Curries - Eating Without Fear
( Originally Published 1923 )
There are few dishes that conjure up more dreams of delight than curry. To me the very thought of curry stirs my emotions. Nothing is better than a good curry—nothing is nastier than a bad one. Restaurant and hotel curries are generally beneath contempt. Occasionally a real Indian curry cook is found, but a curry made by a French, Italian or German chef, is generally a thing to be avoided. I have found it rather a good plan to ask the waiter what color it is. If he says: "Yellow"—Oh, my prophetic soul! Avoid it. Order anything else, but pass the yellow curry. If he says: "Brown," you may risk it, but if it is not good, have no hesitation about sending it whence it came.
I was brought up on curry. Mine is an Anglo-Indian family, So fond was my mother of curry, that she used to declare she was weaned on it. In our old home one day we would have "Uncle Edward's" curry, on another "Uncle Charles's." Uncle Charles was the only member of the family Who was a Madrasi. All the rest were Bengalis, and our early recollections of Uncle Charles—when I was about seven or eight years old—are that his curries were infernally hot. The older he got—and he was close on ninety then—the hotter became his curries, until at last no one but himself could eat them. He lived in a curious old house in Bayswater, a house literally walled with books. The double drawing-room upstairs was always scattered with papers. He wrote from morning till night, but what he wrote I know not, except that he was the author of a Telegu dictionary in some twelve volumes, which I am sure no one ever read. Of course, dictionaries as a rule are not intended to be read, but the greatest enjoyment can be obtained from perusing Dr. Johnson's First Edition. The old doctor put such a lot of himself into his definitions, that pearls can be found on every page. Another, well worth study, is W. E. Henley's Slang Dictionary—alas uncompleted when he died. Mais revenons aux curries.
There is no necessity for a curry to be hot—hot with pepper to burn the tongue, Too much curry powder, or curry powder insufficiently cooked, is generally the cause of this. At the same time, it should be piquant and not like a stew with a flavoring of curry.
Let me tell you of a delicious Indian dinner I once prepared. Some years ago I belonged to a small Bohemian club in London which was positively unique. It was founded by a sculptor who' was a little mad. Artists, writers, barristers, soldiers, sailors, the clergy—we numbered two Bishops among our members, and also the Commander in Chief of the Army—all met on equal terms, and all were Brethren of the Punch Bowl. Every Friday we had a house dinner of fourteen plates under the chairmanship of one member who was permitted to bring one guest. Once a month or thereabouts we had a large dinner for some forty. There came a Wednesday prior to one of these large dinners, whew a tragedy threatened. The sculptor came to me. "Uncle," said he he always called everybody "uncle"—"we're in a peck of trouble. Forty men are coming to dinner on Friday, but a heartless gas company has disconnected the gas, simply because I omitted to pay the bill which hasn't been owing for more than six months. As you know we cook by gas here, we have no coal range. Now what am I to do?" I asked the amount of the bill. "Don't think of it," said he. "It's colossal.
Besides, I wouldn't waste the time trying to raise the coin for such a foolish cause. If they had trusted me, I might have paid; as it is, they will have to whistle for their money even if I have to buy an oil stove." "Haven't you got one?" I asked. "No, said he, but I have a spirit stove for a chafing dish—a double one. But what good is that?" "Stay," said I. You have that stove—you also have that excellent fire burning over there." This was in the dining-room. "Let's have an Indian dinner, and I will cook it right here, in this room. Let's make a joke of the whole affair. Tell no one of the gas episode, and I will guarantee you a rattling good dinner." I then proposed to give them the following męnu :
The dinner came off, cooked on the spirit stove and the dining-room fire. It was not only a huge success gastronomically but also financially, and was the first club dinner held that showed a profit. The West Indian pickles were the sculptor's idea—not mine. He could not resist a joke. They look so innocent and beautiful, and yet they are the hottest things this side of the Inferno.
And so that you may share my joy and pleasant recollection, I will tell you how this feast, that Buddha him-self could have discussed, was prepared. In writing of it I enjoy it again. I do not give the quantities sufficient for my forty diners, but the proportions are for a party of four or six.
Mulligatawny Soup One cod's head and shoulders, six green apples, four large onions, a dessert spoonful of sugar, one tablespoonful of curry. (See Curry Powder.) Salt to taste.
Boil the cod's head and shoulders till the meat will separate from the bone, but do not overcook it. The flesh should be flaky and firm. Then carefully remove the flesh from the bone, discarding the skin. Put all the bones back into the water in which the head has been boiled and simmer gently for at least an hour, then boil hard till the liquor is reduced to half and it shows an inclination to thicken. Then strain into a clean vessel.
While the bones have been boiling, fry the onions cut in rings in a stewpan till they are a rich golden brown, then add the curry powder and stir briskly to prevent it burning, and as soon as it shows signs of doing so, add a few spoonfuls of the fish liquor. Stir briskly till it boils and then draw to the side of the fire.
