Hey there curry lovers. A question I get asked loads is which curry is the most authentic? Well, today you are in for a treat, as I will share the secret recipe for 'Staff Curry'. This is a dish made in the authentic style by cooks in Indian restaurants at home. It is spicy and extremely tasty and well worth the effort. Here is everything you need to know about staff curry and how to make it.
What is Staff Curry?
Staff curry is a Desi style dish that the staff in Indian curry restaurants often make for themselves, both at home and at work! Hence the "staff" in "staff curry". It is a fiery dish, normally made with meat, heaps of onions, tomatoes and loads of Indian spices. It isn't one for the faint-hearted!
However, if you want something a little different and very special, it could be an ideal choice. There aren't that many people who know, or have heard of, 'staff curry', so it is a little bit exclusive. The good news is that you can make it at home.
Here's everything you need to know about staff curry, along with a recipe on how to make it…
What Ingredients are in Staff Curry?
Staff curry is absolutely jam-packed with flavour.
But there is a disclaimer…
Unlike some of the other BIR curry recipes, staff curry does take a little time to prepare. However, the end result is well worth it! The list of ingredients is a little more substantial than normal, but with big taste, big effort. Here's a quick rundown of what you'll usually find in staff curry:-
There's no getting away from it. Staff curry is oily. This recipe contains both oil and ghee. You'll tend to find that truly authentic home-cooked Indian dishes use a lot of oil.
And I need to be honest.
It isn't the healthiest curry.
It is absolutely necessary. Unlike when you make BIR curry and use base gravy, the oil (along with juices released from other ingredients) will form the base of your sauce.
For me, onions are what make a curry. And there are loads of onions in this dish. Aside from onions, the only other veg is tomatoes.
This curry is cooked down over an extended period of time, meaning that the onions soften, break down and contribute to the wonderfully thick gravy. Don't worry about it being too overpowering. The onions actually add a little sweetness and make this super delicious.
Lots of Spices
Right, are you ready for this?
When I said Staff curry is full of tasty spices, I really meant it. It is quite the shopping list. Fortunately, there are no surprises. If you already have a decent collection of Indian spices, you'll definitely already have everything you need. Here's a quick rundown of some typical spices that go into staff curry: -
Cumin adds a sweet and smoky taste to the dish, along with a mild heat. I prefer to use cumin seeds in this recipe. They are one of the first things to go in. When they toast in the oil, they release beautiful aromas and flavours.
Fennel has anise notes and is slightly citrusy too. Again, I prefer to use fennel seeds instead of fennel powder.
Mustard seeds are actually relatively mild in taste. They will add a slightly savoury and nutty depth to the dish.
A couple of lightly bruised cardamom pods will have your kitchen (and your curry) smelling divine. If you can find them, it is well worth fishing them out before the end, or you'll end up with a bitter taste if you happen to eat one!
If you ever wanted to know where curry gets its golden colour from (and what stains your carpet), turmeric is the most likely candidate. Turmeric is a really mild spice packed full of good things!
Tandoori masala adds vibrant red colour to your curry, along with a sweet and savoury flavour that is packed full of Indian goodness! Tandoori curries are amazing in their own right, but they take it to the next level when combined with the other spices!
Garam masala simply means "hot spice mix". It normally contains a range of other spices (some of which you've already seen above. With elements of mace, star anise, cumin and a slight sweetness, this is one that you will definitely need!
Mixed Curry Powder
- You can use any store-bought curry powder, but to make truly authentic staff curry, you will want to use Indian mix powder…
- Never heard of it?
- Don't worry. Here's a detailed guide on how to make it!
It should come as no surprise, but as staff curry is so-called because it is made and eaten by Indian chefs, it is a pretty fiery customer. It contains a lot of freshly chopped chilli!
As if freshly chopped chilli wasn't enough, we add further heat with chilli powder. The chilli powder will give your curry a really vibrant red/brown colour. If you want to tone it down a bit, have a check of my hints and tips for cooking staff curry below.
Garlic and Ginger
No curry would be complete with a good helping of garlic and ginger. Garlic and ginger paste is so easy to make! I like to add this early on before adding other ingredients soon after to ensure that it doesn't burn!
I find tinned tomatoes are so much easier. While I love a fresh tomato, with the extensive list of ingredients in staff curry, you will want to save time cooking curry wherever you can.
Chicken is a solid choice, especially for staff curry. Most chefs tend to use it because it cooks relatively quickly and stays tender.
If you want to use lamb or beef, go right ahead; however, it is well worth using either pre-cooked beef or lamb if you go down this route.
You'll find most authentic Indian curries are actually prepared on the bone. For this reason, staff curry uses chicken thighs instead of breast meat.
What Does Staff Curry Taste Like?
Staff curry is quite spicy and different from what you would likely taste at an Indian takeaway. It is a hot and fiery dish; however, it is not as fierce as vindaloo or phaal. The overwhelming taste is one of the strong Indian spices.
The flavour profile is strong in savoury onion taste, with a thick and dark gravy laden with 'curry' tastes of cumin, garlic and ginger, all undercut with heaps of spices like spices garam tandoori masala, in a rich and slightly thick sauce.
