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: 1 hour 20 min


  • 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 leaves (kasuri 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.

Essential Kitchen Supplies


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    • Giles @anyone4seonds on June 27, 2012 at 7:26 am
    • Reply

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

        • rich on January 16, 2015 at 12:47 pm
        • Reply

        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. rich,
          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

            • Olly on September 14, 2018 at 11:41 am

            This has blown my mind. I really want to try this ASAP.

            Do you have a recipe for how I can make a Korma once I’ve made the Gravy in this recipe.

            I too moved to America and found myself craving that authentic British takeout curry and I NEED this in my life!

            • Stuart on March 7, 2019 at 10:14 am

            Have a look at the newly added BIR Chicken Korma recipe with coconut milk for a really rich, creamy and delicious korma.

    • Marlene Bertrand on June 27, 2012 at 5:29 pm
    • Reply

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

    • John Marquez on February 3, 2013 at 2:55 am
    • Reply

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

        • Pat on March 2, 2016 at 12:58 pm
        • Reply


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



            • Pat on March 3, 2016 at 1:56 pm

            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.


    • Geoff on August 25, 2013 at 9:40 pm
    • Reply

    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.

    • shikira on February 18, 2016 at 9:11 pm
    • Reply

    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. Good luck and let us know how you get on

    • Judy on April 14, 2016 at 12:00 am
    • Reply

    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. Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

        • Elly on May 4, 2016 at 1:45 am
        • Reply

        Hi Stuart,

        Where can I find the madras recipe?


        1. Hi Elly,

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


    • Brian Snow on June 10, 2016 at 12:47 pm
    • Reply

    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!

    • Derek on October 3, 2016 at 8:58 am
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    Thanks, after 45 years I have finally made a Indian restaurant style curry.

    • Matt on December 24, 2016 at 12:53 pm
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    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. Using the base for Madras is as close to any homemade BIR curry that I have found

        • melanie on March 23, 2019 at 3:12 pm
        • Reply

        Hi i am new to ur site im trying to get a nice recipe for jalfrezi curry but have no clue how 2 make the base gravy because my jalfrezi is watery any tips on how to get a thick flavoursome sauce ty

        1. Hi there,
          If you follow the recipe above for making a batch of the BIR gravy and then follow this Chicken Jalfrezi Recipe

    • Stephen on February 1, 2017 at 6:11 pm
    • Reply


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


    1. Eventually. The link for Jalfrezi is above in the main post

    • Duncan on April 12, 2017 at 3:19 am
    • Reply

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

    • Darren on June 5, 2017 at 9:42 am
    • Reply

    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.

    • Amy on August 7, 2017 at 8:43 pm
    • Reply

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

    1. I don’t actually use this BIR Curry Base for Chicken Tikka Masala or Butter Chicken, but use this recipe instead

    • David Leicester on August 13, 2017 at 12:40 pm
    • Reply

    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. 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

    • David Leicester on August 14, 2017 at 5:56 am
    • Reply

    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!

    • James on September 2, 2017 at 9:14 am
    • Reply

    how do you incorporate the base sauce into a curry recipe

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

    • Nick on December 10, 2017 at 7:53 am
    • Reply

    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. Hi Nick,

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

    • Aisling on December 12, 2017 at 2:30 pm
    • Reply

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


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

    • Ryan Steele on January 4, 2018 at 6:51 am
    • Reply

    Hey I’m just wondering how you achieved the colour in you picture without tomato puree. I’m just assuming that no tomato puree and the turmeric would make it yellow like most base gravy.

    1. I think the colour in the photo might have been from the lighting when the photo was taken or maybe they were particularly orange carrots.

    • Daniel on January 20, 2018 at 2:02 pm
    • Reply

    What would i need to add to make a British Indian curry that you usually find under the “Traditional” (traditional english that is) menu.

    I usually just have a “Medium Curry” with Chicken Tikka (not chicken tikka masala). I have not tried this recipe specifically, but other curry bases i have tried have ended up nowhere near that “Medium Curry” taste you get at an Indian restaurant.

    Is this base close to that Medium Curry taste or does more needed to be added, and if so. what?


    1. Have a look at some of the other curries that I mention in the post such as Madras. If you follow that recipe, but add less chilli powder, you should get something similar to a ‘generic’ British Medium curry

    • julian morgan on January 23, 2018 at 9:51 am
    • Reply

    Hi Stuart,

    Can you tell me how many portions this curry base recipe will cater for?
    I want to cook for a party of 8 or so.

