10 Things I Have Learned About Indian Cooking

invitation-indian-cooking-madhur-jaffrey-paperback-cover-artI don’t know if you know, but my favourite food happens to be a well cooked curry, so last month I purchased a rather tattered copy of Madhur Jaffrey’s 1975 masterpiece An Invitation to Indian Cooking. I have spent pretty much every Sunday since this landmark acquisition trying to achieve true depth of flavour in my Indian cooking. Here are ten things I have leaned thanks mainly to Madhur, forums, trial and error:

1. Toast your spices– dry, in a pan, until they turn a few shades darker. It really brings out the flavour and aroma.

2. Use gee– It gives a great flavour to the sauce. Oil doesn’t separate as easily from the mixture as gee, and it doesn’t carry the flavours as well.

3. Chapatis are really easy to make– For months I was experimenting with combinations of flour, milk, oil, water, butter. In the end I decided that chapati flour and water are all you need. Make a dough, leave it to rest for half an hour, and roll into thin discs. Cook them quickly on a hot iron tava or pan before holding over a raw flame until they puff up. I like to spread a bit of butter on them and leave them to rest under tin foil until they soften.

4. A blended onion does wonders– Cast that jar of shop-bought muck to the wind. Blend an onion with some garlic and ginger, then toast and add spices of your choice. This makes for the perfect curry paste, and very quick work indeed. Stock and/or tomatoes can be added to turn it into a sauce.

 5. Buy your spices in small amounts–Many ground spices like coriander lose their intensity after a few months in the cupboard. An alternative is to buy whole spices and grind in them a food processor, or pestle and mortar, before you start cooking.

6. Give it time (left-overs are even better)– Pretty much every time I cook Indian food I’ll have a taste after it’s been bubbling for 20 minutes and I’ll condemn it to blandness, only to come back an hour later and be delighted by how the flavours have developed in spite of my impatience

7. Heat for the belly not the mouth – A very proud Indian chef once explained this fact to me at great length. Warmth in an Indian dish is better if it comes from spice rather than excessive amounts of chilli.

Draupadi is Serving Food to Durbasha Rishi - Vintage Calender Print

8. Sometimes we need to start again– So many dishes we think to be authentically Indian are not.  ‘Chicken Tikka Masala,’ ‘Jalfrazi,’ Balti’, and ‘Korma’ have all become very British phenomenons.  Personally, I am an endeared fan of our clumsy but impassioned  adoption of the Indian cuisine. Just don’t always expect your korma to be as sweet and yellow as you may have thus far experienced.

9. Our pesky export tomatoes are not good enough– They’re just so flapping bland! I’m also loathed to used tinned tomatoes, which I’m convinced taste unnatural and slightly metallic. As a compromise I use fresh tomatoes with a dollop of puree.

10. I will always be a  novice– Despite all this I acknowledge it take years, if not generations, of experience to truly learn the art of Indian cooking. Nevertheless we must soldier on in hope of  palak perfection.

I’d love you hear your opinions on these points, especially if you love cooking South Asian food. Perhaps you have something to add or vehemently think I should remove. – Jodie

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Review: Patty & Bun, James St, Marylebone, London

The Food Boars enjoy a good burger pilgrimage as much as the next person and this week we journeyed to Marylebone to join fellow burger-lovers in the queue outside Patty & Bun.

Patty & bun Logo packed up burger burger chicken wings

What Jodie has to say:
By the time we arrived at 12:30 there was already a queue of 20 or so people. The last time I experienced this was the first (and only for that matter) time we visited MeatLiquor.  I knew then, an hour and three-quarters in, on that freezing cold night in January ’12, that no burger could ever be worth it. I was right. My really very delicious order had been over-seasoned with frost-bite and resentment.

As fate would have it, I could see MeatLiquor, in its  faded glory,  from my position outside P&B, queuelessly taunting me from across the road. The world of gourmet burgers is a fickle one indeed.

The queue in the case of Patty & Bun went pretty fast and we were in within half an hour. As is generally done after being made to wait for food, we ferociously over ordered; chicken wings, chips, burgers all round. ‘I’ll take them all on!’, my mind roared.

The burgers arrived and they looked immaculate, shiny and plump. The beef to bun ratio was quite something (the beef being the clear victor). The quality of the beef confidently leap out from the cheese, bacon, and burger sauce. The brioche was perfect. The first four bites were heaven.

Then the grease hit me.  By the time I’d finished the burger all I could do was sit back in my chair and contemplate my own mortality. This was way too much. In a fat-addled stupor I turned to the chicken wings. They offered no sanctuary. There was so much batter on them,  it far out-weighed the actual chicken.

