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.
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.
British Indian Restaurant Style Curry Base (or gravy)
- 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.