I did a brief post previously about Tools of the trade. Here I follow with my Tricks of the Trade!
For many there are often questions, dilemmas and queries when cooking curries. Sometimes we want things to make life easier. Mostly we just want to cook good food.
Some of these pointers, tips, tricks have helped my family.
Here are a few. I will add to it as think of more in my day to day tasks. I hope they help😊
Always cook your onions down very well either by browning them gently till their golden or by stewing them covered with little splashes of water so they actually caremalise and increase in concentration and sweetness. This is the foundation you build your dish on. It needs to carry everything else you will add.
Always add your whole spices to hot oil this is the only way it will properly release the aromas and flavours into your oil.
So wait till your oil is hot and you hear a sizzle when you put in your whole spices. Thats the sound of the oil doing its trick.
A good curry does not need to take hours but it’s important to allow your ingredients such as its onions to cook properly and your spices to cook out thoroughly. Take your time, slowly but surely.
If you’re dish asks for turmeric and salt to be mixed into your vegetables or fish to pre fry, add your turmeric and salt to the oil, then follow by adding your ingredients straight after. This way your oil is flavoured, coloured and already seasoned. It will give you better coverage reaching all parts of your foods due to being well incorporated in the oil which is your carrier.
The Wow impact:
Make your whole spices go a long way by grinding into powder certain whole spices like cinnamon, cardamom and mace. Keep these in an airtight container and instead of using them in the start of dishes like for keema or rice, sometimes it’s lovely to sprinkle it at the end where the aroma is so captivating and heady you will only need a little bit but it will give your curry the hit right at the end when it’s tantalising your nose. Plus no biting into them or picking them out. I don’t use all the whole spices at the start of a curry…I often put these powders in with the onions for optimum flavour so nobody bites into them.
Oil or No oil; Sweating spices is not same as frying spices. The spices will not cook appropriately. You will taste the spice but not in the developed way which gives the dishes its true depth and character.
Even if you use the minimum oil it still needs to be cooked out so it releases its natural oils which change in its profile over the cooking process.
Don’t be scared about using additional oil if the dish requires it as once you have finished cooking you can skim off/take out the excess oil and keep this as seasoned oil.
This seasoned oil is excellent when doing marinades, roast potatoes, roast vegetables or starting other dishes or currys. This beautiful flavoured and spiced oil can be used for many other recipes and dishes to add a lovely undertone. So if the recipe asks for oil or looks like it may benefit from a little more oil add it, with that in mind that you will remove as much as you can at the end of the dishes cooking process.
Often curries need oil to properly cook off both the spices and raw ingredients for caremalisation to take place. It’s different to braising and steaming. This process adds a different sweeter and softer mellow flavour on your palate and taste to your finished dish.
It’s hard to find a mustard oil that has the true pungent taste and zingy aroma as in India that is not for external use.
If using occasionally I don’t think it is of any concern but more to deter people from daily use in cooking.
I use Radhuni brand here.
It’s an individual decision and again always in moderation.
Don’t be scared of salt if your food tastes bland there’s a good chance it needs more salt. Instead of starting heavily with salt at the beginning, continuously taste your food at each stage and adjust as you cook.
Salt is very important in curries as this is what helps the spices bring out and showcase their intense flavours.
Also consider what you will be eating your dish with and what your sauce will be at the end as a dry dish will get concentrated.
Salt and spices go hand in hand, compliment each other in curries and bring out the best from each other.
Add sugar to any curry or dish that have tomatoes, sour agents or vegetables to elevate it. Just by adding a little bit of sugar it will help with the caramelisation process to bring out the natural sweetness in your ingredients and balance taste.
Non-stick pans really aren’t going to produce the best dishes if you’re cooking anything that you want to develop some kind of a crust/ caremalisation with meat or fish.
A non-stick pan doesn’t get quite as hot, it doesn’t get things as crispy as it’s really protecting things from the heat underneath and it acts as a barrier between the heat and your food which can prevent it from developing that rich crispy texture. They have their uses but a good stainless steel pan will help with caramelisation and depth of flavour in your dishes.
