Cooking a Curry from Scratch | The Ultimate Guide 2022

So, you want to learn about cooking a curry from scratch? Well, this is a one-stop guide to tell you everything that you need to know. You’ll literally be able to hundreds of different Indian curries. I’m going to talk you through a formulaic, standard technique used in BIR curry. On this page alone, you’ll learn to make three different curries! When you’re ready…

Let’s dive in.

What Equipment Will I Need to Make a Takeaway Curry?

Right, let’s get one thing straight.

You don’t need any fancy equipment to make a decent BIR curry. If you’ve got a kitchen and cook regularly for yourself, I guarantee you’ll have everything you need. I’ve produced a list of Indian cooking equipment here. Check it out if you have time.

And if you haven’t…. Here’s what you will need today.

  • A Small saucepan
  • A Wooden spoon
  • A Sharp knife
  • A Chopping board
  • A Frying pan
  • A Measuring spoon

Yep, that’s it. Seriously.

What is the Secret to a Good Curry?

There are a few elements that make up a good curry. Don't think of a curry as a single dish, instead consider it as something that you 'build' out of separate parts. If all the parts are good then the curry should be good too.

Here are the things you should consider the fundamental 'building blocks' of your curry: -

A Solid Base Gravy

Any good building needs a foundation, and your base gravy is literally the thing you will build your curry on top of. If the curry base is lacklustre, there is very little you are going to be able to do to change that. 

Want the good news?

Making base gravy is really easy. Check out my quick guide right here!

The Correct Amount of the Right Spice

You'll see loads of recipes that are generic. Saying things like "a tablespoon of curry powder"...

Yeah... But which curry powder? How do you know that theirs and yours is the same.

Here's a clue. You don't. The solution? Make your own and then that way you know exactly what's in it. You don't want to be trying to make a mild curry, only to find your tablespoon of curry powder has chilli in it as well as the other spices you might have to add.

Below you'll find the correct spices to make three properly authentic Indian curries 

High Heat

Any curry that takes over 10 minutes to cook isn't the real deal. A good curry is nearly always cooked over a blisteringly high heat. The aim isn't to stew, the aim is to fry.

Make sure you've got that pan red hot.

Does the thought of heating your best Tefal fill you with horror?

Relax, I've got the solution. Invest in a cheap and sturdy curry pan. They are worth every penny! 

Plenty of Oil

There's a big difference between what you get at home and what turns up from the takeaway.

Ever noticed that the top of takeaway curry is covered in a layer of oil?

This isn't by accident. This is by design.

Use plenty of oil. The best oil to use is vegetable oil. Don't use olive oil, it burns too easily.

Marinated Meat

Do you reckon your local Indian takeaway just throws lumps of chicken into their curry and that's it, job done?

Of course not.

Most Indian restaurants give the meat for their curries extra special attention! What do I mean? They nearly always precook and marinate it. This is an easy way to take your curry to the next level. It also means that it cooks quicker. Here's how restaurants pre cook chicken for curry.

If you want to make curry taste better, you might need a little more help. Today's your lucky day my friends, I've got a great article here that offers loads of advice on how to make curry taste better.

What Ingredients do I need for Cooking Curry from Scratch?

Ok, well, you’ll be pleased to know that you don’t need that many ingredients to get started making your own homemade takeaway style curry.

I’m going to go through a general list that’s generic to most BIR curry.

Now I know that some like it hot, and some don’t. But this is the beauty of making a curry from scratch. Regardless of what type of curry you are making, you will cook your scratch curry in exactly the same way!

So, here’s what I’ll do…

I’m going to list common ingredients here, and then you can jump down and pick your curry spice according to heat level… That’s right, how to make three curries all on one page!

The standard ingredients you will need for cooking a curry from scratch are as follows: -

  • Cooking oil
  • The meat of your choice (or seafood)
  • Ginger and Garlic paste
  • Simple spice mixed powder + Curry powder for your choice of curry (see below)
  • Tomato Puree
  • A base curry sauce

Simple right?

Now here comes the catch. If you know anything about Indian takeaway, you’ll know that different Indian curries don’t taste the same.

So, what’s the difference?

Well, look again at the above list. See the bit about “curry powder for your choice of curry”…

This is where you supplement the simple spice mixed powder with a few extras to make your curry taste like it should.

If you are just starting learning how to make curry, I want to make it easy for you…

Click on the button below to select your curry…. Don’t worry; they are colour coded based on heat.

Madras from scratch

What Curry Spice do I Need to Cook Madras?

Ok, so this one is pretty fiery and a dark colour. This comes about from the inclusion of a fair bit of chilli powder and a couple of other spices. If you want to cook madras, you will need: -

  • 2 teaspoons Chilli powder
  • ½ teaspoon garam masala
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

What Curry Spice Do I Need to Cook Jalfrezi?

A Jalfrezi is a medium dish. It isn’t as hot as a madras, but it is warmer than a simple tikka masala. To make a Jalfrezi, you’ll need the following spices: -

  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon tandoori masala powder
  • ½ teaspoon chilli powder

What Curry Spice Do I Need to Cook Tikka Masala?

Ok, we all probably started our curry journey here. Tikka masala is nice and mild. You’ll note the absence of chilli powder (phew). To make a Tikka masala, you’ll need: -

  • A pinch of methi leaves
  • ½ teaspoon coriander powder
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons dried coconut
  • A tablespoon of tikka paste

Making your First BIR Curry

Heating BIR Base Gravy

You’ll notice the first step of our ‘cooking curry from scratch formula’ is getting the base gravy nice and hot. Why do we do this? It’s just going to get heated as we cook the curry, right?


