Saturday, 26 December 2009

Christmas curry

Christmas dinner leftovers gives me an excuse to make a traditional British curry. And, yes, you would've got one in the 1940s. In fact, you could get one in the 1840s, such is Britain's love affair with Indian-style food.

And Indian-style is accurate here: British curries are unknown in the Indian subcontinent; even our modern favourites were designed and made in Birmingham and Bradford and other cities, by British people whose connections with the subcontinent are now distant. Our vibrant British Asian population has been part of Britain for more than 200 years, with Queen Victoria settling down to a (pre-turkey) Christmas dinner of curried rabbit.

A classic mid-century British curry's ingredients list is more like that of a fruit cake than a savoury main meal, but its all the better for that. Heat some oil or butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and chuck in a diced large onion. When the onion starts to go translucent, chuck in some crushed garlic and start adding curry powder. A note about curry powder: adding extra mild curry powder won't make a curry hot; adding less hot curry powder won't make a curry mild; the temperature is set by the powder's temperature and adding more or less simply increases or reduces the intensity of the flavour, not the heat.

Keep adding curry powder and stirring until all of the oil is soaked into the powder and stuck to the onion, like making a roux. Then add a tin of tomatoes and stir well. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. This is your curry sauce. You can at this point stir in a glob or two of stuff to round the flavour out: HP or Daddies sauce, ketchup, worcester sauce, anything savoury that you've got in the cupboard will all help. Now for what you're currying: diced turkey for Boxing day, I suppose.

A large handful of raisins or sultana is essential; sliced apple is a good thing too. Left over roast potatoes can go in, plus other leftover veg - almost anything can be curried. Give it all a good stir, cover and leave on a low heat to bubble away to itself. The longer you leave it, the better it tastes, so if you're prepared to cook it for 5 hours, do so! If not, try to give it at least an hour. Stir occasionally to ensure it isn't catching on the bottom. Remove the lid if it's too watery for you to allow it to reduce.

The classic way to serve is by making a pile of cooked rice in the centre of the plate, then spreading the rice around to the edges with the back of a ladle; spoon the curry into the middle. The modern way of serving this would be to cover two thirds of the plate with curry and pile the rice into the remaining space. You can supply your own breads and pappadums.

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