    Cheers Jools

    1. Roughly the BIR sauce recipe makes about 3 portions to use to make 3 curries to serve between 4 and 6 people

    • Chrissy on February 14, 2018 at 12:49 pm
    • Reply

    Stuart, my husband has made the sauce bu het is bewildered because it is not as flavoursome as he hoped, also very very liquid.

    I think 1.5 litres is too much water.

    Also, you didn’t specify which kind of fenugreek. Suddenly, on reading comments, we find you recommend leaves! Naughty boy.

    We will probably have another go at this. We’re Brits living in Britain so there’s a lot at stake!

    1. I’ve made this many, many times and can only think that the size of your onions and/or might have been a bit on the small side. If you make again, the add less water bit by bit.

    • eric on June 20, 2018 at 10:54 pm
    • Reply

    I prepared the base in an entirely different, and likely better, way. Finely had a reason to put a dishwasher safe juice to good use. I washed, peeled and juiced all the veggies and removed the scum on top. I tend took 3/4 of the juice and added all spices and put it in a blender at medium-high speed. Once again, more scum was produced and during the skimming process, unavoidably the surface spice was removed. I then took a 946ml container of chicken stock, 250ml of water, and all the produced juice. This time I decided to manually whisk it in a large bowl and hopefully dissolve some of the remaining spice. I thought when I added 250ml of water and whisked that via smell, this was it. I then took a large rectangle glass tupperware where I would store the 4 freezer bags of base, and then put it in the freezer. Everything left raw, so then when you go to use it, its as fresh and nutrition as physically possible. I used a whole garlic bulb, and slightly larger ginger chunk (since I judged that garlic has more water than ginger; don’t know if its true or not, but anecdotally it looked true). And voila. I have yet used it, but I am so excited. Thanks very much for this. I will share some of my creations which will include my favorite indian recipe/sauce; chicken korma. It’s already awesome without this base. Just wait a few weeks.

    • Kia on July 8, 2018 at 1:45 am
    • Reply

    Hello, where is the korma recipe with the base? And other recipes with the base, because I don’t know the ratio of the base and recipe sauce, I can’t find it. Cheers, the Aussie lover of curry.

    • Barry on August 20, 2018 at 5:03 pm
    • Reply

    Hi, thanks for the recipe. I really think it’s worth specifying fenugreek leaves in the ingredients as I made this using ground seeds and only discovered it should have been leaves when casually browsing the comments.

    1. Thanks for that. I’ve updated it to specify leaves in case people don’t know what kasuri methi is

        • Paul on September 25, 2018 at 2:30 pm
        • Reply

        I made it with the seeds and thought it was fantastic. I can’t wait to try it again with the leaves instead. Cheers.

    • Sean on September 20, 2018 at 8:39 pm
    • Reply

    Such devotion to the curry cause. Thank you. I am surprised that there are no tomatoes in the based, which is common in Asia.

    1. The difference is that this is a BIR (British Indian Restaurant) curry and is different to the original dishes in South East Asia.

    • Kiran Randhawa on October 1, 2018 at 2:01 am
    • Reply

    You’re sort of almost there. :/

    The gravy you speak of is known as the Tarka.

    Ginger, onions, garlic, turmeric , garam masala.. I tend to use half a tin of chopped tomatoes… Tomatoes aren’t traditional many Indians started using that when they came to the UK.

    We don’t generally use Carrots or Celery.

    Also Indian cooking at home doesn’t have to be complicated at all. It depends where you’re from… In Punjab for example our home made food is relatively simple when compared with other parts of India.

    1. Thanks for that. The thing is that this for a BIR (British Indian Restaurant) curry and is different to curries from India.

    • Felipe on October 14, 2018 at 10:58 am
    • Reply

    omg. I am so glad I found this. I came across a BIR video on youtube and the people kept asking WHERE IS YOUR GRAVY. and I was like, if you make it from scratch, WHAT gravy are they talking about. I had no idea some people, and restaurants, start with a gravy base.
    I have to admit I was suspicious myself doing my own indian-style cooking. very often I kept thinking, well dang, this seems like the same damn ingredients every single time! just a tamarind here, a coconut milk there, to make it a different curry. and now you’re saying I was right! lol.
    I have had the same attitude/discovery regarding other tomato based dishes. use the same base for a cacciatore or a cioppino or a mexican fricasee.
    but then I have to ask, after using the base, do I add MORE of the same ingredients? well, I guess it’s all about taste, right? thanks for this article.

    • Alison on November 1, 2018 at 3:03 pm
    • Reply

    Hi there Stuart! A fine name! My granddad’s name was Stuart. Do you have any vegetarian recipes I can adapt using your excellent sauce recipe here? I am quite partial to channa masala. Thank you!!

