If you asked me to count how many times I’d attempted to make an Indian curry at home that even came close to replicating the taste of a restaurant curry, I’d be here all day. I’m not stupid, I know that I will never make a curry that could fool a hard-core curry lover into thinking that I’d ordered it from my local takeaway; all I ask is for a recipe that will be tasty enough to stop me spending £15 every time I get a craving for some Indian spice. Because really, it’s getting a little ridiculous how much I want Indian food these days. I am becoming that hard core curry lover.
I’ve tried so many times to knock up a banging curry but up until now it seemed like it was completely beyond me. I’ve found in the past that homemade curries of mine tend to be bland and watery or just taste of tinned tomatoes no matter the sheer quantity of spices involved. I’m not one for subtle tastes either, I like to be slapped around the face with flavour, none of this ‘pinch of cumin’ nonsense, give me a tablespoon. For me, a perfect curry would be strong, spicy, a little bit sour and if I’m in the mood have a little bit of sweetness. And the sauce must be thick. You can see how I’d struggle to replicate something at home that I’m so specific about when even a lot of curry houses let me down on these points. It’s a burden I must bear, having such high standards.
Well the other week I finally broke the curse of the homemade curry, and the curry itself didn’t even tick all of my ‘perfect curry’ boxes, for it was that well loved British classic chicken tikka masala. I’m partial to a CTM but only on the rare occasion I’m not in the mood for something with a bit more spice. You know what you’re getting with a CTM, it’s got a strong savoury flavour and an unctuous thick sauce that’s perfect to mop up with a massive naan bread. Snobs can shove the “it’s so inauthentic” argument where the sun doesn’t shine – sure, maybe it isn’t authentically from the Indian subcontinent, but what it is authentic of is British and Indian cultures and tastes mingling as well as a reflection of the multiculturalism of Great Britain and how we embrace that which is different to us. Things to be celebrated, surely? Every dish is authentic of something.
I found the perfect recipe by way of The Guardian website, which unbeknownst to me up until two weeks ago has a resident food writer who on a regular basis writes up how to make the perfect version of a particular dish. Imaginatively, the series is called ‘How To Cook The Perfect…’ and goes back a few years so there is a jackpot of cooking expertise to delve into. As you can imagine, once I’d stumbled upon this I was in recipe nirvana. What the author (Felicity Cloake) does is cooks several different versions of the same dish from a variety of cookbooks and chefs, then picks out the best ideas, techniques and ingredients from each version and uses all this information to create The Perfect version. It’s genius. It also demands a tremendous amount of patience, I cook one version of one recipe and if it doesn’t turn out perfect then I condemn it, being the fickle, impatient person that I am. Felicity does all the hard work so that I then don’t have to.
In the ‘How To Cook The Perfect’ section, you can find 225 recipes, ranging from a simple blueberry muffin, to fiery jerk chicken, squidgy chocolate chip cookies, cheese soufflé, pizza, salad Niçoise, hollandaise sauce, chocolate cake, dhal, strudel, pancakes, gravy, shortbread, pesto, burgers, guacamole….. You get the idea. That is an awful lot of recipe testing, it would be nothing short of criminal not to lap up all that she has learnt and put it to practice in your own kitchen. Which is just what I did with her recipe for The Perfect Chicken Tikka Masala.
What I like about Felicity’s writing is that she explains what she found didn’t work and why, and what steps can be left out or are to be missed at your peril. She breaks it down so that you have a better understanding of the dish, which I think gives the cook a lot more confidence in what they are doing when following the recipe. The ingredient list for the CTM is lengthy, but if like me you have an entire cupboard filled to the brim with spices, you shouldn’t need to buy too much other than the fresh stuff. The Boyfriend is none too pleased with my spice collection, which takes up a lot of cupboard space in an already cramped kitchen, particularly when he is home and all he sees me cooking is chilli, meatballs and roast dinners. Hey, it’s what he wants to eat if he’s only back for a week. Loneliness and boredom is a great motivator to get in the kitchen and experiment, not so much companionship and precious time together!
The chicken is marinated in a simple yoghurt and spice mixture overnight, then the next day when you want to eat it you make the sauce and grill the chicken. You have to grill the chicken under a high heat so that you get a little bit of char, which helps add flavour and goes a little way to replicate the tandoor oven effect. The sauce isn’t as complicated as the ingredient list makes it look, and I really appreciate that she advises pureeing the sauce so that it is silky smooth, as I’ve seen and attempted many recipes that did not state this – if it has lumps of tomato and onion in the sauce, it’s not a true CTM, amiright? So you do need a blender, otherwise I can’t guarantee your version will turn out as well as mine did. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this version is equal to or better than a curry house CTM (not having a tandoori oven makes that impossible anyway), its easily the best tasting curry I’ve ever made at home. Not that the competition was stiff to begin with. Creamy, rich and full of the flavour of tomatoes and mellow spices, it put the devil on my shoulder always whispering in my ear “why don’t you just order a curry when you get home, you’ve had a long day, you deserve it” firmly in its place. I do deserve a decent curry some days, but with a bit of time and inclination it’s fantastic to know that I can make one without the guilt and the inevitable regret that always comes from a takeaway pig out. Felicity does her research and puts the work in to deliver recipes that you can rely on, so for that I’ll absolutely be using her Perfect recipes again.