It all comes down to taste but don’t be tempted to add lots of chopped tomatoes or lots of tomato paste/puree to make a curry because too much will just end up diluting the flavour and you end up with something that just tastes spicy and very tomatoey. I always prefer to use fresh tomatoes. If you can’t, if anything use instead a few tablespoons of passata and you can’t go wrong.
Don’t be tempted to buy large bags of spices. We asians love shopping bulk. I’ve stopped. Try opt for the smaller and the most practical bag that you can get as firstly you’ll be rewarded with fresher tasting spices. You will have the option of of trying other brands often and spices won’t lose their potency. I always purchase a small packet just to try a new spice/brand before approval and adding it to my collection. Reduces storage issues too.
When cooking vegetables where possible and if the recipe permits gently saute your vegetables first caramelising and charring slightly. The reaction from the caramelisation will add so much more flavour to your dish and bring out the taste/sweetness of your vegetables and enhance your curry.
To Ghee or not to Ghee
Contrary to belief ghee is better than oil. I often prefer to use clarified ghee in my dishes as opposed to some of the refined oils.
Purified vegetable oils, unlike pure ghee, are filtered with chemicals to remove suspended particles, toxic substances, flavour components as well as colour and odour leaving clear and bland oil.
The refined oils are obtained after treating natural oils with various chemicals ie Nickel to make refined oils.
That’s the equivalent of eating processed foods and just like junk food.
On the other hand ghee is quite low in casein, has almost zero to minimal amounts of lactose and one tablespoon of pure ghee can provide about 15% of your daily requirements of Vitamin A. It is also rich in conjugated linoleic acid which helps improve insulin resistance and potential of fighting certain diseases and it can also be stored at room temperature.
As with most things use in moderation and its an individual preference.
I have to confess I still use ghee for Pulao or Biriyanis and some vegetable dishes.
Sometimes I might use mix of ghee and oil.
I think with Bengali cuisine the flavour of ghee is hard to capture with butter.
If anything due to being more health concious in recent years the trick for me is a drizzle of desi ghee at the end stirred in and served to encapsulate the aroma and flavour.
A nuisance to peel and puts me off.
Zap the separated cloves in microwave for 30 seconds. Cool and skin just slips of!
For emergencies I keep a bag of peeled whole cloves of garlic in the feezer.
I don’t like using frozen blocks in curries as I find it compromises on taste unless making Kebabs or Tandoori.
I never peel as I mince in my mini processor or magic bullet except if I am making a ‘jhol’ dish as small skin may float. If I need to peel I use a spoon. I always mince a little extra and pop in fridge but keep no longer than 2 days.
Asafoetida: Originaly its primary use was in pure vegetarian cooking to sustitute the pungent flavours of garlic and onions. Pure vegetarian omits use of certain ingredient. Its aditional benefits is for aid of digestion.
Its now incorporated in many dishes for its sheer aroma. However be mindful…too much and it can cause severe flatulence and gastric distress with bloating.
Tamarind: The block tamarind is more fruity than the concentrate and needs soaking in hit water to make a pulp. Some blocks have the seed and its shell, so you need to break that down and discard any shell, seed, and seed casing. Seive it. As its not as sour as concentrate you can be a bit more Liberal in your use.
I would suggest breaking an inch piece. Soak in hot water for a bit, then when cool use hands to pulp, strain, and add pulp in teaspoons. Taste to check…
It is much better than concentrate as most Indians use the block for better flavour.
Keeping coriander fresh:
Always take of the elastic band.
Loosen the bunch. Remove all yellow or pale leaves. Wrap in foil loosely with vent at top and keep in top in the fridge.
Mines stay fresh for 2 weeks.
Some place in container but condensation creates water.
Some wrap in newspaper but you must replace the newspaper often as it can get damp and rot coriander.
If I have a glut, I freeze the whole bunch as is and don’t chop. I find it easier to pull a few stems apart and just crumble into my dishes!
