The classic British curries

The classic British curries

Dan Toombs
18 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing

I hope you enjoy making these classic curries as much as I do. Here you will find recipes for the most popular versions, but you can add whatever you like to the individual sauces. You can substitute different vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood and paneer, just like when you dine out at your favourite Indian restaurant.

There are no rules. If you fancy a naga goat korma, then add some pre-cooked goat tikka and naga chillies to the korma sauce. If you want crunchy vegetables in your chicken chilli garlic, sauté your vegetables of choice in the hot oil before adding the other ingredients, like I do in the jalfrezi sauce, or add some pre-cooked vegetables at the end of cooking. The possibilities are endless and it can be fun to experiment. Here is a list of tips for adding each:

Adding red meat and poultry

All of the classic curry recipes have been developed so that you can cook and serve your finished curry in about 10 minutes. To do this, you can choose from the pre-cooked tandoori or stewed meat and poultry recipes I’ve included in the book. You aren’t limited to these, though. You could add leftover pieces of meat or roast potatoes from Sunday dinner. Leftovers never tasted so good! You could even add the meat or poultry raw. Chicken cooks through quite quickly, but if using raw red meat, be prepared to add some more water or base curry sauce and let the sauce simmer until the meat is tender.

Adding seafood

Seafood cooks in no time. Simply add it raw to the simmering sauce and let it cook through. You can add full fillets of fish or tikka (bite-sized pieces), whatever you fancy. If adding as tikka, I recommend using meatier fish such as cod and halibut. Marinated raw and grilled tandoori prawns could also be added, which taste amazing.

Adding paneer

Paneer heats through in a sauce fast. Be careful not to overcook it as it tends to disintegrate. I recommend adding it just before serving the curry; 2 minutes in the hot sauce should do the job. I have included a recipe for pan-fried paneer which will keep its form better in the sauce.

Adding vegetables

Vegetables can be added in a number of ways. In the jalfrezi recipe, for example, they are quickly fried when you start making the sauce. If you are cooking for a large group of veggie fanatics, you might like to try my pre-cooked vegetable recipe which will speed things up. Grilled, fried and steamed vegetables are also nice in the sauces. Just add them to the sauce right before serving so that you don’t over-cook them.

Planning ahead

Whether you are making just one of these curries or several, it is a good idea to get all the ingredients for each curry ready. I group the ingredients for each curry so that I have them at the ready before cooking. These curries are cooked fast over a high heat so you don’t want to be looking for an ingredient or chopping onions once you get stuck in!

Adding base curry sauce and stock

The amount of base curry sauce and stock added in the following recipes is exactly as the measures I use at home. You may need to experiment. If you prefer a thicker sauce, let the base sauce and stock reduce. If you prefer more sauce or stock, add it and adjust seasoning accordingly. You really can’t go wrong.

Balti, karahi and haandi

I receive so many requests for balti, karahi and haandi recipes, mainly due to people having a favourite dish at their local Indian restaurant that includes one of these titles. The thing is, the reference to balti, karahi and haandi is not about the ingredients used but the style of pan in which the ingredients are supposedly cooked, as well as how they are cooked. I say supposedly because this isn’t always the case.

I think it is a good idea here to explain what the differences are between the different pans, followed by a couple of recipes that are best cooked in them.

Karahi pan

An authentic karahi is a deep-sided, cast-iron pan used in Pakistan and other parts of the subcontinent for slow-cooking and stir-frying. It looks a lot like a wok with handles. Nowadays, they are also made of steel, aluminium and non-stick materials, but personally I think these don’t compare to the original – and still most popular – heavy cast-iron pans. Karahis are available from small one-serving pans right up to pans that are large enough to prepare a curry for over fifty people.

Haandi pan

Haandi pans can be used in the same way as a karahi. They have a rounded, heavy base like a wok so that meat and vegetables can be cooked for long periods of time without catching on the base, just like a karahi. Haandis are different in shape to karahis in that they are narrow in the centre and then have a wide mouth at the top.

Some haandis have lids, making them perfect for steaming rice as well as slow-cooking amazing curries. They are manufactured in many different metals and also clay. Haandis, like karahis, are also available as large and more decorative small pans used in many curry houses for presentation.

Balti pan

Balti was invented in Birmingham. I know there are those who say that balti cooking comes from Baltistan or that balti pans are really only small karahis, but that simply isn’t the case.

I spent a few days visiting Birmingham’s Balti Triangle with my friend and respected balti historian Andy Munro. Andy grew up there in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, long before it was called the Balti Triangle – in fact, he claims he coined the now famous phrase for the area. Few people know balti like Andy.

There are many well-known Balti Triangle restaurateurs who were influential in the balti craze of the 1980s. Through Munro’s meticulous research, however, he believes that one man is responsible for the balti-style pan and how baltis were – and in a few restaurants still are – served in the authentic style.

Mohammed Arif was the owner of long-established Adil’s on Stoney Lane. He had substantial experience from several of Birmingham’s Indian restaurants and knew how much ‘Brummies’ loved a good curry. In the late 1970s, Pakistani restaurants were attracting only the local Pakistani community, and Arif wanted to get the much larger population of Birmingham curry fans to Adil’s.

One-pot cooking was popular in Pakistan as it made it possible to serve large groups of people. Slow-cooked curries would be prepared, usually with meat on the bone, and simmered in stock and spices until the meat was falling off the bone into the succulent sauce.

Arif wanted to bring this style of cooking to the greater population, but understood that most ‘Western’ curry fans wouldn’t be prepared to wait an hour or longer to be served. He needed small single serving pans capable of heating up faster than cast-iron karahis.

At the time, the Birmingham area still had a substantial metal-bashing industry and Arif started searching for a company that could help him with his idea. He found Pressform, a company run by a Sikh by the name of Tara Singh. Arif asked if Singh could design a one-serving pan that looked like a karahi but was made out of thin, pressed steel, with a flat bottom rather than the rounded base of a karahi. This had the added benefit of heating up faster than cast iron. These balti pans had a matte-steel finish, which quickly turned their trademark black colour over the fierce heat of the flame.

Pressform is no longer in business, and with it went the only manufacturer of authentic British balti pans. There are copies made in India but restaurants complain that they are not the same quality. There are plans to have them manufactured once again in Birmingham.

The balti caught on fast in the early 1980s. It was new and fun. There was something pleasantly social about going out for a balti with friends and family, having the baltis served in the same intensely hot pans they were cooked in and then mopping it all up with a huge naan that was shared around the table.

So why is it called balti? There is a lot of speculation, but in Munro’s opinion, after speaking with Arif and many other Balti Triangle restaurateurs, the answer is quite simple and believable. Pakistani restaurateurs at the time understood that chicken tikka masala and chicken biryani were the most common curries in British curry houses and the extent of most people’s Indian cuisine vocabulary. They felt that describing the dish as a karahi was deceptive as it was not karahi-style cooking so much as the pan looked like a karahi. They also believed that the word karahi wasn’t the catchiest or easiest word to pronounce. Balti in Hindi means bucket, and the word was already being used by many Pakistanis to describe a container that held food for weddings. Balti just seemed to slip off the tongue. It was catchy and, as we all now know, it caught on in a big way.

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