    • JessieD on November 5, 2018 at 4:16 pm
    • Reply

    I have just stumbled across this site and would welcome some advice please! I have to make a curry for 60 people for Friday night – the number doesn’t phase me but the type of curry does. I will go for medium heat! I have never used BIR before and the recipe given above would the base for how many portions roughly please? I plan to start work on this Wednesday and have a chef friend boning out chicken thighs/legs – although what quantity of meat would you suggest? I will bulk out with veg to keep costs down so a chicken and veg curry! All recommendations greatly accepted. Thank you!

    1. Jessie,
      Interesting question. I’ve never really cooked for that many people before, but you need to be careful when multiplying recipes, especially spices, liquid and cooking times. This BIR base sauce recipe makes roughly 3 portions (1 pint), which when each portion is used to make a curry, e.g. Madras, it will feed between 4 to 6 people generously. So for 60 people you will need to multiply the BIR sauce recipe by 3 or 5. I hope that helps and good luck.

    • JonS on February 11, 2019 at 7:13 am
    • Reply

    Hi Stuart

    I’m just about to have a crack at this sauce and have one query. Can I just check about the fenugreek leaves – is that fresh or dried ?
    I know dried are a lot stronger than fresh so it could make a big difference


    1. The recipe is for dried fenugreek leaves. Note that 1 tsp of dried fenugreek leaves will be roughly 1 tbsp of fresh

    • TM/TGM on February 23, 2019 at 2:10 pm
    • Reply

    I made your BIR curry base. I don’t like anything screaming hot but this is very mild. Suggestions for which spice(s) to increase to make it spicier? TM

    1. You need to use the base sauce to create a curry, not just eat the base itself. There are a few links on the page for recipes such as Madras, Vindaloo & Korma to try

    • Julie on April 16, 2019 at 4:19 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks for the recipe. Mine was a tiny bit bitter but I just used dried fenugreek from Asda so not sure whether it was leaves or seeds. Might that be the problem. I’m still going to use it to make a Korma though. It looks very authentic so far.

    • Maxine on August 20, 2019 at 9:46 am
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    Do you have a link for a biryani please,I absolutely love this site I have made several of your recipes and I must say they are pretty amazing,thankyou.

    • rob on September 6, 2019 at 5:09 am
    • Reply

    how do make it mild medium or hot?

    • TERRY OLIVER on September 29, 2019 at 10:57 am
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    Hi, i tried to make the curry gravy and it turned out to be absolutely perfect! Tasted great and had a good consistency. But the 3rd time of making it on wards it always turns out very watery and i really can’t work out what i have done differently. I thought maybe it was the onions adding water??
    What do you think?

    • Simon Kui on January 19, 2020 at 7:24 pm
    • Reply

    If you split the recipe by 4, and add a can of tomatos, you’ve got a curry instead of a base gravy. I don’t see the point…

    1. Actually why we create a base gravy is because we are trying to recreate British Indian Restaurant curries and this is what they do for speed and efficiency. So you could just split the recipe and add a tin of tomatoes to make a curry, but it wouldn’t be a BIR curry.

    • Steve on January 20, 2020 at 4:17 pm
    • Reply

    I have never attempted to make any curry dish before. I found out that Brits make the best curry because I used to work at a British army base in Canada. Do you think it would make a big difference if I used canola oil instead of vegetable oil?

    1. Not at all

    • Valda Williams on March 30, 2020 at 8:36 am
    • Reply


    1. Don’t worry too much. It does add a bit to the flavour, but the overall BIR Base is good enough without it.

    • Paul Maloney on July 18, 2020 at 12:19 pm
    • Reply

    I was sceptical about trying this because like most we never seem to get the results we want, however I followed the recipe and instructions to the letter with the exception of halving the salt – the results wow! Incredibly authentic British Indian curry! I have since made Madras several times and I like the fact i am getting consistent results, I have also ventured to the vindaloo and again the results were incredible – next i will try Korma and jalfrezi, I have given out to several people who regularly buy takeaways and the feedback is wow! That is better than a takeaway! Why I asked? Because you can taste all the spices and flavours is the answer! Thank you for sharing this magnificent recipe and method Stuart!

    • Nix on August 8, 2021 at 8:58 am
    • Reply

    This looks a great recipe which I will try thank you. Do you have any recipes for a Bhuna please as this is my favourite BIR dish?

    • John Cotton on January 22, 2024 at 9:03 am
    • Reply

    I’ve been making curries with base sauce for over 35 years and although they are very good and close to restaurant tase they still not the same. There’s definitely something they do that us mere mortals don’t, and it’s nothing to do with base gravy or the caramelisation from high heat.

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