Jun 27

The secret to making Restaurant Style Curry at home

For years I tried to re-create Indian restaurant curries at home, but they never quite tasted the same. Like most novice curry enthusiasts I started with pre-made curry powders, pastes and then moved onto making my own spice mixtures. I trawled endless curry recipe books, but I still wasn’t happy with my results. The curries tasted good, but they were underwhelming and didn’t match anything I tried in Indian restaurants. It wasn’t until I came to the US, and found that the Indian restaurants curries weren’t as good as back in the UK,  that I re-doubled my efforts in trying to re-create BIR (British Indian Restaurant) style curries. After a lot of searching, I stumbled across an on-line discussion about re-creating BIR style curries at home and before long I had hit a goldmine of information.

British Indian Restaurant Style Curry Base

British Indian Restaurant Style Curry Base

The secret I have found to re-create the depth of  flavour in British Indian Restaurant Style curries is a base (or gravy) created with carrots and a-lot of onions. This method of cooking doesn’t come from traditional Indian cooking, but was the result of high street restaurants trying to speed up the cooking process. Traditional Indian cooking is very time consuming and labour intensive, and the pre-cooked gravy was the restaurants answer to creating large batches to act as a base for many dishes that could be prepared quickly and easily such as madras, vindaloo, phall, dhansak, jalfrezi, korma, etc. Each restaurant will keep their ‘base’ gravy recipe a secret, but those recipes that have managed to break out into the world are extremely good.

Homemade Curry Secret Spices

Homemade Curry Secret Spices

British Indian Restaurant Style Curry Base (or gravy)

Total time:


  • 8 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped
  • 300ml (10 fl oz) of vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger purée
  • 1 tbsp garlic purée
  • 1 tbsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp fenugreek (methi)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1.5 litres (50fl oz) of water


In a large saucepan, add the oil and fry the onions until cooked. Add the garlic, ginger, turmeric, garam masala, fenugreek, coriander and cumin, and allow to fry for a minute or so to release the aromatics. Add the peppers, carrots, celery and salt, then cover with the water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for approx. 1 hour, making sure all the vegetables are very soft. Liquidize the mixture with a hand blender or food processor. Re-add the mixture to the pan and cook for another 10 mins. Allow the gravy to cool and then pour into 500ml (pint) freezer bags. The curry base will keep for months in the freezer until needed.

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  1. Giles @anyone4seonds

    Great post! One I will have to try.

    Are you going to do any posts on how to use it in recipes like a madras or korma, etc. ? Would love to make some up and then create an actual curry with it 🙂

    1. Stuart

      Yes Giles, I have a recipes for Madras and Vindaloo using the base sauce coming up soon.

      1. rich

        hi stuart what type of coconut do you use in the korma desicated or ground ? this seems like a better gravy or easier than i have been making the celery is important too my brother made a large pot just now but he thought bell pepper was scoth bonnet lol looking forward to a firey korma bless him 🙂 korma ,,,base gravy ground almond ,ground coconut ? sugar and cream ,,,what cream do you use cheers rich

        1. Stuart

          The answer to your question is neither 🙂
          For the best korma, add coconut milk (full fat) instead for the richest korma you’ve ever had

  2. Marlene Bertrand

    This is one of those recipes that I am just bursting to try. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. John Marquez

    Hi Stuart,

    I am hanging out to see how you use this gravy base to make some of the well known curries that you have mentioned.

    The suspense is killing me.


    1. Stuart

      I have a vindaloo recipe in the queue, so look out for it soon

      1. Pat


        Did you ever get to post the vindaloo recipe? I’m really anxious to try it.



          1. Pat

            Hi Stuart,

            Top man thanks.
            I made the base gravy last night (wow! :-)) and can now make my favourite curry. I will let you know how I get on.


  4. Geoff

    Skeptical but the sauce is excellent. The nearest thing I have found so far, I’m a Brit living in New York. Let my vitamix run for about a minute to make a very creamy sauce.

    I added to a fresh jalapeno to the stew mix to get the initial heat going.

    The only thing I’d say is the sauce was green and not traditional brown – I’m pretty sure a single jalapeno wouldn’t make that much difference. That didn’t matter as the flavour was excellent.

  5. shikira

    Wonderful article!.

    I have read that marinating ingredients overnight is the key to successful BIR cuisine yet did nothing for me.
    For Korma dishes, most people know that it is Coconut Milk for a truly authentic Thai gravy – Asian curries are typically mild and soupy compared with the kind of Indian raw spice ones you are writing about. The hottest yet richest in flavour Indian curry I have ever eaten was in 2003 at University when a spice-fanatic friend of mine made a tonsil-flaming Biryani using only partially sautéed spice of every hot variety and could not talk for a few days afterwards!. I am pretty sure that restaurants would not just cook their exquisite dishes just using spices, so I shall most definitely follow your Indian gravy recipe to see what occurs – am really desperate to make a proper (authentic) Biryani where I don’t resort to adding gravy granules and Tomato puree to get the right consistency and exact BIR taste.

