Opponent Number 2: Second-rate Curries.
This week, my struggle with kitchen mediocrity continues with an assault on curries. This beloved dish is simple enough to make, but not that simple: those who think that dicing some chicken, opening a jar of curry sauce and cooking for half an hour need to take a long walk of a short pier.
Don't look around trying to find another culprit, you know full well that you have at some point, conjured up a sub-standard curry in this way! Now if this isn't enough, many of you will have cooked your rice and then drained it using a colander of some sort – another kitchen faux-pas.
Right, bollocking over, let's get down to business.
Below is a recipe for a basic chicken curry which should cost no more than £3.00 for a large portion. This recipe can be used as a template for the countless other curry variations including the use of different meats and fish etc. Please note however that I am a carnivore. If you are a vegetarian, I cannot help you and you will just have to find a piece of broccoli or something to supplement, yummy!
Garlic, onions, fresh ginger, coconut milk and peanut butter. Whether you are using a curry paste or a curry sauce, these five ingredients alone can change a mundane curry into something a lot nicer.
Now, for those of you who have visited Sainsbury's lately thinking of engaging in some Thai gastronomy, you will have been shocked to discover that canned coconut milk costs a mind boggling £1.99. This is because of a 60% fall in the 2011 coconut harvest in Thailand due to the lack of a monsoon, as well as the civil war in the Ivory Coast (another major coconut supplier).
Do not despair though as coconut milk can be purchased relatively cheaply from Heera (Wells St.), Continental Food Store, (Old Tiv Rd.) and Best-One (Upper Sidwell St.) from around £1.00-£1.20.
Firstly, get yourself a large frying pan or even a wok – don't be afraid of woks, they can be used for curries just as well as a good stir fry. Add oil and fry up diced onion, garlic and very finely cut ginger for a few minutes then add curry paste and fry (I then like to add one or two tbsp of peanut butter).
Next, add the chicken followed a few minutes later by some chicken stock mixed in one cup of boiling water, a can of coconut milk and some passata. REDUCE down for a further 15 minutes until the right consistency has been reached – I'll leave you to be the judge of that.
At this point, I like to add a dash of lemon juice, some soy sauce and even some brown sugar, constantly tasting to make sure the flavour is just right . If you would like a hotter curry add some chilli powder or choose another paste/sauce.
Once you have started simmering the curry, you need to start cooking your rice. Use approximately ½ to ¾ mugs of rice per person. If you don't like your rice 'starchy', wash it first. Then, put in a saucepan and add twice the volume of water. So if you have ½ cup of rice, add 1 cup of water, ¾ rice to 1½ water and so on.
Bring the pan to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer until all the water is evaporated, making sure to stir frequently to avoid sticking. The rice can then be served without needing to be drained, simples! If you have got your timing wrong and the rice is cooked ahead of time, simply reheat by pouring boiling water over – this will prevent the rice from drying.
Once rice is ready and curry has been reduced/simmered, you can choose to add some chopped fresh coriander for that extra taste. Enjoy!
Notes on Overcooking Chicken: Don't do it.
Now I am a man who like a bit of breast as well as a good thigh, but there comes a time when one has to choose. For the purposes of this dish I am using breast as it is easier to cook and there is no need to de-bone etc.
Briefly frying then simmering chicken for 20 minutes is ample time for the meat to be cooked through and there is no need to succumb to the very British paranoia of contracting chicken-related diseases. You will not die! If your chicken is tender it does not mean that it is undercooked!
Frying chicken breast for over 30 minutes as many people seem to do is unnecessary and will simply leave you with a rubbery, unpalatable and inedible mess, devoid of nutrition.
Ingredients for around 3 hungry people.
Approx ½ Jar of desired curry paste. You can use a jar of curry sauce but paste will last longer and is therefore cheaper– £1.80-£2.00
1 large onion
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
Thumb sized piece of ginger – Approx 20p
500g chicken breast – £2.50 (from Best-One Sidwell St.) or approx £5.00 in supermarkets. Do not forget that the butchers also provides some very good chicken, support local business!
400ml coconut milk – £1.00-1.30 from Heera/Best-One/Continental Food Store.
Vegetable or olive oil
¼ jar of passata – Jar approx. 80p
Chicken Stock Cube
Rice (quantity details above)
1 Tsp sugar
1 Tbsp lemon/lime juice
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1-2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter – Sainsbury's start from 62p
Several chopped spring onions (used with or instead of onions) – 1 bunch is around 70-80p
Some chopped coriander – Approx 80p for a large bunch
N.B Once you have purchased many of these ingredients, they can be used in lots of different dishes so a one-off investment will pay off.
N.B Cheap chicken will most likely end up tougher than more expensive chicken, no matter how skillfully cooked, as someone in the Netherlands will have injected it with water and starches to bulk it out.