If using white onions then you're heading for a 'golden' tone. There are more complex ways of using onions, but this is a very basic recipe and so simple works every time. Raise the heat to a medium setting and stir the onions well. This should take 3-5 minutes, depending on how good your hob is. If the onions start burning, lower the heat and add a little more curry sauce. When golden, they be done.
f) Add your chicken from the casserole dish. Remember to remove the bay leaves first! They're great for adding flavour - not so good for digesting. Add as much sauce as you wish from the casserole dish. Again...personal taste. Some like a lot of sauce, others not so. I like to use a ladle and add as I go. It also depends on how many I'm serving...for one person, about 2-3 ladles of sauce should be plenty. You can always add more later.
g) Your chicken should now start cooking. Let it simmer nicely...no rush. The longer and slower it cooks, the more tender it's going to taste. Marinating will also help with the tenderising process. You're looking at a medium heat for about 5-10 mins.
h) When the chicken is cooked, add the chopped tomato. I usually use about one tin (400g) for every meal...sometimes less. It's always a good idea to keep some back for the end, in case you need to adjust the taste slightly.
i) Add a couple of teaspoons of corn flour to the wok.
j) If you can, place a lid to the wok and reduce heat. Leave the wok simmering for half an hour. Stir well every 5 mins.
k) Rice time! Sieve the rice from the starchy water. Add boiling water to the rice and place on a hob. Basically, your curry is on simmer mode. When the rice is done, that's curry over.
l) Check the wok for taste. Add more liquid if required. This is also the time for 'optional extras', such as peppers or a touch of cream/natural yoghurt, if required.
m) 5 mins before serving, turn the heat up on the wok to make sure everything is nicely cooked through. The sauce should be bubbling. Check for taste, especially seasoning. Add the coriander leaves to the curry, taste-test and stir well before serving.
As with all things, there is often a terrible snobbery about the most trivial of things. I've been lectured in the past for serving the rice separate from the curry. Others have admonished me because I have sometimes served them together. I have lost count of the times I have been told that for true authenticity, 'it's best done THIS way'...or 'THAT way'...or ' the ancient mountain men of 'Umbur Pumbur' ALWAYS serve their rice on separate blue plates, on a Wednesday, while leaning at a 47.5 degree angle to the horizon...blah blah blah!'
If you want to be 'authentic' then that's deeply wonderful and I'm happy for you. As far as I am concerned, the ancient mountain men of Umber Pumur might also sleep upside down and do their business in buckets. I like my rice on the SAME plate as my curry and, in my house, that's how it shall be.
If mountain men don't like it then they can kiss my arse. ;)