BIR Cooking. The Complete Guide to British Indian Curry

Think you've never tried BIR cooking? Think again. Most curries you'll eat in Indian restaurants are, in fact, prepared using something called "BIR style". While the term 'BIR' might not mean anything to you right now, it will by the end of this article. And, not only will you know what it means, but you'll have a pretty good idea of how to start making your own Indian takeaway style curry dishes. Pretty cool, right?

I'm going to explain exactly what BIR cooking is all about and give you a rundown of how it works so you can make your own amazingly authentic Indian dishes at home.

What is BIR Cooking?

BIR cooking is an abbreviated term for 'British Indian Restaurant' cooking. It refers to the common techniques and practices used in many Indian takeaways and curry houses in the UK. The techniques have since spread worldwide as a quick and easy way to make curry and Indian style food.

The benefits of utilizing a BIR cooking style to make curry are numerous. Here are a few reasons why you might want to give it a try: -

BIR Cooking Requires Relatively Few Ingredients

You might think that to make loads of different curries, you will need a pantry full of herbs, spices, and different ingredients.

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.

Ok, so we aren't talking super minimalist, but you aren't going to need to spend a fortune buying fancy ingredients. In fact, the majority of your 'shopping list' will be a few packs of inexpensive spice powders.

As you'll shortly see, with a little forward planning and some clever recipes (which you'll find throughout my site), you'll see that most curries are actually prepared in the same way and to change the taste, you just give the spice mix a little tweak to produce the desired result.

I'll get onto exactly how you'll do it in a while, but, for now, just know that you could probably get kitted out to make 30 – 40 types of curries in a single visit to your local supermarket.

BIR Cooking Is Extremely Quick

I'm willing to bet that you've arrived here because you've spent weeks looking at Google's "authentic curry recipe" results without getting the taste you are looking for.

Yeah, what does a blogger from the BBC' good' food know about what goes into an Indian restaurant curry?

I'll tell you.


Anything that has you stood over a pan, "adding tins of tomatoes and simmering for 30 minutes," is, quite frankly, nonsense.

Want to know why?

Do you think your local BIR Indian takeaway chef stands there doing that? Nope, of course not. From the time you sit down at a restaurant or phone your order through to your curry being ready takes about 15 minutes… Tops.

And what's more… They'll be cooking several curries while they are making yours.

That's because BIR cooking is super quick and easy. Madras, Korma, Phaal, Bhuna, you name it, they can whip them all up in roughly about the same time it takes for you to make a cup of tea.

BIR cooking is quicker and easier than 'conventional' curry cooking.

By Utilizing A BIR Cooking Style, You Can Easily Make Hundreds of Curries

Wait, what? Hundreds?

Yep, that's not a typo.

Basically, you follow the same steps and just change one or two elements to produce an entirely different curry.

What would you say if I told you a nice medium bhuna was prepared in precisely the same way as a hot and fiery vindaloo? Well, you can believe it, because using a BIR cooking style, that is exactly the case!

The only difference is the spices that are 'plugged in' during the cooking. Aside from that, the technique is exactly the same.

As long as you know the spice mix for each curry, you'll be able to make it using a specific technique.

No Specialist Equipment is Required for BIR Curry

Do you know what you need to make a BIR curry?

Here's a quick barebones list: -

  • Wooden Spoon
  • Frying Pan
  • Saucepan

Seriously, that's it.

If you like, you can get fully kitted out for cooking curry. Still, if you don't want to spend, there's a good chance you've already got everything you need to make authentic BIR cooked curry at home.

Honestly speaking, adding a few bits and pieces can make it easier, but to get going, the above list will be all you'll need to get into BIR cooking. It's one of the most affordable (and tastiest) hobbies around!

BIR Cooking is Easy!

Want to know what specialist cooking skills you need for BIR cooking?

You'll need to know: -

  • How to read
  • How to tell the time

Yep. Follow the instructions, 'plug in' the ingredients at predetermined points and dish it up. No specialist knowledge is required.

It really is that simple.

Indian takeaway style dishes are coming your way in minutes.

BIR Curry Tastes Exactly Like Takeaway Food

Want to know the real 'secret' to making your food taste like your favourite Indian restaurant's?

It goes like this.

Copy them.

Literally, do what they do, using the BIR cooking techniques I describe below, and I guarantee that your dishes will be practically identical.

Suppose you've spent ages trawling through the usual rubbish spread over the internet by folks who have never even set foot in a proper Indian kitchen. In that case, it's time for a change.

The techniques described below are it.

How Does BIR Cooking Differ from 'Regular' Curry?

I need to get something out of the way right now. BIR cooking is not the same style of cooking that you'll find on the Indian subcontinent.