Now take your strained liquor; bring it to the boil, add the curry and onions from the stewpan, washing the Iatter out with the liquor till the pan is quite clean; add the apples, which have been peeled and cut in small pieces, the sugar and a little salt, and then let it simmer gently till the apples have quite disappeared. The more it cooks the better it will be, but it should simmer, not boil. When ready to serve it should be about as thick as thin cream; if it is not you have made a mistake in the time of boiling the fish bones, but it can be thickened by adding a little corn-starch or brown roux.
Sprinkle a few grains of boiled rice in the soup before serving, but do not put any rice into the saucepan in which the soup has been made.
Kedgeree: Take the codfish you have picked off the bone and with two forks break it up into small pieces, but do not shred it.
Boil half a pound of rice and when it is quite cooked, mix the fish with it, with a piece of butter the size of a walnut, two hard-boiled eggs chopped fine, a pinch of salt and a sprinkling of cayenne pepper. Stir it all up with the hot rice and serve. It should not be pappy—the grains of rice should be perfectly well cooked but separate and dry.
Boiled Rice: Years ago in India, a young lieutenant they called them "cornets," in those days-was a candidate for Masonic mysteries, and in accordance with instructions, arrived at the Lodge in good time. Indeed, he was much too early, only the guard at the outer gate being there and he, a white-haired native, sat by a small fire over which boiled a huge pot. The neophyte walked up and down, and from time to time the old native glanced at him through the corner of his almond eye. At last the young man could stand it no longer. "What are you boiling in that?" he asked. "Water, sahib," replied the outer guard. "What for?" asked the other. "Ah, sahib," re-plied the old man, "were I to tell you my very life would be forfeit. But you are young and beautiful and I am sure that a secret is safe with one who has the eye of heavenly blue." "What do you mean?" stuttered the young man, getting more nervous than ever. "What do you mean?" "To-night," said the old man, "to-night we have a new candidate, some foolish young man from over the ocean, and I am getting the water hot." Whereat the young man took to his heels and ran for his life.
As a matter of fact, the old fellow was boiling the water for his rice, hence the huge pot, because to boil rice properly you must have plenty of boiling water. A gallon of water to half a pound of rice is a minimum allowance.
Wash the rice thoroughly in cold water, but do not let it soak. Drop it into boiling salted water so as not to stop the bubbling and boil hard in a covered pan for ten minutes. Then test a grain between your teeth. It should be almost but not quite cooked. Then strain and replace in the saucepan without the cover till it is quite dry and serve.
For curries, Patna rice is best, but there is a Carolina rice that is equally good—it is a fiat long grain. The round grain is more suitable, for puddings and is apt to boil pappily.
Some cooks, after straining the rice, wash it under the cold tap; but I have not found this necessary if the foregoing recipe be followed. The rice is perfectly cooked, but the grains are dry and separate and most delicious.
Rice is always served with curry when the curry forms a separate course. It should never be served in the same dish as the curry—how often have I seen a curry "garnished" with rice—and should always be placed in the center of the diner's plate, with the curry on top. The diner then mixes the two with a spoon and fork. It is a crime to use a knife.
Curry Powder: It is very important that good curry powder be used, because I have had some that tastes more like medicine than a condiment. Very often the turmeric in it predominates, which is a mistake—a grievous one. Properly proportioned, no one flavor should be distinguish-able. I have tried a -many, but personally I like Ventacatachellicum's Madras Curry Powder the best. I buy it from the Army and Navy stores in Victoria Street, London. A pound tin lasts for years, and the duty is very little. Cross and Blackwell's is very good, though some people prefer Ahmuti's, exported by Keddie and Company of London. At present I am using some imported into this country by James P. Smith & Co. of New York and Chicago, which is very satisfactory. For ,those who have the interest I give the recipe of "Uncle Edward's" curry powder, at the end of this chapter.
In using curry powder, it should always be remembered that the ingredients are dried. In India fresh ingredients are pounded and mixed; consequently curry made with powder needs longer cooking to bring out the full flavor of the different seeds. Some cooks soak the curry powder overnight, but personally I do not think this is necessary, except when preparing a "dry curry." (See Curry Powder p. 54).
Veal Curry: Two pounds of lean veal cut into dice, four onions, a teaspoonful of sugar, two apples, the heart of a white cabbage, one cupful of stock, a tablespoonful (or less if you do not want it too hot) of curry powder, salt, a pinch of caraway seed, celery seed, a banana, or other white fruit, and a few raisins and grated cocoanut.
Fry the onions to a golden brown; sprinkle them with sugar but don't let it burn. Mix the curry powder with the stock till it is quite smooth. Add this to the onions and simmer gently while you chop up the heart of the cabbage and the apples. Then add this to the mixture with another cup of stock, and the caraway and celery seeds. Simmer gently for an hour. Then add the balance of the fruit, cocoanut, and the meat and simmer till the meat is tender but not ragged. Draw to one side and let cool. Warm up before serving.
