6.3. You’re about to tuck into a lovely curry, and the top is covered in oil! Delightful or disaster? Should curry be oily? That all depends on your personal preference. Many curries are oily, and some shouldn’t be. Either way, I’ll tell you all you need to know about oil in curry and even show you how to remove it if you don’t like it! Here’s a quick guide to curry oil and why it’s a good (and not so good) thing.
Is Curry Meant to Be Oily?
Generally speaking, curry is a naturally oily dish. Chefs use a variety of fats (also known as oils) to cook food. There are also oils inherent in the ingredients in the recipe. Some people actively pursue an oily layer on top of their curry, while other health-conscious individuals try and avoid it.
The truth is that curry nearly always involves a little oil in one form or another. If this occurs as a natural part of the cooking process, then there is little you can do to avoid it. However, you can take steps to reduce the amount of oil in your Indian dishes.
Read on to find out which oils feature most predominantly in Indian cooking and how you can reduce or avoid them altogether!
Why are Indian Curries So Oily?
If you’ve read any of my articles on BIR cooking, you’ll already know that most curries are fried. Oil is necessary in curry for several reasons: -
- It stops ingredients from sticking to the pan
- It ensures that food is evenly cooked
- It is a great carrier of other flavours, such as Indian spices
- It forms a good base to make curry paste from curry powder
- Oil can be heated to greater than 100°C, ensuring browning (instead of boiling)
- It adds richness to a curry
- It tastes really nice (especially if you use seasoned oil)
- Most curries are made with BIR base gravy. A sort of onion spiced gravy made with heaps of oil
- Many curries contain dairy. Dairy has naturally occurring fats that separate during cooking.
The vast majority of curry dishes are also meat-based. Unless you are using a lean meat like chicken, there is a good chance that fats and oils will be released from the meat while cooking. This further adds to the oil in curry.
Which Oils Are Used in Indian Cooking? 5 Types of Oil You May Encounter
There are lots of different oils used in Indian cooking. Here is a list of the most commonly used oils found in curry: -
Vegetable oil is the most extensively used oil in Indian curry dishes. It is cheap, easy to source, and relatively neutral in flavour. Visit any Indian takeaway kitchen, and you’ll no doubt find a huge bucket of oil ready to be used for cooking curry.
But wait, there’s more…
You’ll often see that Indian chefs use seasoned oil.
What is ‘seasoned oil’ in Indian curry?
Oh, only one of Indian takeaway’s best kept secrets. In short, it is ‘old’ oil used to fry hundreds of bhajis and other Indian delights. As I said above, oil is an excellent carrier of flavour, and seasoned oil is packed full of goodness.
If you want to read more about seasoned oil, check out my complete guide here.
It is heated, and the butter solids are removed, leaving behind a rich and tasty oil. Ghee has a lower smoke point than oil, so it can’t be used for extremely high temperatures.
It is fabulous to impart both richness and flavour to Indian dishes.
Nuts and nut butter feature in a great many curries. It also so happens that nuts are one of the highest in fats, so it stands to reason that these fats make their way into your favourite takeaway.
The good news is that they aren’t used in all curries, so if you are trying to avoid oily curry, there are options to avoid it.
You won’t tend to find mustard oil used in many takeaway dishes.
It might feature heavily if you happen to have a properly authentic Indian meal (especially in Northern India). Because of how it is extracted, mustard oil has a particularly strong taste.
You can’t fail to have noticed the proliferation of coconut oil in most shops in recent years. Coconut oil is hailed as one of those ‘superfoods’ apparently has numerous health benefits.
It’s also gone down in price quite a lot.
Coconut oil adds richness and, depending on the brand, also has an underlying coconut flavour (go figure). This makes it a great oil to use for nutty and sweet curries.
Is Too Much Oil in Curry a Bad Thing?
Listen, I’ll be completely honest.
Or, to put it another way.
All oils are calorie-dense.
If you are trying to keep your calorific intake down or have health concerns regarding your diet, you should know that all oils are high in calories. And, you probably want to avoid them in curry if that’s your main concern.
On the other hand.
Most curries are supposed to be oily. In fact, many people don’t feel like they have ‘had a curry’ unless the top is practically swimming in a thick layer of spicy, red, flavoursome oil.
Guess which I prefer?
That’s right, the latter.
If you’ve made a curry and have achieved oil separation in Indian Cooking, congratulations! Many would consider you to have reached curry nirvana and achieved a surefire sign of authenticity in your Indian dishes.
So, tuck in, and worry about the calories later.
Which Indian Dishes are the Oiliest?
Whether you are seeking to avoid an oily curry. Or, alternatively, love a pool that you could practically dive into swimming on top of your dish. Here is a quick list of the oiliest Indian curries around: -
- Bhuna – A thick curry sauce that is famed for its oily consistency
- Dopiaza – A dish strong in onions that are fried in oil before the addition of even more fried onions
- Butter Chicken – The clue is in the name. Butter chicken has fat as its base (butter, obviously), so don’t expect this one to be fat-free!
