In Rick Stein’s India, our favourite itinerant cookbook author journeys across India meeting the chefs, home cooks and street food vendors who hold the secrets to accomplished Indian cookery. Central to Rick’s quest was the drive to learn the fundamentals of good curry making. After hours spent observing and learning in kitchens across the country, he came away not only with a collection of faithfully recorded recipes, from a fragrant korma to a rich butter chicken, but an understanding of the essential components of India’s world-renowned curries. Extracted from the book, these 5 essential tips form the building blocks of accomplished curries, helping you to cook them from scratch with ease.
A mini food processor makes light work of turning garlic and ginger, with a splash of water, into pastes, which are used throughout the book. However, for smaller quantities, or if you don’t own a mini processor, you can use a microplane grater to finely grate ginger or garlic. Or you can crush the garlic, either by chopping finely with a sharp knife or using a garlic crusher.
When a recipe calls for fresh green chillies, I am referring to the same type throughout the book. These are the fairly mild, large green chillies that vary between about 6cm and 12cm in length, and between a forefinger and thumb in thickness. They’re widely available in supermarkets and vegetable shops but seem to vary considerably in their hotness. I’ve often noticed that in winter in the UK they seem extra mild. Taste a small piece before adding to the dish; if it’s very hot then remove the seeds or use a little less; if it’s too mild then add more.
Supermarket free-range chickens have a great deal more fat than Indian chickens, and they don’t come close to reproducing the flavour and texture of Indian chicken dishes. For a more authentic taste, try poussins instead. They are bonier, so you need to increase the amount you buy. To replace 1.5kg free-range chicken, use 2.25kg poussin, which is about 5 birds. Or simply aim to serve a poussin per person (or half a poussin per person across a spread of dishes).
Onions and shallots are used widely across India, where they are a pale pink colour and generally smaller and slightly milder than either the brown or red onions in the UK. For eating raw, for example in a salad, I prefer to use red onions or shallots for their sweeter flavour and pleasing colour. But for most of the recipes in this book I found that the standard brown onions work perfectly well. However, and I cannot emphasize this enough, it is essential to cook the onions properly in order to bring out the sweetness and flavour that provides the base of so many of the recipes in this book.
Toasting Whole Spices
This is normally done in a dry pan over a medium heat. For perfect results, toast the spices individually, such as for garam masala, but life is short and I find that if I attend to them carefully I can get away with doing them all together. The idea is to lightly roast the spices until they smell toasted, being careful not to let them burn. After this they can be ground in a spice grinder or using a pestle and mortar. You will notice that whole spices which you toast and grind yourself have a much finer aroma than any you can buy ready-made. Note that you never toast nutmegs.
Now, put these tips to the test with one of our favourite curries from the book.
Fragrant, nutty and finished with cream, this rich butter chicken is marinated in several stages to intensify its flavour and tenderise the meat.
A South Indian-style curry from Pondicherry, this coconut-based curry features chunks of cod and comes together in the pan in moments.
Mild and warming, Rocky’s chicken korma is made with fresh coconut flesh, black cardamom and plump raisins.