Curry is always better after being allowed to cool. In this way the curry powder becomes thoroughly cooked and does not taste harsh and raw. The curry when finished should be dark brown and rich, the cabbage and apples help to form the thick rich gravy. If it be too hot and peppery, a little flour mixed in cold water and added when the mixture is boiling tends to take some of the piquancy away, but it is also liable to thicken it, and if so more stock must be added. But it is preferable not to use the flour if possible, as it destroys a good deal of the flavor.
Veal, lamb, chicken, and rabbit all make good curries; beef is apt to cook hard; pork is not suitable. In India, of course, the natives do not eat either beef, veal or pork, but I can recommend veal as being delicious and also ten-der.
Almost anything will curry. Fish, flaky fish such as cod or halibut, is excellent; lobster, prawns (shrimps), crab, and soft clams are heavenly. Shell fish curries are generally "dry" curries, for which the following is a good recipe :
Dry Curry: Fry the onions a golden brown and add sugar as in the foregoing. In a cup mix a dessert spoonful of curry powder, a pinch of salt, and a small teaspoonful of flour, all dry. Take your meat or fish, with which there should be no bone, smear it with bacon fat and dip it in your powder mixture. Then place it in the stewpan and fry with brown onions, adding a teaspoonful or so of stock or water, just sufficient to keep the whole moist, This is more difficult to cook than a wet curry, as it needs watching because the curry powder must cook thoroughly. It will therefore be seen that it is not a bad plan to soak the curry powder for several hours before using- not in a lot of water, but just sufficient to make it damp and freshen it up.
The dry curry when served should be very dark brown, each piece of fish or meat covered with the thick brown sauce.
Fruit is not added to a dry curry.
Prawn, lobster, and crab curry can be eaten on toast instead of with rice.
Bombay Ducks are delicious, but I do not recommend them. They are fish which are washed up on the Bombay shores and dried in the sun. They are quite crisp and the custom is to sprinkle them with the fingers over the curry and rice on your plate. They taste like remarkably good cheese and they can be very successfully imitated with much less risk by using grated Parmesan or other strong cheese.
Chutney: There are several good chutneys on the market and most are good and palatable. Personally I like a sweet mango, chutney. I give a recipe for an excellent imitation mango chutney which I can thoroughly recommend. (See page 189.)
West Indian Pickles: Try them if you like to, but do not blame me if they bring tears to your eyes. They are delicious, but molten lead or boiling oil is mild in comparison.
Iced Oranges: Skinned, and cut in thin slices, are cooling and delicious after a hot curry.
Fruit Curry: Prunes, bananas, grapes, grated cocoanut, peaches, and seedless raisins.
Soak prunes overnight, then stew in the water in which they have soaked, with sufficient sugar. Add the rest of the fruit, but do not over-cook. Allow to cool, place on the ice in a large glass bowl, and serve with the grated cocoanut sprinkled over the top.
You may say that you do not like curry and therefore will not try this dinner. All I can say is that you cannot ever have tasted it properly made. It is a dish fit for the gods, one you can taste and die happy. It was either curry or spaghetti (see Italian spaghetti, page 107) for which Esau sold his birthright, and personally I do not blame him. Esau was a gourmet.
This can be made of lobster, crab, shrimps or prawns or all of them. Other firm fish, like skate, does equally well but it should be dusted over with Parmesan or other grated cheese. Have about as much fish as will fill a soup-plate. Put a large cupful of olive oil into a stew pan, and when it boils add a large tablespoonful of onions chopped very fine. Let them remain in the oil till they are a light brown and then add a dessertspoonful of curry powder, dissolved in a cupful of milk or cream. Then stew gently till the curry powder is thoroughly cooked; add the fish and serve. It should always be remembered that shell-fish should not be overcooked as it tends to harden it, and it should also be borne in mind that whenever milk or cream enters into the composition of a sauce the fire should not be too fierce or the milk will separate and curdle.
"Uncle Edward's Curry"
Take three moderately large onions and shred them fine. Put two well piled up tablespoonsful of butter into a stew pan, and in it fry the onions till quite brown; and then take them out and put them on one side. In a tea-cup, mix two tablespoonsful of the curry powder to a smooth paste with milk, then fill up the cup with milk and add that to the butter in which the onions have been fried. Let it simmer until it begins to look a rich yellow, then add a little more milk and the meat—veal, lamb, chicken or rabbit—free from bones and fat and cut into dice. Add a little salt and let it stew gently for at least half an hour. If in stewing it gets too thick, add a little milk to keep it from burning. Now put back the onions and stew very gently for an hour, always adding a little milk if it appears to be getting dry. A few% minutes before serving squeeze in some lemon juice. Never put either water or gravy into a curry, and you must regulate the quantity of milk according to the kind of meat you use. Chicken, rabbit and veal require more than lamb or mutton. The neck of mutton makes excellent curry and you may put in a small quantity of the fat, but always use uncooked meat.