Monday, November 12, 2012

And the Reviews are In!

I found my "Don't Bother Me" curry came out with a properly thick sauce with no special treatment. Frugal Sister and I were brought up on Irish stews, so we are accustomed to this process for making dinner, except that it was generally a stove-top affair. Not everyone has that background, and Rich Brother-in-Law is one of them. He does not like stews, but he likes curries. What is the difference in the way I make curry and the way my sister does? The ingredients are pretty much the same, by the way.

First, here's how I made Frugal Sister's curry, from the previous post:

As you may recall, it is based on chicken and tomato sauce, with the flavoring as "curry" and frozen vegetables as a source of vitamins and fiber:

I began with skin-on chicken thighs (yum!), the remainder of a can of stewed whole tomatoes which I had recently used in something else, and two cans of tomato paste.

I took two packages of Trader Joe's mixed vegetables out of the freezer, one with eggplant and peppers, the other with cauliflower, both lightly spiced in a sort of vaguely Italian way. Unfortunately the eggplant one had tiny mozzarella balls that I took for pearl onions at first.  But I left everything in anyway, in the spirit of experimentation. I also tossed in some frozen peas.

I added a big dollop of Patak's tomato and coriander Balti paste as my hot sauce/curry flavoring.

I chopped up a big onion, threw in some garlic cloves without even peeling them, and also four small red potatoes cut in quarters, unpeeled. I also chopped up a small, tender carrot in its peel.

Into the oven, set at 400 degrees F, it went, in a covered Dutch oven. At the half-way point, I stirred the bubbling, slightly soupy mix. But after two hours, it was thick and definitely the way it should be. By the way, the mozzarella balls had totally dissolved in the sauce.

I enjoyed it, but my husband thought it was too much like stew. Well, duh.

Now how would you do it differently but not have to work too hard? It's all a question of adding caramelization to some of the same ingredients. Only problem is, it just isn't as easy nor as safe for a child to do. You would not probably want to encourage a young kid to stir fry in your absence, since most of us have had grease catch on fire at least once.

If you want to make a one pot curry, as I often do, you start with a big frying pan that has a lid. Chop the onion and throw into into a small amount of hot oil, using the high heat to caramelize the sugars in it. There are also sugars in the chicken skin, which you can treat the same way. The other thing to subject to high heat is your Indian spice, whatever you are using, because the oils are brought out this way. By the way, "curry powder" is a British invention.

The word "curry" is Tamil for sauce. But those who like to prepare Indian food from scratch know there are myriad spice mixtures, many of which have ingredients in common with the all-purpose curry powder, attuned to different dishes. More about this later. Suffice it to say that Indians are busy people too, and they buy boxed spices the way your mother bought boxed cake mixes of all sorts, and they use a LOT of spices on their cauliflower, string beans, cucumbers, eggplants, etc. You wouldn't believe how much they consume and how therefore cheap it is. They live here and shop in ethnic markets where you can join them and have a lot of fun experimenting for little money with exotic spice mixtures specifically labeled for what they go with, be it kidney beans, carrots or potatoes. The Indus Valley civilization (Wikipedia informs us) was grinding spices at the dawn of civilization ten thousand years ago, and trying to figure out how to burn your tongue without the benefit of those hot peppers they would later pick up from the native American cuisine (along with tomatoes, potatoes, and other nightshade family plants).

Back to my curry, where I use one of  Patak's pastes and I usually toss it onto the onions once they are caramelized to my liking. When you've got the smell you want and the degree of surface toastiness you want (though the chicken is by no means done at this point, just the outer part), you can put in first liquids like tomato sauces, then additional vegetables such as chopped up raw potatoes or fresh carrot.

Bring to a simmer and cover pot, not letting the heating level get so high you are boiling the meat and toughening it. Frankly, I am not sure why there is the difference in effect between a simmer and a boil, because it seems we are talking about similar temperatures. Maybe I'd better hit the books on that one, such as Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, which goes into the theory of just about every cooking process. He went to Caltech, too, so he has that Big Bang thing going on.

Speaking of television shows, what did head cook Mrs. Bridges mean on the first Masterpiece Theatre Upstairs Downstairs series when she told her little apprentice Ruby that "A stew boiled is a stew spoiled"? The intellectually challenged Ruby eventually sussed out what "boil" meant as distinguished from "simmer" and became more than a mere scullery maid. I know just the same as Ruby did about it. But why? That will take Dr. McGee, I believe.

Okay, back to the curry which is nicely simmering along and not turning the chicken into rubber bands: if you want to add frozen vegetables like peas, carrot cubes or something equally tender - even chopped cilantro, wait until everything else is cooked (chicken, potatoes, etc), and just use the hot curry mixture to defrost them and cook them the tiny bit they need so they retain their color.

This is the dish Rich Brother-in-Law prefers. It isn't objectively that much better, if at all, but it is what he is used to having. It might taste more aromatic (due to the heat treatment of spices and onions and chicken skin) and have a less acidic taste due to less tomato sauce being used and the slightly burnt onions which may neutralize it.

But notice that this stovetop curry takes a lot of separate processes and the presence of an adult to supervise high heat.

It fails for convenience and safety. I would suspect that in most homes today, it would be more of a special occasion food, where there is about a half hour or more to prepare it and fuss over it.

I thank Frugal Sister for sharing her brilliant recipe, which is both delicious and convenient as all get out.

And "Get Out" is what a woman needs where kitchens are concerned, unless she wants to be "All In" by choice.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, Dianne, just a note to say "Kudos!" for your comments over at B'Man's Revolt's entry on the photos from the Boston Marathon. Your insightfulness and articulateness are a feast! Keep up the good fight, wummun!