A few weeks ago while working up a slightly off-beat achari recipe, I asserted that making restaurant-style curry at home was at best impractical, and at worst a lost cause. It turns out we’re living in the best case scenario, and the practicality of dishing up a Brit curry standard is directly proportional to your patience for boiling and puréeing industrial quantities of onions.
Yep, I’ve read The Curry Secret, and the secret is “use the LD50 of alliums”.
Inspired by the book, and the fact that I’m spending February vegetarian again this year (Veguary), here’s an adaptation of my favourite curry house classic for my favourite vegetable.
Googling for some background on the jalfrezi yielded two delightful little info nuggets. In 2011, it was apparently voted the UK’s favourite curry, and (from the same article) the Curry Club wins at puns by publishing a magazine called “Chaat!”.
What was less forthcoming was a meaningful account of the history of the dish beyond a vague consensus that its etymology hangs off the Bengali word “jhal“, meaning hot or spicy, and that it probably began as a Raj-era leftovers stir-fry.
That sounds about right for the ubiquitous curry house version, which will often serve up marinated, tandoor-roasted chicken, in a heavily-reduced and highly spiced sauce with green peppers. As a leftovers dish, it ought to be reasonably amenable to a bit of chopping and changing of ingredients, and should take broccoli just as well as chicken or lamb.
- A couple of medium onions
- 3-4 cloves of garlic
- Ginger, a decent chunk
- Water, about a pint
- 2-3 tomatoes, or about half a tin
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp garam masala
- tomato purée, probably a tablespoon
- Green peppers, probably 2
- Green chillies to taste, I’d say 2-3
- 2-3 onions
- Broccoli, a large head
- Grated ginger, about 1 tsp
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 3-4 ripe tomatoes
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp chilli powder
We start with the base sauce. Slice the onions, chop the ginger and garlic, and simmer it all at a low heat in plenty of water, covered, for about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes. In some oil, start the spices frying gently for a few seconds, and add the tomato purée, working it all into a paste. Let it cook for a few more seconds, then add the chopped tomatoes. Get it all well mixed, add some water, and simmer it out for a few minutes, and put to one side.
Once the onion broth is done, let it cool a little, then add the tomato mixture, and blend everything until it’s completely smooth. If you’re using a stick blender, this may take a little while. Return the sauce to the heat, and let it simmer on a low heat and reduce somewhat for fifteen minutes or so. Stir periodically to prevent burning. If any foamy scum rises, skim it off.
There we go – base sauce. The rest is basically frying and combining. Scale that up for a kilo of onions, and you’ll be in curries for a month. Apparently is keeps for a few days and freezes.
Slice the onions, peppers, and chillies into slivers. Slice the garlic, and roughly chop the tomatoes. Separate the broccoli into florets. If you like using it, chop the non-woody bits of the broccoli stalk.
Measure out the spices, grate the ginger, and put those aside, together with the garlic.
In plenty of oil, and on a medium to high heat, start frying the onions, peppers, chillies and broccoli stem if you’re using it. The veg should soften a bit but not really colour. After a few minutes, make some space in the pan, adding extra oil if needed, and add the spices, garlic, and ginger to fry until they release their aroma. This part is awesome.
Once the spices get going, add the tomatoes and stir fry to amalgamate and cook off for a minute or two. Then add the base sauce, broccoli, and a little liquid if it looks like it needs it.
Bring everything to a brisk simmer, and let it reduce until much of the liquid is gone and the broccoli is cooked. This is where it starts to look like a curry house curry. Bring it down to a fairly dry consistency, and serve. I’d stick with the curry house motif, and put this with simple breads like chapati, and a lighter, more sauce-based side like a thin tarka dal.
The taste is, well, jalfrezi. It’s a simple, rich, spice base at the back, with a tomato edge and a thick sauce, and peppers up front. The mild bell peppers and more feisty chillies come to the fore, and it’s really worth not pulling your punches on the heat. They should have retained a little bite, with the broccoli completely tender and really holding the sauce, for big, rich umami-ish bites.
Just off the strength of this one adapted recipe, I’d pronounce The Curry Secret a success. This is far and away the closest I’ve come to a restaurant style curry, and it’s pretty damn tasty. It does take forever, though, so don’t be a moron and start it at seven on a week night like I did. That does not end in a stress free and timely dinner. Or work up a big batch of base sauce in advance.
If you want to muck about with it a bit more, try adding extra smoked paprika to the main cooking, and/or substituting roasted cauliflower for the broccoli.
If anybody has any other recommendations for good books on Indian cooking – either home-style or curry house – then do comment.