The clue is in the name. "BIR cooking".

BIR has its origins in India, this is true, but it is actually a hybrid style designed originally to cater to a Western European audience. You could consider it a 'hybrid' style of cooking. BIR Indian dishes are spiced with Indian flavours but have been adapted to be made in British restaurant kitchens and are more palatable to a Western audience.

BIR cooking takes relatively common ingredients found in the UK. It applies a few simple techniques to produce a result that is an approximation of what you'd find in India.

Look at it like this…

If you are familiar with pizza, you'll know that what you'd get on a street corner in Rome and the 'pizza pie' you'll get in the USA are similar, but actually quite different. The same principle goes for the difference between truly authentic Indian food and the BIR dishes you'll get in the UK and beyond.

Same concept, different execution.

BIR Cooking | The Essential Elements to Making Great Curry

You are about to learn the general 'standard' elements for making a truly authentic takeaway style curry. It's pretty formulaic, and as I said above, really easy. Each curry dish you cook, whether simple korma, a sweet and spicy pathia, or a super fiery phaal, all use the same techniques.

In the list above, you'll find the pieces of the puzzle or 'building blocks' to BIR curry if you will. Each curry dish may use some or all of them. They are: -

  • Base Gravy
  • Garlic and Ginger Paste
  • Tomato Puree
  • Mixed Powder for BIR Cooking
  • Curry Spice Mixes
  • Precooked Meat

Let's examine them in more detail, and then I'll go on to show you how they all work together…

Base Gravy

BIR base gravy is probably the key to making truly authentic BIR curry dishes. It is what you could really consider 'the secret'. Base gravy is something that you won't find in your 'standard' cookbooks. It is literally the foundation upon which BIR cooking is built.

BIR gravy is a sort of weak, mildly Indian spiced onion soup that is used to form the backbone of many of the curry 'sauces' that you'll enjoy whenever you order an Indian takeaway.

Because it is so mild in flavour, it acts as the perfect 'vehicle' to carry the rest of your spices. Therefore you can make it taste however you wish by altering the spice mix.

Here are some great advantages to using base gravy: -

  • BIR gravy is easy to make
  • It's a great way to use up lots of onions
  • You can easily freeze base gravy to be used whenever you want to make a curry
  • It saves time when you do come to cook curry
  • You can make it uniquely yours (in fact, each Indian chef has their own 'secret' recipe).

Garlic and Ginger Paste

Yep, we've all been there.

"Chop garlic and ginger and fry until golden…."

Yeah, whatever, Jamie, that's not how they do it in Indian restaurants.

Instead, the BIR cooking style relies on a preprepared paste made from a homemade mixture of blended garlic, ginger and oil.

And trust me…

It is homemade. In fact, most BIR restaurants will periodically prepare a huge bowl ready for the next week. There are plenty of reasons to give it a go yourself: -

  • Garlic and ginger paste keeps for ages
  • Again, you'll save loads of time by preparing garlic and ginger paste in advance
  • Because it is a paste, it is incorporated in the sauce, with no chunks

Tomato Puree

Tomato puree isn't squeezed directly into the curry when utilizing the BIR cooking style.

The only time you'll do that is if you want a tangy, burned mess stuck to the bottom of your curry pan.

No. The way BIR restaurants and authentic Indian chefs do it is to mix it with water.

Want a ratio?

It's about 1 part tomato puree to 5 parts water until it is around the consistency of cream.


When tomato puree bubbles down, it gets quite sweet and rich. Just what you need for a delicious tomato curry base.

You'll see Indian kitchens nearly always have a huge bowl of this diluted tomato puree mix sat by the hob ready to ladle in a spoonful or two as and when they need it.

  • Diluted tomato puree will keep for around 5 days in the fridge
  • It tastes much better than 'raw' tomato paste
  • It helps to make your BIR curry a little more saucy

Mixed Powder for BIR Cooking

Mixed powder might not be something you've ever come across before. So I'm going to tell you what it is all about.

Most BIR curries contain a few common spices. Can you imagine every time an order came through the door, the chef had to grab the same spices again and again? Most BIR Indian takeaways assemble a preprepared spice mix with the most common elements to make life easy.

What's in BIR mixed powder?

Well, it all depends on which chef you ask, as they all have their own unique recipe. Generally speaking, you'll find the following in different quantities: -

  • Coriander
  • Paprika
  • Turmeric
  • Cumin
  • Garam masala

It is important to note that mixed powder isn't "hot" in most cases.

The reason for this is that Indian chefs will use it in most curries (all the way from mild to spicy). They will add other spices to emphasize certain qualities and heat levels. The BIR mix powder is used to provide a very generic 'curry' taste.

