"Spiciness isn't the be-all of Indian cooking"

Aug 10, 2013, 01:31 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Curryheads can celebrate over celebrity chef Rick Stein's latest offing, In Search of the Perfect Curry that includes its intriguing versions as well as other culinary delights sourced from kitchens across the country. He tells Fiona Fernandez about the A, B and C of Indian curries and why the Lamb Pulao was the toughest to recreate

Could you explain a bit as to why you mention that curry is a word to broadly describe all the cooking of the Indian subcontinent?
In the UK, we need a word, which broadly describes the hot and spicy food of the Indian subcontinent, and curry it is.

Sweet and Tangy Potato Shreds
Sweet and Tangy Potato Shreds

How did the curry become Britain’s favourite dish?
The problem with British cookery is that for it to be successful the ingredients all have to be first class to enjoy the delicacies of flavour that then are apparent but sometimes, we just want something more assertive, more colourful and tastier, which Indian food is. But I don’t mean that spice blankets the flavours of good vegetables or meat. Western people who say that fish curry is a waste of good fish don’t understand how it works.

Cod Curry (Meen Kulambu)
Cod Curry (Meen Kulambu)

Which regions on your Indian trail would you revisit to indulge in a curry, and why?
I’d go back everywhere; all the time, I was picking up new flavours and would love to go back to revisit all those wonderful new dishes.

While collating the recipes in this book, which were the most challenging to decipher and recreate? Why?
By far, the most difficult was the Lamb Pulao in Lucknow. There were so many confusing stages to the pulao at Idris Restaurant that none but a family member could know just how it was made. Nevertheless, I am very pleased with my version.

Rocky's Chicken Korma
Rocky’s Chicken Korma. Pics courtesy/ James Murphy

Which Indian region/city/town endeared you with its love for food and cooking?
Everywhere you go in India everyone loves the food of his or her region. But I particularly noticed the massive enthusiasm for local cooking in Punjab.

How would you sell the spiciest Indian curry in this book to a Briton?
There is a bit of a fashion amongst young men in England to eat the spiciest curries anyway. So, I am keener to point out that spiciness is not the
be-all and end-all of Indian cooking.

Madras fish curry of snapper, tomato and tamarind
I have written at some length in the main introduction about finding this curry, which I have nominated as my favourite. I’ve used the same fish it was cooked with on that day in Mamallapuram snapper but in the UK I recommend using any of the following: monkfish fillet, because you get firm slices of white, meaty fish; filleted bass, preferably a large fish, because although you’ll get softer flesh it has plenty of flavour; or gurnard.

I think more than anything else that this dish typifies what I was saying about really fresh fish not being ruined by a spicy curry. I can still remember the slightly oily flavour of the exquisite snapper in that dish because fish oil, when it’s perfectly fresh, is very nice to eat. I always think oily fish goes well with curry anyway, particularly with the flavours of tomatoes, tamarind and curry leaves. - Rick Stein

Ingredients (Serves 4-6)
60 ml vegetable oil
1 tbsp yellow
mustard seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
15g/3 cloves garlic, finely crushed
30 fresh curry leaves
2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp turmeric
400 g can chopped tomatoes
100 ml Tamarind liquid
2 green chillies, each sliced lengthways into
6 pieces, with seeds
1 tsp salt
700 g snapper fillets, cut into 5 cm chunks
Boiled basmati rice

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan or karahi over a medium heat. When hot, add the mustard seeds and fry for 30 seconds, then stir in the onion and garlic and fry gently for about 10 minutes until softened and lightly golden. Add the curry leaves, chilli powder, coriander and turmeric and fry for two minutes, then stir in the tomatoes, tamarind liquid, green chillies and salt and simmer for about 10 minutes until rich and reduced. Add the fish, cook for a further five minutes or until just cooked through, and serve with plain rice. (Extracted from Rick Stein’s India: In Search of the Perfect Curry, Rick Stein, Random House Group)

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