At some point in the last decade, it feels as though there’s been a shift in the way people are snobbish about food; where once expense, hard-to-find (or indeed afford) ingredients and a certain degree of respect for tradition may have been considered essential bullet-points on the tick-sheet of culinary oneupmanship (and don’t for a second think I’m implying those things have gone away) it now seems as though a certain deeply intentional rejection of those values has come into popular being and, through magazines like The Lucky Peach, TV Shows like No Reservations and the general embrace of ‘Dirty Food‘, a reverence for simplicity, speed and cultural authenticity has washed away many preoccupations about what Good Food can be.
Hand in hand with this revolution in attitudes has come an almost obnoxiously punk-like approach to teaching the world how to cook from those who would have been (and in the odd case, were) the traditional guardians of good practice in the preparation of food. From Nigella Lawson’s Ham in Coca Cola and Delia’s Shepherd’s Pie Assembled From a Series of Tins and Packets at the home-cooking end, to Dave Chang’s Ramen Fried Chicken and the legendary Ferran Adrià’s Crisp Omelette from the big guns of Fine Dining, the proud use of preparatory ingredients that would’ve caused the late Keith Floyd to spit out his stove-side wine in disgust is now not only en vogue, but completely routine.
In light of that, Nigel Slater’s semi-apology for the use of preparatory curry powder, which he accuses of ‘raising purist eyebrows’ (luckily, though I can be called many things, a purist I am not) seems almost quaint considering what culinary short-cuts and bastardisations have occured in the 24 years since this book was published.
As it goes, I think curry powder occupies a very legitimate place in British Food History (in fact, though I often associate it with ‘fake’ British curries, when you consider Currywurst, and any number of other strange European concoctions, it’s clear that curry powder is a cheap, easy byword for subcontinental flavours for more than just the UK) whether, at best, it’s just someone else preparing your spice mix for you in advance or, at worst (or really ‘worst’ depending on your personal experiences), it conveys memories of coronation chicken sandwiches and school dinners.
Anyway, this recipe seems to me to be Butter Chicken by another name (the risk averse trend of avoiding traditional names for culturally important foods is clearly evident in this book, as it is in many others), though is a fair bit quicker than my favourite recipe for that most universally enjoyable of curries.
First, I bubbled a healthy slice of butter and a tablespoon of oil in a pan, with which I browned a selection of chicken pieces (I used a whole jointed chicken, but you could easily use breasts, thighs, drumsticks, a mixture or whatever) and then set them aside (the recipe doesn’t suggest doing this, but the size of the pan and my own instincts prevented me from following it to the letter.)
Into the fatty, schmaltzy residue that remained, I tipped two roughly chopped onions, and let them go for a good eight minutes, til they’d taken on an appealing golden colour, before adding four minced garlic cloves, stirring them til the harshness of their raw aroma had subsided.
I added two tablespoons of curry powder (from an old tube of tesco’s own which, for reasons unknown, must have been lingering at the back of the spice cupboard for years. It had no right to smell nearly so good as it did) and half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder, and cooked them for four minutes.
Then, returned the chicken to the pan, tipped in four de-seeded, roughly chopped tomatoes and 250ml of stock, before clapping on a lid and cooking for 15 minutes over a low simmer, removing the lid about half way through.
After checking the chicken was done (we all know, emphatically usually, how we want chicken to be cooked, so I shan’t go into the colour of juices and so on here, just do what you’re happy with) I lifted it out again, poured in 100ml of double cream, checked seasoning, squeezed in half a lemon, then let it all bubble for a minute or two, mashing up any big chunks of tomato with a fork, before returning the chicken to the warm sauce one final time, ready to serve.
We had it with some plain boiled rice, some microwave poppadoms (which I won’t have a word said against) and whatever unfinished chutneys were haunting the bottom shelf of the fridge.
It’s not refined stuff. It’s only really half ‘curry from scratch’, in the terminology of take-away obsessed students, whispering to one another reverentially over the dining table of Their Mate Who Can Cook, and it’s extremely rough and ready, but it is a very delicious meal you can authentically put together in half an hour and, for that, it’s worth having in the repertoire. I shall make it again and again.
Buy your own copy of Nigel Slater’s ‘Real Fast Food’ HERE.