- Daal Tadka – A lentil based curry. On its own, it isn’t too oily; however, it is normally served with an oil ‘temper’, a thick layer of oil with fried garlic and seeds.
- Any ‘Dark’ Meat Based Curry – Lamb and beef are full of fats. Sure, these are tasty, but they also dissolve and make their way into your curry, adding to the oiliness.
Are Any Curries Without Oil?
There are plenty of curries that are oil-free. Go for ‘drier’ curries or those that are more along the lines of mild or sweet. You could also go for an Indian dish with no sauce, such as a nice tandoori. Here are some other curries that you could consider choosing if you are trying to avoid oil: -
Keema muttar is minced meat combined with peas and cooked into a thick curry. It isn’t particularly saucy and is relatively low on oil. This is one of the ‘drier’ curries on most menus. You get all of the taste with far less oil.
Masala Style Dishes
Most masala dishes are made with a creamy element. Being milder curries, everything about them is toned down, including strong spices and, of course, oil.
Pathia is a little hotter. However, it is also quite sweet. King prawns are a popular choice in Pathia curries. This tasty seafood is really low in saturated fats, meaning there will also be less oil in your dish.
Ok, I know.
Lamb is a little higher in fat than most other meats.
Lamb tikka is completely free of sauce. Chunks of marinated lamb are grilled, meaning most fat drains away, leaving you with juicy chunks of meat packed with flavour.
If you’ve read my article on jalfrezi, you’ll know that it is more of a stir-fry than a curry. As a result, it doesn’t feature too much sauce or base gravy.
It has less oil.
This dish is packed with a curry taste without all of that oil swimming on the top.
What Do I Do if My Curry is Too Oily? |6 Curry Oil Removal Solutions
Got a curry that is too oily? Don’t worry, there is a solution. Here are 7 great tricks to reduce the oil in your curry quickly and easily. Most of them can be done post-cooking too!
1. The Spoon Method
This might seem a little obvious, but you can actually ‘skim’ the oil off the top of your curry.
Here’s how to do it.
Take a large shallow spoon, and, with your curry off the heat, gently lower your spoon into the areas with the most oil. Submerge the spoon until it only just sits below the layer of the oil. (Carefully) lift it back up, discard the oil and repeat until you start catching sauce.
See? I told you it was easy.
2. The Fridge Method
If the above seems too much effort, let science come to the rescue!
If you don’t need your curry right away, let it cool to a reasonable temperature and place it to chill in the fridge. Oil floats on top of most liquids, and it will rise to the top of your pan or dish. As it cools in the fridge, it will harden and solidify. From there, all you need to do is pick the hardened fat from the top of the dish before reheating.
3. The Ice Cube Method
The fridge method is kind of slow, right?
Here’s a quicker way to achieve the same effect.
Take a few ice cubes and place them in the bowl of a metal spoon. Quickly ‘dip’ it into the pooled oil. The oil will almost immediately harden around the bse of the spoon and can be removed easily. Repeat this process until there is no more oil present on the spoon.
Here’s a quick video showing how effective it can be. It isn’t Indian food, but the concept still applies.
4. The Paper Towel Oil Removal Method
I love this method because it works either when you are cooking at home or out in an Indian restaurant (mind the tablecloth!)
Paper towels and napkins are absorbent, and oil soaks into the fibres much quicker than water. You can use this fact to your advantage. Simply fold your paper towel into a strip and gently rest it on top of the layer of oil. Allow it to drink up the oil, repeat as necessary.
Why fold it?
Because, quite simply, it increases absorbency (and makes it easy to handle).
This is similar to the spoon method, except the oil is held in the towel instead of the spoon. Be prepared to use several sheets!
5. The Potato Method
Potatoes soak up most things as they cook, and yes, this does include oil. If you are cooking curry and start to suspect it might turn a bit oily, throw in a few peeled potatoes. They act like little sponges for oil.
Either discard them or eat them!
6. The Flour Dough Ball Method
No potatoes? No problem.
Ever noticed how dumplings in stew swell up and expand as they cook? This is because flour is full of starch and gluten.
And here’s the thing.
Starch and gluten love drinking up oil. Simply mix flour with water until you have a stiff dough and drop a tennis ball-sized lump into your curry to soak up that excess oil!
Remove before serving your curry!
Should curry be oily? Love it or hate it, oil is an inherent part of Indian cuisine. So, you have two options, embrace it or try and remove it. The above article should give you plenty of ideas, regardless of your preference. Want to be in complete control of your curry? Why not make it yourself? You’ll find my expert all in one guide to British Indian cooking right here.