Curry is tasty but not everyone can understand and cook it properly. Especially when you didn't grow up with the original flavors and meal textures. A British favourite, this food is a delight and a challenge for chefs. Dan Toombs, aka The Curry Guy, dedicates most of his professional time to explore this delicious meal. His latest book, available at Watersones, treats extensively about it, and he promises it is not his last. In an interview for Boiled Words he shared some of his thoughts and love for this exquisite dish. You can follow him on Twitter as (predictably) @TheCurryGuy or you can read more about his adventures on his blog.
How did your love for curry start?
I grew up in California and loved Mexican food. I cooked it all the time so cooking with different spices and chillies has always been something I enjoyed. When I moved to the UK, I was introduced to Indian food. It was new and exciting. I had to learn how to cook it. I liked it because so many of the spices and chillies that are used in Mexican food are also used in Indian food. It was so different to me but also strangely familiar.
What is your favorite curry recipe?
My favourite curry changes all the time. I’ve learned and developed so many recipes since starting my blog so I’m always finding new curries I really like. My current favourite is lamb nihari which is in my cookbook. I make it all the time for dinner guests. I love the spice mixture and the lamb shank meat that is fall off the bone tender.
At what extent the original curry recipes were adapted to the Western tastes? For instance, while traveling on Thailand, I noticed how different the original Thai food is from the usual meals labelled as such served in European restaurants...
The origin of curry house style food as we know it in the UK dates back to the late 40s when many immigrants from the Indian subcontinent purchased bombed out fish and chip shops after at the end of WW2. They served mainly British food but also began serving Indian inspired dishes to other immigrants. Spices were difficult and expensive to come by so often a curry might just be a beef stew with some curry powder stirred in. This ‘Indian’ food began to catch on with some of the general public.
In the 60s, 70s and 80s, restauranteurs began catering to the after pub crowd. The pubs had to close at 11pm, but at restaurants where food was being served, people could continue drinking. Going out for a curry after the pub closed became the thing to do, more for the drink than the food but the food did begin to catch on. With more and more people going out for a curry after the pub, restaurateurs needed to develop a way of serving people quickly and cheaply. They tailored recipes to the British taste cooking meat off the bone and using a lot of sauce. They developed a base curry sauce which was used in almost every curry from mild korma to the spiciest phaal. These recipes were passed down from chef to chef which helped standardize the recipes. This is why if you order a chicken korma in Edinburgh or London, you have a good idea what your curry will look and taste like.
What was the most challenging part of writing this cookbook?
I think it was trying to make all the essential preparation for cooking curry house style curries, both interesting and something people would want to try. The only way to match the flavour and texture of a British curry house curry is to prepare a base curry sauce. It is one of the things that make British curries different to what you would be served in the Indian subcontinent. The sauce is bland like a chicken stock but it can be used in so many different curries. Also the idea of pre-cooking meats and vegetables can seem like one step too far for some, but it must be done to get that flavour and ensure you can cook curries quickly and easily just like the chefs do at your local curry house.
What are your next plans as a chef?
I am currently writing my second cookbook. It will be published by Quadrille Publishing in May 2018. The working title is ‘Curry Guy Easy’ though that might change. The book featured over one hundred more curry house style recipes. Curry house cooking was developed for ease, efficiency and economy so it has been a bit of a challenge making the recipes even easier to make while not compromising flavour. I think I’ve done it.