cooklybookly
rate
The principles of great curry

The principles of great curry

An overview

There are so many preconceptions and misconceptions about making a curry that I'd like to have a go at dispelling myths and demystifying mysteries.


Spice basics

Buying

A lot of people find the sheer number of spices rather intimidating. If you look at the picture of the masala dubba at the top of the page, there are indeed rather a lot. However, you can order these online in packets for considerably less than half the cost of a supermarket jar.


  • Packet of turmeric from a spice supplier : £2.95 in a 400g packet (£7.38 per kg)
  • Glass jar from supermarket : £0.85 for 45g (£19 per kg).


Storing

Decant your spices from the packet into a pot in your masala dubba. Your dubba should have a reasonably airtight lid. This not only keeps them fresher for longer but it also stops the spice smells inside it.


You store your opened spice packets in an airtight container. You can use a large ziploc bag for this and squeeze several packets into one bag.


Toasting

The idea of toasting spices is to tease out the volatile oils. Many people overheat their spices to the point where they have tortured the volatile oils rather than teased them. I warm my spices in a preheated pan on a low heat for 1 minute.


Grinding

The only spices that you should really store in a ground or powdered form are turmeric and chilli flakes. Powdered or ground spices lose their flavours quite quickly. So ideally you should [grind on demand in a pestle and mortar].


Key and warming spices

I break spices into these 2 categories.


  • Key spices - these hold their flavour for a long time once cooked. As a result, they are used early on in the cooking process. My key spices are Indian bay leaf, cassia bark, black peppercorns, brown mustard seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, chilli flakes, turmeric. More about key spices.
  • Warming spices - many of these lose their flavour within 20 or 30 minutes after cooking and so are applied towards the end of the cooking process. These are typically cardamom (green and black), cloves, fenugreek leaves, fennel seeds, Kashmiri chillis, mango powder and star anise. More about warming spices.


Ginger and garlic

These are very important ingredients in almost every Indian dish. Many Indian cooks will batch prepare both of these ingredients and freeze them in ice cube trays. You can simply drop them in whenever you need them. Ginger and garlic can both be grated finely or blended when prepared in quantity,


Balance

A great curry manages to achieve not only a balance of spices but also a mixture of taste types (sweet, sour, bitter, salty) that are also balanced. The idea is that your spices and tastes are layered and balanced to achieve 'curry harmony'.


  • Sweet - sweetness comes primarily from the caramelisation of onions. I describe this crucial aspect in detail in the curry base page. Meat curries require more caramelisation and fish and vegetable curries require less. But I also use Jaggery to add a touch of sweetness along with a caramel note. Lemon should be avoided as a souring agent as it develops a chemical taste the longer it is cooked.
  • Sour - there are three souring agents. Tamarind pulp/paste, green mango powder and pomegranate seeds. I discuss these in this video .


The Base

The base of a curry is one of the most important aspects of making a great curry. I discuss this in detail in this video or you can read about it .


The key takeaways for the base are



You'll be surprised how little base you need for a 4 person curry.


Meat and poultry vs. fish and vegetable


  • Meat and poultry - you need more base and you want more caramelisation of the onions.
  • Fish and vegetable - the ingredients are more delicate and so you need a lighter touch with both the base and the spices.


Batch cooking and preparation

If you plan to eat curry often then I can recommend doing some batch preparation. Everything listed below can be stored in the fridge for a week or the freezer for 6 months.


If you watch my videos, you'll notice that I use a simple preservation technique which doesn't impact at all on the final taste of your dish. I just add a sprinkle of salt and a dash of vinegar to my chopped ingredients.


Pulping ginger and garlic

I use a blender to prepare my batches of garlic and ginger. I then spoon everything into ice cube trays to freeze. What I plan to use in the next 7 days I put in a small container topped with oil and store it in the fridge.


Onions and base

You can also store batches of onions and base in any of the following ways.


  • Caramelised onions - add a little salt and a dash of vinegar to preserve.
  • Fully prepared base - this is the ultimate time saver.
author photo

Anjula Devi

A respected food writer and author, Anjula started cooking with her father at the age of eight. At that time the ingredients for Indian cuisine were not as readily available as they are now and Anjula travelled on the number 207 bus with her father to Shepherd’s Bush Market where they would buy a selection of spices, fresh fish and Indian vegetables. ​​ Utilising her cookery skills and passion for spices, Anjula launched her own business in 2010, Anjula Devi Authentic Indian Food, providing Indian dinner parties and Indian cookery classes. Anjula has created a range of authentic recipes for Manchester United, arguably the biggest football club in the world, where she is a consultant chef. A Brand Ambassador for TRS Foods, the world’s largest Indian food company, Anjula has also launched her own brand, Route 207, inspired by the bus route she used to take to the spice market.
Our social features are coming soon