There are clearly a lot of people out there who think this burger is a triumph, they are braver men than I.  Despite the clear emphasis on quality  ingredients,  it was just too much for me.  This is a good meal, and watching a burger implode in its own oiliness may be a joy to some, but my fatted heart lies with Honest Burger, and simpler times.

What Colleen has to say:
There’s nothing quite like a long queue in the rain, hungry and parched, to make you more determined to sink your teeth into a burger. Especially when you can clearly see said burger through the restaurant glass, in a stranger’s hand, about to be devoured by a stranger’s mouth.

When the wind picked up and nobody had left the restaurant for about twenty minutes, fellow food boar Jodie suggested that Meat Liquor was only round the corner and had no queue – it was then my stubbornness kicked in – NO, we are HERE, we are NOT leaving. Plus, we both already owned the “I queued for an hour and three-quarters and all I got was this DELICIOUS MEAT LIQUOR BURGER” t-shirt.

After waiting for what my stomach thought was 400 days we sat down at our table, and I chose the ‘Ari Gold’ with extra bacon, chips with rosemary salt and shared a ‘Winger Winger Chicken Dinner’. It arrived not long after and we tucked in to our gleaming burgers and fries.

The meat was absolutely top-notch, melting with softness –  I’d go as far to say the best patty I’ve ever had.

However, as Jodie mentions, the wall was not far away, it soon became difficult to eat.  Our table was in full view of a queueing audience who felt no qualms in ogling our every bite – were they judging me? Since I had been one of them just ten minutes earlier, I hid my slow-eating attempt behind the tomato sauce bottle and kept quiet. The chicken wings were delicious, but after one, the sweetness of the BBQ sauce became overpowering. The chips were also disappointing, I’d been too spoilt for rosemary chips in the past. I hoped that it had just been a bad batch –  after all – these things happen.

Since fellow Food Boar Jodie has mentioned her love for another burger restaurant, I would like to tell you my ideal burger meal:

Honest Burger House Chips & Rosemary Salt
Patty & Bun Patty with a Hawksmoor casing – bun, cheese et al
Meat Liquor Onion Rings
Byron Burger Courgette Fries

Now to the Acorn Scoring system. I have given it four is purely because of the patty. It was just that good. To the meat lovers, Patty & Bun is worth a visit – just make sure you go during off-peak!

4 acorns out of 5

4 acorns

Review: Polpo, Soho, London

The Food boars went to Polpo this week to try out some Soho-Venetian joy. We reckoned that any establishment with six different types of meatball on the menu is alright by us. 

 

What Colleen has to say:
The Polpo website is not to be perused when hungry. The background photo transition filled my 23 inch monitor with giant meatballs and cosy restaurant interiors and the menu  was packed with ingredients I love such as pancetta, balsamic and parmesan.

I didn’t know much about Polpo before visiting with fellow Food Boar Jodie and two friends, but I did know of their beautiful recipe book cover – the one with the hand drawn octopus.

The non-virtual-menu did not disappoint and I chose the Eggplant & Parmesan involtini to start and the Duck & green peppercorn ragu, pappardelle for main.

The food came out at different times, which meant three sets of hungry beady eyes staring at honorary Food Boar Julian’s Spicy pork & fennel meatballs. My involtinis soon arrived and proved fresh and tasty – though not as delicious as honorary Food Boar Will’s Potato & Parmesan crochette – I openly stole one. Left to my own devices I could devour at least four plates of the golden wonders. The Duck & green peppercorn ragu was rich but not overly spectacular.

Julian says “Enticing dishes were in abundance, but our party of four did not conquer all the Venetian’s tapas – decidedly boar by name not by nature. A second visit is probably in order. The stand out dish for me was the bruschetta, covered in a mountain of artichoke, prosciutto and ricotta. If I had the authority to cast such judgement, it would be a four acorn sort of place!”

Well he doesn’t, however…

Acorns out of 5:

What Jodie has to say:

As Julian rather theatrically informed us, the bruschetta was by far the best thing we ordered,  so much so that the following day I tried to recreate it…

Recipe: Ricotta, artichoke and pancetta bruschetta

photo

Perhaps more assembly instructions than recipe for this Polpo-inspired hors d’oeuvre, but it is an assembly I dare any dinner guest not to be impressed by. That’s right, a dare.

Ingredients…

1 loaf of nice bread

1 jar of artichokes in oil

1 tub of ricotta

3 tomatoes

4 garlic cloves

4 slices of thinly sliced cured Italian ham

Extra virgin olive oil

Utensils…

griddle pan

knife

Step by step…

Cut the bread into 1cm thick slices, drizzle in oil and place on the griddle pan. Meanwhile cut the tomatoes into small slices and place on the griddle pan with the bread.

