Regular readers of the blog will be well aware of my obsession with Indian food. I’ve also previously declared my fondness for Dublin’s “Bombay Pantry” chain of Indian takeaways. It’s quite different from your regular curry takeaway – the sauces are lighter, fresher and much more fragrant than their competitors. I suspect the reason for this is the use of freshly ground spice and the absence of ghee in the cooking process. Ghee is an Indian clarified butter, widely used in North Indian cuisine, and although authentic, it does make sauces quite heavy. I also has quite an assertive flavour of its own when used in quantity.
The “Bombay Pantry Chicken Curry” is definitely their signature dish. I’ve been ordering this curry on-and-off for several years now and I love it’s flavour. I previously tried to reproduce the sauce with my South Indian Lamb Curry but the flavour was quite different. This recipe is a much closer copy of Bombay’s sauce. As a starting point, I made a list of observations about the sauce, based on years (!) of tasting experience:
- judicious use of a flavourless oil (such as sunflower or groundnut), and definitely no ghee.
- freshly-ground spices which have not been toasted, leaning heavily on the coriander, clove and cardamom.
- deep-red colour suggesting the use of paprika or possibly Kashmiri chillies.
- a nice coarse texture, careful use of the liquidiser needed.
- use of whole spices (mustard seeds, coarsely ground coriander seeds) in the finished sauce.
- liberal use of fresh curry leaves to provide that signature flavour.
- deep tomato flavour and not too sour. Tomatoes also seem to provide much of the sauce’s consistency.
I then used the ingredients listing on the container of their curry sauce, currently available in Superquinn (and other outlets). The ingredients list provides the following information:
- “Plum tomatoes” are the primary ingredient in the sauce. The inclusion of “Acidity Regulator” alongside the tomatoes tells us that BP use a commercial tinned tomato product.
- The sauce appears to be thickened and sweetened with cashew nut paste. The sub-ingredients for this item are listed as “water, onions, cashew nuts”. So I would need to make a version of this. And here it is.
- Vegetable oil is used, as I suspected.
- “Ginger and garlic paste” again suggests the use of a commerical product and in in the volumes Bombay Pantry would be producing their curry sauce, this seems to make sense. Imagine peeling all those cloves of garlic?!
- Garam masala is the first spice in the list, which could mean anything. Garam masala is a blend of fragrant spices which is typically used to season food at the end of cooking. The garam masala could include any combination of the standard spices. I opted to make my usual garam masala with more emphasis on the clove and cardamom. After some trial and error, I also reduced the amount of black pepper in the recipe as it was giving the sauce an intense heat which was not quite right. I ended up with a new garam masala recipe, prepared specifically for this sauce.
- the inclusion of “dessicated coconut” in the ingredients is an odd one. There is no perceptible coconut flavour in the finished sauce but it’s is probably there to provide texture and maybe a little sweetness.
- Some more species listed: “coriander seeds”, “paprika powder”, “mustard seeds”, “turmeric powder”, “chilli powder” and “curry leaves” in that order. I assumed a large amount of freshly ground coriader seeds and smaller amounts of the other spices. The curry leaves lend the sauce a very distinctive flavour, so generous use of these required.
After a few attempts, a bit of trial and error, I’ve settled on the following recipe. One day I’ll get around to doing a side-by-side comparison, but for the moment, I think it’s spot-on.
One unusual ingredient which may or may not be in Bombay Pantry’s curry is “bicarbonate of soda”. A small amount of this helps neutralise the acidity in the tomatoes and is essential to getting the right flavour. There is practically no acidity in the BP sauce which really helps to bring out the flavour in the spices. I tried several methods to balance the acidity including sugar, more caramelised onion, more cashew nut paste but they all took the flavour of the sauce in a different direction. I use 1/8 of a tsp of bicarbonate of soda as a guide, but if you decide to use more, remember to use tiny pinches.
Finally, here are some further tips for achieving success with this recipe:
- you must use fresh curry leaves. The dried variety are completely tasteless and you will not give you the flavour this sauce requires.
- the coriander and garam masala spices must be freshly ground. I’d highly recommend investing in a coffee grinder. A mortar and pestle will work in an emergency but requires a lot of elbow grease and will not give you the fine grind you’re after.
- if you don’t want the bother of making cashew new paste, use 2 tbsp of ground almonds. It will make a pretty good substitute.
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 2 x 400g cans peeled plum tomatoes
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp garam masala
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ¼-½ tsp red chili powder
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp ginger garlic paste
- 3 tbsp dessicated coconut
- 1/8 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2 tbsp cashew nut paste
- 15 fresh curry leaves
- 1½ tsp brown mustard seeds
- 500-750ml water
- The first step, as always, is to brown the onions. Heat the oil in a large pot or casserole and fry the onions gently until they’re brown and completely soft. This should take about 20 mins.
- In the meantime, grind the coriander seeds using an electric coffee grinder or mortar and pestle, but leave a tiny bit of texture in the powder.
- When the onions are browned, add about one-third of the tomatoes and increase the heat slightly under the pot. Add the freshly ground coriander, garlic-ginger paste, garam masala, chilli powder, turmeric, paprika and salt. Stir-fry (called the “bhuno”) for around 2 minutes before adding the rest of the tomatoes.
- Add about 500ml water, then remove from the heat. Use a stick blender to blend the sauce to the desired consistency. Remember to leave a little texture in the sauce.
- Add the dessicated coconut, cashew nut paste, bicarbonate of soda, mustard seeds and curry leaves and leave to simmer gently for around 30 mins. Add extra water if the sauce is reducing too much. The sauce is now done, but the flavour improves greatly if allowed to cool overnight.
- At this point, you can add some diced chicken breast (or vegetables) and simmer gently for around 20 mins or until the chicken is cooked through. You may need to add a little extra water to prevent the sauce becoming too thick. Remember to taste before serving and adjust the seasoning with extra salt or garam masala.
I believe that covers everything…