One of the secrets to cooking a successful takeaway curry is to have your pan absolutely blistering hot. You want your base gravy to hit the ground running.


Sorry, I’m paraphrasing.

I mean that you want hot base gravy going into your frying pan at the right time. That way, it doesn’t cool the pan down and stop the cooking progress.

So, before you start doing any other prep, tip your base gravy into a saucepan and get it simmering away nicely.

If you need to know how to make base gravy, check this out.

Cooking Meat for Curry

The next stage is to get our meat cooking away. There are a few reasons why we get the meat going first when we start cooking a curry from scratch…

First, by getting the meat going early, we can definitely ensure that it will be cooked through by the time we come to serve a curry

Second, it means we don’t have to cook the curry any longer than necessary to make sure the meat is cooked.

Third, by cooking the meat and then adding a few more ingredients (see below), we give the meat a kind of hot marinade… This is one of the real secrets of Indian takeaway kitchens.

We start by getting a frying pan really hot and browning the meat. By ‘browning’, I don’t mean it needs to be ‘brown’. As long as the exterior of the meat is cooked, everything is going to plan…

There can be an exception to the above. Sometimes you can use pre-cooked meats for curry, but the process is still exactly the same.

Adding Spice Mixes to Curry

Ok here is where your favourite Indian curry starts to take shape.

Remember the different Indian curry spice options I listed above? These are added along with your mixed powder. The mixed powder is a ‘standard’ curry powder used in pretty much any curry recipe.

mix powder for curry

What makes your curry into a madras, vindaloo, jalfrezi, bhuna, or a tikka masala happens at this stage. We add a set amount of mixed powder AND one of the spice combinations from your curry above to the frying pan and toss the meat in it.

This combines with the oil and the garlic and ginger paste to make a dry marinade.

As you cook the meat further, these spices darken and turn more intense in flavour. This takes about 2-3 minutes.

Here’s how to make mix powder for curry

How to use Tomato Puree in Curry

Now it is time to add your tomato puree to your curry. You don’t squeeze it in like a tube of toothpaste. Oh no…

We dilute it and make a really loose ‘passata’.

When you add diluted tomato paste to the pan, a couple of things happen.

First, the previous spices get diluted with the liquid. This allows them to soak into the meat.

Second, as diluted tomato puree cooks over high heat, it neutralizes some of that acidic element and becomes a lot sweeter.

You can tell when tomato puree in curry is cooked as it will thicken, and the surface looks really bubbly and thick.

For a full detailed guide on how to use tomato puree in curry, check my article here…

Adding Base Gravy

Once your tomato base has thickened, it is time to add the hot BIR base gravy. We do this in a couple of stages, a cupful at a time. If you’re interested, there’s a full guide on how to use curry base gravy here…

The first cup goes in, and we give everything a good stir to combine. If you’ve done your job right, you’ll find that you now have something that is already looking like an authentic takeaway curry.

However, the process isn’t finished.

We let this first wave of base gravy simmer down until it is thick. You’ll know when this happens as your base will start to ‘fry’ slightly instead of boil.

As soon as this happens, its time to hit the frying pan again with a second cup of base gravy. This time give it a gentle stir and leave it. Scrape the fried edges down into the pan and give it the occasional shake.

Keep an eye on it, and when your curry has reduced down to the consistency that you like, it’s time to serve it!

So, there we have it. A detailed explanation of how to cook curry from scratch. It’s actually really simple and quite formulaic. If you check my other recipes, you’ll find that the vast majority follow a similar technique.

You’ve basically just learned how to make countless curries from scratch?

Neat eh?

Now listen, I know that you won’t want to be scrolling through pages and pages while making an authentic chicken madras restaurant recipe. So check below for the concise version.

Cooking a Curry from Scratch | One Page, Three Recipes

Ok guys, so here we are…. It’s time to cook your first authentic BIR takeaway curry?

Are you excited?

So, what you are going to do is choose your favourite curry out of the three spice mixes given above. Once you have picked them, just plug them into the recipe. I’ll be here when you get back…

Let’s begin…

Serves: 2

Calories: 380 per portion

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Scratch Curry Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large chicken breast cut into cubes
  • 1 Tablespoon ginger and garlic paste
  • 1 Tablespoon mixed powder
  • Specific spice for your curry in quantity given above
  • 5 tablespoons diluted tomato puree
  • 2 cups curry base gravy

Instructions for Cooking Curry from Scratch

  1. Add the base gravy to a saucepan and place over medium heat
  2. While you wait for the base gravy to simmer, place a frying pan over high heat and add the cooking oil
  3. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken breast. Toss and stir the chicken until it turns white.
  4. Add the garlic and ginger paste and stir fry for 30 seconds.
  5. Add the mixed powder and the specific curry spice. Stir the chicken around the pan to coat it in the curry powder. Cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
  6. Add the tomato puree and stir the pan until all the spice powder is incorporated into the puree. Cook until it has significantly reduced and has turned thick.
  7. Tip one cup of hot base gravy into the pan. Stir the pan until the chicken is coated in base gravy and the tomato puree is fully incorporated. Leave to bubble and reduce.
  8. Once the curry has reduced and is thick, add another cup of base sauce. Give the pan a gentle stir and reduce to the required consistency.
  9. Serve alongside pilau rice and fresh home-baked naan bread. (and maybe a few poppadoms)

Closing Thoughts

Is cooking a curry from scratch easier than you thought? How did it turn out? Amazingly, you can accurately cook an authentic takeaway curry at home by learning a series of simple techniques. Keep an eye on my recipes. They nearly all follow a similar cooking style. What curry do you want to see on the menu? 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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