Once the bread is lightly toasted on one side, turn over. While the other side is toasting cut the cloves of garlic in half and rub lightly into the bread. Check the tomatoes; we’re aiming for soft but still retaining their shape.

Once you have some nice lines on the bread and the tomatoes are cooked, take of the heat. Spread a generous layer of ricotta on each slice and sprinkle with black pepper, lay on the tomatoes and artichokes and then fold one the ham. Drizzle generously with olive oil and you’re done.

Simple, quick and horrifyingly tasty.

Travel Special: A Boar in Saigon

Intro

Ever since I was a young un I’d always quietly salivated over the thought of tasting real Asian street food and finally, in January this year, I got my chance. I packed my bag, ate my last cheese and Marmite sandwich for three weeks, and hopped excitedly on to a 14-hour flight to Vietnam.

…14 hours later, tired, ravenously hungry and harrowed by ‘moderate turbulence,’ I was on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. It was certainly no disappointment. There were food carts all around the streets selling everything from Pho, Vietnam’s national Noodle dish, to delicious peanut-topped mussels to half-fertilised duck eggs. The latter, it was decided, were to be eaten in more adventuresome spirits.

Soup

I decided to head straight for the food section of Ben Thanh market in the heart of Old Saigon. I pointed wearily to a picture of a crispy pancake and a noodle dish with a crab claw poking out. They arrived seconds later and they were stunning; fragrant, complex, perfectly balanced flavours. This was my first taste of my 21-day odyssey, and it was good.

Before I set off I’d done a bit of research on the basic principals of Vietnamese food.  It is considered to be one of the healthiest cuisines in the world and works on five fundamental taste elements: spicy, sour, bitter, salty, sweet. These in turn correspond to five organs: gall bladder, urinary bladd… you get the idea. Chefs will try to cook with five colours and attract all the five senses. To cut it short, It’s basically all about balance.

After my first taste of food in Ben Thanh, I decided market food was the way to go. By the time I’d traveled up to central Vietnam they’d provided me with everything from clay pots and fried noodles to a rather tasty intestine soup. It was the market at Hoi An where I had one of my favourite meals of the trip; an east-Asian Smörgåsbord of favours and textures was pilled on to a plate and served up for the equivalent of £1.50. There was pork belly, marinated prawns, vermicelli noodles, omelette, spring greens and more. I hurriedly preserved the moment for prosperity (see below) and wolfed down the lot.

Food

Food on plate

The thing I was learning about Vietnamese food was how well considered many of the dishes were; it seemed so triumphantly considerate of its regions and resources and so respectful of its ingredients. Meats and vegetables, I learned, are cooked for as briefly as they allow so as  to preserve their original flavours and textures. Season and climate are considered in order to achieve an over all balance. Duck meat, for example, is considered cool and eaten in the summer, Chicken  (warm) and pork (hot) are eaten in the winter. I  reflected on all those BBQ’d sausages I wolfed down last summer in a new light.

Bun ChaBy the time I got to Hanoi it had gotten quite cold and I was in the mood for some comfort food. I found it in a local dish called Bún Cha, pieces of pork fat and pork patties in broth served with rice noodles and Thai basil salad. I promise when I get round to making it I’ll post up a recipe. It was sweet and light but filling and the perfect way to end the trip.

There’s so much more I could say about Vietnamese cuisine but I only wanted to provide something of a clumsy introduction. If you haven’t already, look up some regional recipes, pick up some fresh ingredients from your local Asian supermarket and have a go at making some yourself. – Jodie

Recipe: Chicken Noodle Soup

If you love spicy food then you’ll love this recipe for Chicken Noodle Soup. We all know that chicken soup has healing properties and this dish is no different.

Ingredients…
5 spring onions, thinly sliced
2 roasted chicken breasts – or use leftovers from a roast chicken
500 ml chicken stock
200 ml boiling water
tablespoon sesame oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
around 4-5 slices of ginger
2 small red chillis – if you like it hot, put more in. (I tend to use around 5 as a heat-lover)
frozen sweetcorn
3 tablespoons fish sauce
soy sauce
handful of noodles – I chose rice noodles
chopped coriander –

Utensils…
large saucepan
chopping board
sharp knife


Step by Step…

  1. Grab a saucepan and on a medium heat add sesame oil and garlic. Once the garlic sizzles add your chopped spring onions and fry until soft.
  2. Add shredded chicken, coat in oil and garlic and pour in stock and boiling water.
  3. Throw in your ginger slices, soy sauce,  coriander and chilli. Before it comes to the boil add frozen sweetcorn and noodles. Cook for five minutes and serve!

