People always think of curry as a man thing. Perhaps this is because of its associations with Saturday night drinking sessions and testosterone-fuelled chilli eating competitions.
That’s the UK for you. In India, it is eaten just as much by women as men, and few of them have a skinful of lager before their meal, allowing them to appreciate the subtlety of the spices — and also not to wake up with the mother of all hangovers in the morning.
A year or so ago, I went on a course to learn more about Indian cooking and was taught how to make a north Indian curry sauce. I have tried it with fish, chicken and lamb and they all taste unbelievably good — and different from one another. Here’s my take on the chicken version, which feeds four.
Like many curries, it starts off with onions, garlic and ginger. Chop two large onions and fry in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil. The idea is for the onions to soften. Watch the onions very carefully. When they are brown but before they start to burn, add a little water. Once the water has evaporated and the onions have started to fry again, add a little more. This whole process should take around 15 minutes. Add a dessert spoonful of finely chopped garlic and the same quantity of finely chopped ginger and stir in. Then add a teaspoon each of cumin, coriander powder, turmeric and cinnamon, a generous pinch of garam masala, a bay leaf and three or four cardamom pods. Simmer away until the sauce is aromatic — I find a little sitar music helps the mood.
Add a chopped green chilli and half a teaspoon of chilli powder — the two types of chilli give different flavours, so it is nothing to do with machismo (well, perhaps a tiny bit). Then throw in six skinned and chopped tomatoes — don’t use tinned tomatoes as they will make the curry taste like pasta sauce gone wrong. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down, adding a little water if the sauce gets too dry. Season with salt and pepper and add skinned chicken thighs on the bone — two to three per person — and simmer for half an hour before garnishing with chopped coriander. Then all you need are steamed basmati rice or naan breads.
And for that authentic British Saturday night experience, down eight pints of beer before eating.