How to make the perfect curry
Creating interesting and flavourful dishes should not be overwhelming or difficult for any level of cooking ability. That’s why we have put together a simple method to enable anyone to master the art of curry-making at home, using only fresh ingredients and beautiful spices. When these are in balance there is little need to add stock or processed ingredients.
Once your skills and confidence grow, you’ll be able to add you own personal touch to these curries and experiment with different spices and proportions. Today we’re focusing on educating you on the principles of cooking great-tasting curries.
Step 1: Toast and bloom
A gentle dry roasting of the curry powder before we add oil/ghee to the pan will help release the essential oils of the spices and expand the flavour. While this step is not essential – if you temper the spices in the oil, they’ll still bloom and flavour the curry nicely – dry roasting provides an added level of flavour.
Step 2: Supercharge the base
Use ghee(clarified butter), olive oil, or butter as the medium in which to sauté the onions, garlic and ginger. All true curries essentially start with a mixture of minced onion or garlic and ginger, which are sautéed in a base of ghee or olive oil. One of the keys to making a great curry is to fry the onion, ginger, and garlic until they are caramelised. This releases the sugars in the alliums, developing a ‘fond’ in the bottom of the pan, mimicking the phenomenon that occurs when browning meat. This supercharges the flavor base and makes for a richer, thicker curry sauce.
Step 3: Initiate the Maillard reaction
Add the roasted curry powder to the caramelized onions/garlic/ginger and temper the spices to continue their bloom. Add the meat or vegetables to be coated with the caramelised onions and spices; saute for three to five minutes till they brown. This will intensify the flavour of the dish.
Step 4: Add the liquid
The amount of liquid you use is very important, and you need to take into consideration the amount of liquid present in the ingredients you’re using before you add water or stock. For example, tinned tomatoes contain more water than fresh tomatoes or tomato paste. As well, if you’re using a slow cooker, then no additional liquid is required – there will be enough liquid in the ingredients; if you add any extra liquid, the dish will be stewed rather than braised, resulting in tough meat, and the desired result of slow cooking is fall-off-the-bone tenderness. If you’re cooking on a stove top, extra liquid will be needed to compensate for evaporation. The curry will need to be stirred occasionally and the liquid level topped up so that the sauce will retain a consistency like that of a thick soup. The slow-cooker method requires less attention, and once all ingredients are added, can be left for the duration – between four and eight hours.
Step 5: Acid balance
Acid levels play two important roles in a curry. The first is to assist with the tenderization process. Acid in the form of lemon juice or vinegar will assist greatly in tenderizing the meat by helping to break down proteins more quickly and reducing the cooking time. The acid should be added with the liquid.
The second role acid plays here is to brighten the flavours of the dish. Adding a squeeze of lemon juice toward the end of the cooking process will enhance the curry’s inherent flavours rather than imparting a lemony flavor. If a citrus flavour is desired, then using lemon zest, which contains the fruit’s essential oils, will serve better than lemon juice.
Step 6: Adding the other fresh ingredients to characterize the dish
This is the point at which other ingredients such as fruit, vegetables, pulses, etc are added to the curry. These are non-essential ingredients, and you can play with and vary them to add your own personal touch to the character of the curry. As well, at this point, rather than just following the recipe, you can choose the brand or type of ingredient – for instance, tinned versus fresh.
Step 7: The body of the curry sauce
Cream, coconut, and tomatoes are used to add texture, flavor, and thickening to your curry. In fact, if your curry seems too runny at the end, adding an extra tablespoon of tomato paste will help thicken the sauce without affecting the flavor, as long as there are tomatoes in the original recipe.
For coconut- or cream-based curries, those ingredients should be added close to the end, on a lower heat to prevent splitting or curdling. If the recipe calls for any almond or cashew nut meal, then you can add this to the yoghurt or coconut cream first, and thus prevent splitting. You can also add corn flour and even desiccated coconut to thicken the curry sauce. We often mix cream with sour cream for a lighter flavour.
Step 8: Garnish and condiments
Don’t ignore the garnish or condiments recommended by your curry recipe, as they help create an exceptionally balanced curry. Not only do they complement the flavours, they also give it that extra zing and freshness that will leave your taste buds craving more!
By following these simple principles, curry making at home should be a easy and enjoyable. If you are wanting inspiration for your first curry we recommend you check out our curry spice blends and recipes on our website.