Feeling under the weather? Ginger and garlic are natures’ antiviral herbs – garlic has anti-bacterial properties that fight infection and ginger has a mild sedative effect and reduces pain and fevers. Cook this and you’ll be feeling the benefits in no time.   – Colleen

Recipe: Chicken Katsu Curry

This Japanese curry with breaded chicken  is far too easy to make when considering how delicious it is.

(serves 4)

For the curry sauce…

1tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion (diced)
5 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
2 carrots (chopped)
1 1/2tbsp of medium curry powder
2tbsp of plain flour
1 1/2 tbsp of soy sauce
1 bay leaf
1tsp of garam masala

 For the chicken…

4 chicken breasts
100g flour (seasoned with lots of salt and pepper)
1 free-range egg
200g panko breadcrumbs

Utensils…

Wok or frying pan
Bowls (for flour, egg and breadcrumbs)
Wooden spoon
Sieve
Sharp knife
Chopping board

Step by Step…

Heat the oil in the in a wok and add the onions and garlic, sautéing for 2 minutes. Add the carrots, cover, and sweat for ten minutes.  Check and stir them occasionally until they have softened.  Mix the flour and curry powder together and stir into the onions, garlic and carrots. Let it cook for about a minute before slowly adding the stock, taking care to get any lumps out of the mixture. Add the bay leaf, honey and soy sauce and leave to simmer for 20 minutes or until it starts to thicken. Add the garam masala then run the sauce though a sieve. I think this recipe is equally nice unsieved – it’s all a matter of whether you like a chunky sauce or not. Leave the pan with the sauce to one side. It can be reheated once you’ve attended to the matter of the breadcrumbed chicken.

Butterfly the chicken breasts and give them a bit of a bash until they’re under a centimetre thick, and even. Heat 100ml or so of oil in a pan. Lay out three dishes with the flour, egg and breadcrumbs and dip the butterflied chicken in each in that order. Chuck them into the frying pan, giving them about 5 minutes on each side. When they turn crispy and golden, take them out and let them rest for a couple of minutes before cutting width-ways into thin strips.

Give the sauce a quick re-heat and pour on the plate, add the chicken on top. Drizzle a bit more of the sauce over the top but not so much as to make the breadcrumbs go soft.

Serve with shredded cabbage and steamed rice – ideally a fragrant stickier rice like jasmine. Japanese pickles (particularly a bit of Fukujinzuke ) would go a treat with this dish.

Don’t be scared by the lashings of oil required to make this dish – just go with it. It’s really fun to make and an truly scrumtious indulgence.   –   Jodie

Review: Franco Manca, Northcote Road, London

I’d heard fantastic things about Franco Manca but never journeyed to their Brixton, Westfield or Chiswick branches. Yet when news spread that one was being assembled in Clapham Junction’s Northcote Road (only 10 minutes from my house), my laziness could no longer compete with my curiosity and I resolved find out what all the fuss was about.
Franco Manca Pizza & Menu

My two friends and I opted to share a tomato and cured organic chorizo pizza and one with tomato, mozzarella and basil accompanied by three Budvar Pilsner beers.

My seat proved the most exciting, with a clear view of the beautiful flaming brick oven and the mesmerizing actions of the three pizza creators, sliding pizzas into the oven and scattering fresh ingredients onto the pizza bases from a height. Franco Manca pizzas  are all made from slow-rising sour dough which gives them their distinctive flavour.

I saw a gigantic plastic tub of pizza dough expertly emptied one handful by another onto some scales – I’m a sucker for fairness with food so this pleased me greatly.

On at least three occasions, when asking people where to find the best pizza in London – Franco Manca was the answer. I didn’t want to think about this, as there’s nothing worse than a dish built up so much only to be unfulfilled, but when the cheerful and passionate waiter placed our pizza in the front of us my eyes and nose were not disappointed.

And neither was my mouth.

The sourdough base was delectable  and the high quality ingredients – organic cured chorizo from Brindisa and organic tomatoes from Italy – resulted in a top-notch mouthful.  The tomato, mozzarella and basil pizza (seasonal) was delicious also -my vegetarian friend was to speak about it for days afterwards.

In reference to my introduction and hearing ‘fantastic things’  about this pizza kitchen – this turned out to be an understatement. My chums and I have quickly joined the legions of people, who when asked where the best pizza in London can be found answer without falter ‘Franco Mancas!’.

Try it out for yourself – you won’t be disappointed.

-Colleen

Acorns out of 5: