I can’t say I am a terribly patriotic Indian. My conscience is a bit muddled on the subject as I am, now, a British citizen. Yet, I am absolutely mortified at the fact that I am lousy at making meat curries. I mean, it’s awful. I break into a sweat when someone, when invited to dinner, puts a word in for a curry. It’s expected, ‘she is Indian, she’ll know how to make a proper, authentic curry’. I plaster a smile on and nod obligingly, while cringing within screaming, ” Noooooooooooo!!!”. The Scotsman then pipes up saying it’s lucky if he gets a meat curry once a month. Thanks dear.
Enough’s enough though. My mother, a woman who can cook a mean, lip-smacking, finger-licking, rice-coating, chapati-scooping, pot of meat spiced deliciousness, while doing the washing, laundry, ironing and homework, cannot teach. At least, she cannot verbalise the process sufficiently to supply my deficient understanding; it’s so instinctive, it’s tricky for her to bring it down to teaspoons and tablespoons. Cooking a curry, or cooking generally, is about flavour layers, and knowing when it is the right time to introduce that next ingredient. It’s all in the nose, my ma says. Well, it’s blinking obvious I don’t have the same nose. But Melanie, my younger sister does, and what’s more, she has a flair for description and above all, patience.
I did put her patience to the test. She lives in Abu Dhabi so this was a rather expensive lesson. I kept her on the phone until the stage the meat got into the pot, which was a good 40 minutes (I hope The Scotsman isn’t reading this!). I questioned her with an eagerness tinged with lunacy- about the thickness of the sliced veg (” Just SLICE IT!!!”), the colour of the masala at various stages, the flavour, smells and tastes. She was rather tickled, laughing at my craziness like only sisters can.
For her patience and my rare act of obedience to instruction, I got the finest pot of curry that has ever been produced in my kitchen. The masala thickened beautifully, the spices were deep, balanced and rounded, with that merest layer of oil floating on the top, signalling the perfect end. The meat was tender, soft and bursting with flavour. I called her of course, garbling about how magnificent it was. After I put down the phone, I did what I used to do all those years ago in my parents house, but which was never really required in mine; a slice of white, plastic bread was torn and the sides of the pan swiped clean with it. It smelled, looked and tasted like my mother’s cooking. Finally, here was the beginning of the road.
Points to note :
Mhairi, a curry maker extraordinaire told me once after a particularly lengthy moan,” Carrie, ye cannae hurry a curry.” And that’s true. It takes the time it takes. If you want to get that deeply savoury, spiced flavour, you must obey the rules. There are cheats though!
Slice the onions and tomatoes as thinly as you can, it just helps speed up a long process.
Pay attention to the scents and smells of the food. It changes at every turn.
Cook the masala properly, until the oil separates, very, very important. It allows the masala to dissolve into the curry, so that you don’t have bits floating around; it’s one smooth, spiced mass coating the meat.
Make sure you aren’t using spices that have been lying at the back of the cupboard for longer than you can remember. Don’t blame me if the curry comes out tasting of sawdust!
Above all, patience. That’s more for me, than anyone else.
Incidentally, the meat I have used here is Goat meat. We call it Mutton. Lamb however, is a fine substitution but will probably need to cook a bit longer. This curry doesn’t require any unusual purchases. Ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, garam masala and your preference of ground chilli are all that’s needed. If you have good readymade curry powder blends, use that if you like, instead of the individual ones I have used here. This curry is a great blueprint for you to make your own variations. A little bit of coconut milk, just a touch, gives a creamy, mellow, smooth finish. Full fat yoghurt, fried with the masala will produce a different, tangier result. Add heaps of chopped coriander at the very end, for a fresh, herbal hit. Throw in some waxy, fresh curry leaves after you turn off the heat and leave to infuse. These small additions add a subtle but noticeably different element to the finished flavour structure of your curry.
Serve with rice, some flatbreads, a vegetable side, simple sliced tomato and cucumber salad, yoghurt and Indian pickles and you have a full on, everyday Indian feast. LilLoon, who is a bit of a rice nut, had two huge helpings, the Scotsman said it was very tasty (which is a huge compliment!) and I practically lost all my table manners in my greed.
Thanks Melanie. I made one pretty darn decent meat curry because of you. You do realise this is only the beginning, right? Now…about beef curries…