    1. Stuart

      Good luck and let us know how you get on

  6. Judy

    I grew up eating British Indian Curry-Canadian style. My mom’s favorite. Well, I made this recipe and it is great. I have been looking for a basic curry sauce to make in a large batch so that I didn’t have to rely on on pre-made. Now I’ve pre-made it myself. This sauce was a bit time consuming to make but so worth the effort. I also wanted a base that had no salt, as my husband can’t have sauce but was wanting curry. I just omitted it, and had a generic good quality curry blend, but not garam masala. I used that. I also liked that this didn’t have tomato as I am having trouble tolerating it lately.

    Froze it in 4 batches. Thawed one batch, added a can of coconut milk chicken veggies, including eggplant, and chicken thighs. We also like pumpkin seeds and raisins. So stewed these all together. Served over a mixed rice pilaf. topped with yougurt, homemade chutney, and coconut. It was really flavorful and delicious. I have enough for a second meal, and 3 more batches frozen in the freezer in the future.

    If you like indian curry, this is a great start or base for a variety of wonderful dishes. Thank you so much.

    1. Stuart

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      1. Elly

        Hi Stuart,

        Where can I find the madras recipe?


        1. Stuart

          Hi Elly,

          The link for Madras is in the 2nd paragraph of the article above. I hope this helps.


  7. Brian Snow

    Must try this soon although the amount of oil looks a bit scary. I like dhansak – is there a follow on for that? Otherwise I will experiment and make it up!

  8. Derek

    Thanks, after 45 years I have finally made a Indian restaurant style curry.

  9. Matt

    Can I please get some reassurance that this will deliver a good BIR curry. I feel this may be too good to be true after the years I’ve spent trying to create a good one at home.

    1. Stuart

      Using the base for Madras is as close to any homemade BIR curry that I have found

  10. Stephen


    Did you ever post a recipe for the other curries mentioned e.g. jalfrezi?


  11. Duncan

    Stuart – the BIR gravy is absolutely great. I tried it and my friends thought they were eating a takeaway. I have the second batch simmering now which I keep in the freezer. Saved me a load of money! How much do I owe you?

    1. Stuart

      Glad to hear it Duncan. You dont’ owe me anything 🙂 just spread the word. Thanks

  12. Darren

    Just made this last night for future endeavors. My onion-loving wife was drooling over the 8 onions (we used sweet variety) when I was cooking them. Great taste, even by itself. BTW, I assumed you wanted the onions translucent when you said “cooked”.

    I’m curious if you developed other recipes using the BIR Base (besides the vindaloo and madras mentioned in other comments) or if you have any advice on how to modify other recipes to use the Base?

    Thanks for your hard work.

  13. Amy

    After I make the base, can anyone tell me now to make butter chicken and chicken tikka masala out of it?

    1. Stuart

      I don’t actually use this BIR Curry Base for Chicken Tikka Masala or Butter Chicken, but use this recipe instead http://wearenotfoodies.com/chicken-tikka-masala-britiains-unoffical-national-dish/

  14. David Leicester

    Just making my first base and simmering on the stove now. I’m a bit concerned how it’s still very much liquid and not solidified much. Should I add cornflour before blending to thicken?

    1. Stuart

      You shouldn’t add cornflour at this stage as this will effect using the sauce in the final dish. Maybe keep it on a gentle simmer to reduce some of the water before blending may help

  15. David Leicester

    Stuart, thankyou so much. I opted to keep cornflour out and let it reduce and it was fine once blended. Made your vindaloo recipe (without the chilli as I’m a wimp!) and it was probably one of the best currys ive ever had!
    Par boiled some new potatoes so lovely and soft and stir fried some chicken fillets chopped up and I now have enough curry for another meal and about 3 pints of sauce mix plus am marinating some left over chicken pieces in the sauce to have asa lunch snack at work! Might make a prawn one soon.
    Only downside is the house smells of curry now haha!
    If you have links to any other curry recipes (I like the aromatic herb Balti types rather than hot) I would much appreciate it. Thank you again for your dedication to finding and testing this recipe- so glad I made the effort and got the sauce underway. Definitely one to do again!

  16. James

    how do you incorporate the base sauce into a curry recipe

    1. Stuart

      There are a couple of links for Madras and Vindaloo in the post that use this BIR Curry Base

  17. Nick

    Hi . I have just made your sauce and will be making a Jalfrazi today. I do not know when to add my sauce mix. I mean do I just go ahead and make my normal Jalfrazi with chicken, bell peppers, onions, spices etc and then add the sauce at the end. Or do i leave out some of the ingredients of the curry as most of the ingredients of the Jalfrazi are already in the paste? Could you advise please?

    1. Stuart

      Hi Nick,

      I would just cook you Jalfrazi as you would normally and add the BIR gravy afterwards. Hope that helps

  18. Aisling

    I love this curry base! I have one question. What form should the fenugreek be in? I only have fenugreek seeds.


    1. Stuart

      This recipe uses dried fenugreek leaves, not the seeds. Unfortunately they are different flavours, so not really a substitute.

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