There is also a slightly acidic note created by the inclusion of the tomatoes. Think of it a little like a madras, but on steroids.
How Spicy is Staff Curry?
Staff curry is very spicy. On a scale of 1 – 10 where '10' is unbearably hot, staff curry will sit firmly in the region of an '8'. That's about the same spice level as a good madras. Staff curry is definitely one to go for if you love chilli, but if you prefer milder curry, I'd avoid it!
Whether you are looking to order it or make it for yourself, it can be toned down. This curry's primary heat causing element comes from copious amounts of both fresh and powdered chilli. Remove this, and it is actually quite mild.
Can You Make Staff Curry at Home?
You absolutely can make staff curry at home! If you've ever cooked before and can make a stew or stir fry, making authentic staff curry at home is easily achievable. In fact, some would even argue that you'll save time over more traditional curry house dishes as you won't have to prepare things such as the base gravy and the meat (if you are using chicken).
Speaking of which…
Which Meat to Use in Staff Curry?
Chicken is the best choice to use in staff curry. It cooks quickly, is tender even when cooked for (relatively) short periods, and is one of the best all-around meats for the curry. Why wouldn't you want to include it?
As I've just said, one of the main reasons people want to make staff curry at home is because it is super easy. To cook any type of red meat, you will need to cook your curry low and slow…
So, let me save you the effort. Sure, you can reach for the beef or lamb when you've had a practice and know what you are doing. But, for now, keep it simple and use chicken.
How to Make Staff Curry
Ok, folks, you know all about it, and now you want to know how to make staff curry. Here's my 100% authentic staff curry recipe. Give it a go! It's great for Indian dinner parties.
Staff Curry Recipe
- Prep Time: 10 Minutes
- Cooking Time: 60 minutes
- Calories: 580 Calories per portion
- Servings: 4
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 2 cardamom pods, lightly bruised
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 small pinch of fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon ghee
- 2 large onions sliced
- 1 tablespoon garlic and ginger paste
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- 5 fresh green finger chillies, chopped
- 1 tablespoon red chilli powder
- 1 tablespoon tandoori masala
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 1 tablespoon mix powder
- 1 tin tomatoes
- 1 cup water
- 12 chicken thighs (or 4 chicken breasts)
- Chopped fresh coriander.
- Take a large pan and place over medium to high heat. Add the oil and heat until it begins to shimmer. Once the oil is hot, add the cardamom, cumin seeds and fennel seeds. Fry for around 30 seconds
- Add the ghee to the oil, and then go straight in with your onions. Stir and turn until the onions begin to go translucent and soft. As soon as they begin to turn golden, add your garlic and ginger paste. Fry and stir for another minute.
- Now for the spice and heat. Add the turmeric, chilli's (both fresh and powdered), tandoori masala, garam masala and mix powder. Stir into the soft onions. The mixture should thicken and turn really fragrant. Fry for around 2 minutes until the spices darken slightly.
- Add your can of tomatoes, along with a cupful of water, stir until the entire pan is well mixed. Allow the sauce to come up to a gentle bubble.
- Add your chicken thighs to the pan and stir to ensure they are entirely covered by the sauce. Turn the heat down to medium/low, pop a lid on, and slowly simmer for around 50 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
- Add a handful of freshly chopped coriander, stir and serve in bowls or curry dishes alongside your favourite Indian side dishes!
Making Staff Curry | Hints and Tips
I've made staff curry plenty of times and have developed a few little tricks that make it even easier. Here's what you need to know: -
- Get all of your spices ready beforehand. I like to take two small bowls and make up the following mix, for easy addition to my staff curry
- Bowl 1: - Cardamom, cumin and fennel seeds
- Bowl 2: - Turmeric, chopped chilli, fresh chilli, tandoori masala, garam masala, and mix powder.
- Combining both spice mixtures during the preparation phase saves time and effort later on.
Chicken breast is great. Thighs are better. Chicken thighs are higher in fat content, meaning they stay super juicy. If the idea of bones in your curry isn't appealing, just debone your thighs before cooking. The authentic way to prepare this curry is on the bone, and I never saw chefs make staff curry with chicken breast.
Feel free to experiment with the spices. I've based by staff curry recipe off what the chefs used to make where I worked, but it goes without saying that each curry house has its own version of what it calls 'staff curry'. They tweak to get the best taste for them, and so should you!
Tone down the heat. One of the beautiful things about staff curry is that it is easily adapted to suit your taste. If you want next to no heat, remove the chilli completely. If you want all of the colour and taste without the spice, why not give Kashmiri chilli powder a go? You can read more about it here.
Use a big pan. There are plenty of ingredients in this dish, and while they reduce, you still need room to stir. I'd advise using a large stockpot or saucepan. This isn't one you can make in a curry frying pan
Smaller servings? This recipe is entirely scalable. If you want to make half the amount, simply half all of the ingredients.
Staff curry is a little bit special. It isn't made in the traditional BIR style, and it tends to be a little hotter than the standard takeaway fayre. Don't be put off by how much longer it takes to cook or the substantial list of ingredients. Once you've tried it once, you'll be making it or ordering it again and again. Need some curry inspiration? Why not head over to my curry picker, where I've done the hard work for you?
What about salt?