Want to know the best way to get a professional result when it comes to cooking curry? Simple. Copy the professionals. Today, I will share a few curry secrets with you that I've picked up from authentic Indian takeaway kitchens. Here's what you need to do.
The secret to cooking a good curry is to use authentic ingredients, adapt your cooking style to match those you'd find in an actual Indian takeaway kitchen and try your best to source and follow an authentic BIR recipe. Provided you follow this general advice, you'll get a good result.
How Do I Make My Curry Taste Like a Takeaway?
To make your curry taste like a takeaway, you will need to adopt a 'BIR' cooking style. This stands for 'British Indian Restaurant'. BIR style generally consists of frying a spice mix in oil specific to a curry, adding meat, then adding base gravy to finish the dish and make it saucy.
It shouldn't be surprising that Indian takeaways and restaurants cook curry really quickly. Any recipe that has you simmering curry for hours likely isn't going to be too authentic.
Spices play a pivotal role in creating authentic tasting curry. Most restaurant chefs will have their own unique spice blend for each curry that they quickly assemble straight in the pan from scratch. Indian takeaways will rarely use shop-bought pre-assembled spice mixes. Instead, they use singular spices together to create each dish as it is ordered.
The good news?
Here's a bonus secret to good curry…
Here's 11 secrets to making a good curry...
1. Use the Same Equipment that Indian Chefs Use
You don't need any fancy equipment to make an authentic Indian curry. You may be surprised to learn that most Indian takeaways use very cheap frying pans. There is nothing non-stick or hi-tech. A simple aluminium or steel pan is all you need.
If I had to pick one piece of equipment that would yield the most successful result in making a good curry, a frying pan similar to those that the professionals use would be it.
2. Prepare Your Ingredients in Advance
Getting all of your ingredients prepped is vital for cooking a good curry. If you ever watch an authentic Indian chef at work, they have everything to hand, ready to throw into the pan at a moment's notice.
Here's a quick video showing you exactly what it looks like.
Copy this style.
You'll need your onions chopped, your spice mixes ready assembled, your meat prepped (and maybe even marinated), and everything assembled and ready to go.
This is advantageous as it means you can concentrate on one thing and nothing else.
Cooking the curry.
3. Heat Your Base Gravy
Heating your base gravy in advance is vitally important and is exactly what the professionals do.
Visit any Indian takeaway, and there will be a large pot of base gravy bubbling away constantly.
Why is heating your BIR base gravy so important?
You will add this during the latter stages of the cooking process. To make a good curry, you have to cook quickly. Generally, you are going to fry, not boil, your curry. Adding cold base gravy to the pan will effectively cool the pan, halting the cooking process.
By having your base gravy already simmering, it continues cooking the ingredients as soon as you add it to the pan. Not only does this save time, but it produces a much more authentic tasting curry.
4. Dilute Your Tomato Puree
Often you will hear recipes calling for 1 tablespoon of tomato puree. BIR curry cooks will always dilute their tomato puree before adding it to the recipe.
Tomato puree in its rawest form isn't going to make your curry taste good. It is going to make it taste tangy and acidic. By diluting it, you allow it to cook in the pan without burning. This releases a tomatoey sweetness that you can't get any other way.
If you haven't seen this technique before, I've got you covered. Here's my complete guide to using tomato puree in BIR cooking.
5. Use Your Own Spice Blends
We'd advise assembling your own curry powders to use in your curry recipes if it is practical. This is exactly how authentic Indian chefs do it.
They don't use premade 'korma' powder or 'madras'. Instead, they add a small spoonful of each different spice to make a greater whole. They'll often do this in the frying pan they are cooking the curry in!
The benefits of using your own curry spice blends are numerous.
You are firmly in control of exactly how your curry will taste. And, because you know exactly what has gone into the pan, you will have a pretty good idea of what needs to be 'tweaked' to give an optimal result.
6. Use Precooked Meat
Indian takeaways rarely cook the meat in each curry from scratch when a dish is ordered.
Instead, they will use pre-cooked meat.
Remember, takeaway curries are cooked really quickly, and they don't have time to be browning chicken or simmering lamb until tender.
They cook huge portions of meat in advance and then store it! This reduces cooking time.
