When we make spicy Indian, Indonesian, Malaysian or Thai curries we usually do it all the way. We avoid mixes and shortcuts; there are some great products out there, but we usually opt to make this kind of food when we have time to do it all from scratch. This is a very comforting and rewarding cooking process, and not nearly as difficult as you might think.
Most classic curries - Indian rogan josh, Malaysian rendang, green or red Thai coconut curries - are classic braises. You heat spices in hot oil, slowly cook onions and garlic, then add liquid and meat and slowly, slowly cook it over low heat until it falls apart and the spices have completely permeated.
This is a very classic lamb curry. We got the recipe from Manisha at Indian Food Rocks!, which is one of our favorite Indian food blogs.
If you follow along with the recipe you'll see that we illustrate some of the key transition points in it.
How to Make Spicy Lamb Curry
see recipe here
Spices: The main spices for the curry are above, clockwise from the bottom: black cardamom, mustard, cloves, black cumin, cinnamon, dried chili peppers, star anise, and black peppercorns. No coriander in this particular recipe.
Frying spices: Tthe spices are fried in a lot of hot oil - half a cup. This is where ghee would traditionally be used but we used vegetable oil. We heated the oil and made the whole dish in a heavy Dutch oven - our $40 Target model!
Slow cook onions: Then you add a whole mess of chopped onions and cook them very, very slowly over low heat - about 30-60 minutes. You can let them cook while you go about your business, just stirring them now and then. We let these cook for over an hour while we were working on other things.
Keep on cooking the onions: The onions give body and flavor to the curry; they're the basic sauce of many Indian curries. Even though curry is often red and brown, that color and the sauce don't come from tomatoes, as many assume. No, they're onions slow-cooked with spices and oil. This particular curry will take some tomato, though...
Tomato paste, ginger and garlic: The more delicate ginger and garlic go in with the tomato paste, instead of with the onions. Now we cook slowly for even longer - another hour.
"Until the oil separates out" Here is the part where many get confused. You are supposed to cook the onions, garlic, ginger, and tomato - the base of this sauce - until the "oil separates out." This is the point at which the spices have been drawn so thoroughly into the onions that the oil has been sweated out. You can tell this has happened when little pools of oil separate from the tomato - see above.
This is one of the most key steps in a really good curry. Otherwise the spices just coat the sauce and the tongue; they haven't truly permeated the sauce.
Add the meat: Now, finally, after at least two hours of cooking time, the meat is added. It's not browned - in this braised curry the braise is the sauce - not the meat! The spices and onions are deeply flavored then simmered with the meat. They are the real star!
Add the meat and cook over low, low heat or in a 225°F oven for several hours - the longer the better. We try to make this a day ahead; an overnight rest lets the flavors bloom.
Serve and enjoy: The meat should be meltingly tender, almost like butter, and fully flavored with the spices - all the way to the middle. Serve with rice, like our Saffron Rice with Peas and Cashews.
Or see our directions on How to Cook Rice on the Stove.
Freeze any extras for weeknight dinners, and stay warm with spicy curry! That's a weekend project we enjoy very much - any cooking projects for you this weekend?