  • BIR mix powder saves time
  • BIR mixed powder isn't too strong in any particular flavour and can be supplemented with other spices.
  • It is really easy to make BIR mix powder, and it lasts indefinitely

Curry Spice Mixes

Here is where the magic happens.

Do you want to know why a madras tastes different from a vindaloo, and korma isn't the same as korai?

This is where the dish is transformed. The curry is transformed by adding an extra spoon of different spices to the basic 'building blocks' above.

Want an example?

The only real difference between a madras and a vindaloo is the level of chilli involved. The chef will prepare both about 80% of the way with base gravy, tomato puree and mix powder. They might add some more chilli, but that's the only difference (generally speaking).

By making the spice mix about the only variable, you can easily and quickly make several different curries at a moments notice.

Precooked Meat

Do you think every time you place a massive order at the Indian, there is somebody in the corner whose job it is to cut lamb, chicken and beef into bite-sized chunks ready to throw into a curry?

Hell, no!

Also, beef and lamb takes quite a while to cook and become tender, right?

Here's another curry' secret'. BIR cooking relies heavily on the use of pre-cooked meats, which are added only in the mid to later stages of the curry cooking process.

While the technique used to precook meat for curry is slightly different depending on the type of meat, the general principle is the same. It takes place long before you ever even thought about placing an order (often days before).

In BIR cooking, large volumes of meat are cut into chunks and stewed in a weak spiced Indian style stock until juicy and tender. They are then chilled to be used at a later time. Because they are already cooked, they only need to be heated through.

The BIR Cooking' Formula'

Ok, look.

If you still haven't got it yet, I want to make something abundantly clear.

In the case of most BIR cooked curries, you are pretty much going to do the exact same thing. Whether you are making a balti, a bhuna, a korma, or a korai, a mutton rogan josh, or a madras. You will follow a specific and repeatable 'formula' to make your curry.

It takes all of 15 minutes and will enable you to cook practically any curry on a takeaway menu.

Once you've read the 'how to' guide for BIR cooking below, all you'll need to do is 'plug in' different quantities of ingredients to the standard formula.

Check the "how to guide" below to get started…

Cooking a BIR Curry | An Easy and Detailed How-to Guide

Making BIR curry is actually a breeze, and once you have made one, you can make them all. Here's a full guide on how to do it.

BIR Cooking Preparation

Before we begin, we need to get our 'elements' all ready to go. Here are the steps you'll need to do before you start cooking: -

BIR Cooking Element

Preparation Required

Premade or Fresh

Base Gravy

diluted in a saucepan and placed on a rolling boil


Tomato Puree

diluted to a consistency that resembles cream


Garlic and Ginger Paste

made and measured out in the desired quantity


Precooked Meat

Portioned out and set aside


Mix powder

Out and ready to use


Spices Specific to Your Choice of Curry

Measured and set aside in a small bowl  


Notice anything about the above? There isn't a single ingredient in the above 'sample' BIR curry that can't be premade and removed from the fridge, pot or freezer ahead of time.

Cooking Your BIR Curry

Half of the effort when cooking BIR curry (if you can really call it effort) is the preparation. From this point on, it is actually quite simple.

The below isn't for a specific curry. In fact, it is for any type of BIR curry.

As I said, they are all made in the same way.

Here's a template and general outline of the steps you'll take to cook your first BIR curry: -

Step 1)  Heat the Pan and Add Oil

Cook for: 1 – 2 minutes

You are going to start by getting your pan up to heat.

The pan needs to be hot before you start cooking. The aim is to fry, not boil or steam. Ensuring you've got a blistering hot pan encourages caramelization, enhancing curry flavour.

Important points to note: -

  • Thin aluminium pans heat quite quickly. If it is smoking, then it is definitely hot enough
  • Heat the pan first and then add the oil second. This will prevent your oil from burning
  • You are going to use one cooker setting when making your curry. Full blast.

Step 2) Add Garlic and Ginger Paste

Cook for:  30 seconds

The first real step of cooking BIR curry is to get that oil nice and fragrant. To do that, we nearly always start with a tablespoon (or two) of garlic and ginger paste. There's no extended frying here. We are talking throw it in and stir for no longer than 30 seconds.

Important points to note: -

  • Ginger and garlic paste cooks really quickly. You'll want the ingredients for the next step ready to go
  • Don't use chopped garlic and ginger. The paste is the authentic way to go
  • Be careful when adding the paste. It can tend to spit a little
  • You are looking for the paste to turn from white to a very pale golden colour

Step 3) Add Your Mix Powder and your Curry Spices

Cook for: 1 minute

Next, we make a sort of impromptu curry paste. By adding the spices at this stage, we further infuse the oil, and also by toasting the dried spices slightly, they release all of their lovely oils and turn super intense.