And there is another advantage…
Pre-cooking meat also adds lots of flavours. The meats used in your favourite takeaway curry isn't just simply fried. They tend to be poached in a spicy broth until tender. This makes them really juicy and also infuses them with subtle Indian flavours.
7. Use Plenty of Oil
There is nothing nicer than being presented with a spicy bowl of curry that is covered in a layer of tasty oil…
That oil doesn't get there by magic.
It's added. On purpose.
Bad for your waistline? Maybe. Rich and Tasty? Absolutely!
Don't skimp on the oil when it comes to cooking curry. I normally use at least a tablespoon of vegetable oil (or sometimes ghee).
If you have made onion bhajis, be sure to save the oil that you fried them in. This stuff is like liquid gold when it comes to making a good curry. The oil gets infused with a smoky onion flavour that will take a curry to the next level.
If you ever see a BIR recipe referring to 'seasoned oil', this is exactly what they are referring to.
If all that oil has left you feeling a bit out of shape, you might want to take a look at my article on healthy curries here.
8. Don't Overcook Your Garlic
Here's a great secret to getting nice tasting curry. Don't overcook your garlic. At high temperatures, you should be frying garlic paste for no longer than a minute.
Garlic paste is delicious, but it does burn quickly. If you burn the garlic, you'll know about it, as it tastes really bitter and is not pleasant at all. As a general rule, you will want your garlic to be a pale golden colour once it is in the pan.
9. Cook Over High Heat
Speaking of high temperatures, cooking over high heat is an important secret to a good curry.
Remember what I said above? Your aim should be to fry your curry, more than boil or simmer it.
Curries cooked in Indian takeaways are cooked in a style that is much more similar to stir fry than a stew (in fact, Jalfrezi literally translates to hot-fry). The key to this is to cook over a really high temperature.
Commercial hobs are much fiercer than what you will find at home, so to match their efficiency, I suggest letting your pan pre-heat over a full flame for at least a couple of minutes.
10. Understand How to 'Work' Curry Flavour
One of the secrets to making good curry is knowing which flavours and ingredients do what within the dish.
Want some help?
Here's a quick and easy guide to show you what to add to highlight or remove certain elements in your curry: -
Curry Too Spicy?
My Curry is Too Mild!
There are some really effective techniques to make a curry hotter. Namely, adding chilli, either fresh or chilli powder, works really well (some might say too well). There are other ways to turn your curry up without going overboard.
Why Does My Curry Taste Tangy?
This is normally a result of not diluting your tomato puree. Luckily there is a really quick fix. Adding a teaspoon of sugar goes a long way to reducing the acidity of tomatoes. This works in all dishes, too, not just curry.
Adding Depth to a Curry
Here's a real secret that I guarantee you aren't going to read anywhere else. You've read the usual 'add salt' without success…
Do this instead.
Add a teaspoon or so of lime pickle to your curry. Mango chutney can also work well. Both add a real depth of flavour and seem to make the taste 'pop'. Give it a go. It really works!
Adding Sweetness to Curry
There is no magic when it comes to making a curry taste sweeter. A teaspoon of sugar will work wonders, but you could also consider adding honey. As with my above suggestion, mango chutney also works really well.
My Curry is Too Rich
If you've gone overboard on the cream or sweet elements, then your curry might be a little too cloying and rich. Don't worry, here's what to do. Add about half a squeeze of lemon to your curry. This should take the edge off and neutralize some of the richness.
11. Add a Garnish
Sometimes, the little things count, and they will nearly always add some sort of garnish in BIR restaurants.
The best ingredient to use is a small sprinkling of freshly chopped coriander. This works with practically any curry. Not only does it taste great, but it will make your dish look super fancy too!
A small swirl of double cream with tomato-based dishes can also make your curry look (and taste) really special.
What's the Secret to a Good Curry? Final Thoughts
The truth is that there is no 'one' secret to making a good curry. In fact, it is a lot of small little 'tweaks' that all add up to a greater whole. Use the right pan, cook over high heat and pay attention to your ingredients, and you won't go far wrong. Now that you've got all this knowledge, how will you put it to good use? Why not head over to my guides on cooking curry and see if you can find a great BIR recipe?