Fresh chillies: Fresh chillies can be arromatic and add both flavour and heat to curries.
To achieve the best its always good to add them chopped with your onions so they completely cook down and become intergrated into your dish.
Its always good to add a few about 5 mins before your curry is fully cooked.
I pierce the whole chillies with point of the knife to release some oils and fragrance without seeds getting dispersed.
Fresh is always better than powder for your gut too.
Cooking off spices:
I keep repeating this. The making of a curry is in the cooking of the spices.
Spices require to be cooked.
Do not add your spices to oil.
Two reactions happen. When you add to oil you ‘fry’ the spices and this can quickly burn your spice where you loose the actual individual profile of a spice and you will be left with a bitter flat taste in your curry. It takes literally a second to be over fried.
You want to ‘cook’ the spices to develop the depth and you should use a medium which has moisture to allow this reaction. This needs to be done over time by allowing the moisture to evaporate till oil splits and repeating this cycle a few times to get maximum out of your spices and their oils to be released. By repeating this process which we call ‘bhuna-ing’ you let moisture evaporate and draw out the spices natural oil hence flavour. Good way of doing this is make a well in the middle of your spices and when the oil escapes into the middle or splits around sides…its good and ready after a few cycles of this.
Why my curry seeps water when served up: You need to cook off water released from the ingredients you add eg, onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic at each stage. If you don’t it will seep out at the end. The caremalisation process achieves that…what we call ‘bhuna’.
Its the most effective when you do onions and later add spices. At these stages you must let the oil split.
Later if you add vegetables the same applies. Hence its important to simmer on med after adding veg so liquid evaporates and you have oil separating before you add liquid to a dish.
It will come to you…just remember a simple basic rule wherever you add ingredients. Cook till oil splits/separates.
When is your curry cooked?
Simple when the oil floats or craters to the top. That indicates that water content has reduced and your dish is now starting the drying and reduction process.
At every stage. Know your dish. Get to understanding what happens after each stage in the cooking process and how it tastes at that stage or should taste. Remember it for next time. Adjust as you go as leaving it last might be too late sometimes to make adjustments at the appropriate time.
The big revelation is that good food isn’t necessarily about technique, skill or only using the finest ingredients. The single thing that separates good cooks from average ones is not the ability to chop an onion perfectly, time everything precisely, having the best equipment, buying expensive ingredients from all the right places, or presenting a work of art on a plate.
The most important element in producing food that’s genuinely good to eat is an understanding of good seasoning.
Seasoning in the UK generally means adding salt and pepper to bring out the flavour, but it can also include all sorts of other flavours. Lemon, vinegar, chilli, sugar, the flavour of woodsmoke or charcoal as well as herbs and spices are all seasonings and can be thought of in the same way. Seasoning is more than just bringing out the flavour of what you’re cooking, it’s also about balancing those additions to create a depth of flavour, fragrance and complexity to your cooking that you couldn’t achieve without them.
So season well.
Use all your senses
Its the tricks, tips that maketh the cook.
Most people can follow a recipe…but its in the technique. Using your senses…
What you see, smell, hear, feel on touch and mostly taste.
Without skill in those…its just forever a recipe.
I hope you have found some of points useful. 👌😊😊😊
I am adding tips and Tricks from followers as one said all tips are welcome!
Brilliant, and as a add on. With fresh coriander store in a bag with an egg 🥚. Keeps it fresher for longer. Don’t know why but it does, an old Indian chef told me this.
The type of oil suitable for cooking curries need to reach high temperature, so vegetable oil, rapeseed oil, refined coconut oil, peanut oil, mustard oil and sunflower oil are suitable.
I’m saying refined coconut oil, because raw coconut oil has coconut bits in it, that tend to burn.
Don’t want to burn your ground spices, mix with a tablespoon of water before adding.
If your watching your calories and your tomatoes are acidic, add 1/4 tsp of bicarbonate of soda.
© Copyright, 11.2.2021 Papli Rani Dey
All Rights Reserved