Again, you don't want to burn the spices, so this stage should take no longer than a minute.

Important points to note: -

  • Add both your mix powder and your specific curry spice at this stage
  • Stir the spices into the oil and keep an eye on them to stop them from burning

Step 4) Add Your Tomato Puree

Cook for: 1 - 2 minutes

Adding the diluted tomato puree at this stage has a few effects…

First, it adds moisture to our spices, preventing them from burning.

Second, it gives the tomato puree time to cook down and thicken

Third, it creates a looser sort of curry paste which is shortly going to coat our meat in all that lovely curry flavour.

Important points to note: -

  • Stir the Tomato puree in with the spice mix and then leave it. No need to constantly agitate it
  • When it begins to thicken and form 'craters' on the surface, it is ready
  • It's better to have a looser puree than a thicker tomato puree before cooking. If in doubt, add a little more water.

Step 5) Add the Precooked Meat

Cook for: 1 minute

Next, we add a handful or two of whichever meat you choose in your curry. We will give the meat a little stir and toss around to get it coated in the paste that, by now, has formed in the pan.

Note, the meat is already cooked. And at this stage, the only aim is to get it coated in all that delicious thick curry masala sauce.

The pre-cooked meat will be heated through fully in the next stage.

Important points to note: -

  • Certain meats, like lamb, can easily break up. Don't over stir. A quick toss is all it takes.
  • The aim is merely to coat the meat. Extensive frying isn't necessary

Step 6) Add a Ladleful of Base Gravy and Mix Well

Cook for: 2 – 3 minutes

Here is where the magic happens, and your curry will start to come together. Put in around a cup or large ladleful of heated base curry gravy.

Why does it need to be heated?

Quite simply, if you put cold gravy in a hot pan, you will lower the temperature and slow the cooking process. This isn't what we want!

Instead, by adding a curry base that is already boiling, you save time. This is what the Indian takeaway chefs do!

Stir well, and then let it bubble down.

Important points to note: -

  • Make sure your base gravy is hot (this is achieved by heating it in a separate saucepan)
  • Add a little at a time. If it is still a bit thick, there's no reason you can't add a splash more
  • Bubble your base gravy down until it is just what you'd consider slightly too thick.
  • Be sure to scrape all the caramelized sauce off the edges back into the pan.

Step 7) Add Another Ladleful of Base Gravy. Mix and Serve

Cook for: 1 – 2 Minutes

It isn't unusual to add base gravy more than once. The final ladleful isn't so much for flavour but ensures that the curry has a perfect consistency.

It gives you superb flexibility.


If your curry sauce is too watery, just leave it cooking for a minute or two to thicken up! If your curry sauce is a little too thick, just add another splash of base gravy!

Important points to note: -

  • The cooking process is actually complete at this stage. You can consider this step more 'finishing'.
  • Give your curry one final stir as soon as you have added the base gravy, and then leave it to simmer to the desired consistency
  • Your curry will thicken on standing, so if you aren't sure about consistency, steer towards the 'looser' side until you perfect your technique

What's next?

Well, I think you had better get a bowl or plate and get ready to enjoy! It really is that easy to make BIR curry.

BIR Cooking | Final Thoughts

Well, we made it, guys! Easier than you thought? BIR cooking requires a little preliminary prep, but from then on, you've now got all the tools in your bag to make fully authentic Indian takeaway curry. Nights in and even dinner parties! How great is that? Have a search through my recipes, and you'll find plenty of recipe ideas using the above technique. What will you make first?  Let me know in the comments below!

Enjoy Making Curry Yourself?

Hey folks, thanks for reading this article. I hope you found it useful, and that you learned something new allowing you to make your curry extra special. Here are a few things that can really elevate your curry game to the next level. 

These are affiliate links, so if you use them I receive a small commission, but this won't cost you any extra. In all honesty, I use very similar items myself, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend them to my friends.

A Complete Curry Kit: - Literally, everything you'll need to make curry all in one place. Cookware, storage, utensils, even the spices! This is my dedicated guide to getting you up and running all for the price of few takeaways.

Curry pans: - You need one, and one only. A frying pan exactly like this is really easy to use, and is exactly the type that authentic Indian chefs use to make the type of curry that you'll have in your local takeaway. You can see my full reviews of several pans right here...

Spice Storage: - Being organised is half the battle in making great curry. Spices can be notoriously hard to keep tidy. That's why I tend to use a spice rack like this. You can arrange your spices by size, heat, or any way you choose. I've got a detailed review of several Indian spice racks in this guide.

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