Archive for the 'Slow Cooking' Category

Base Curry Sauce

Masala Dabba

There’s an enthusiastic bunch of curryholics over on whose passion is reproducing the kind of curry dishes you’d find in a common-or-garden British Indian Restaurant (BIR). It’s a great website, containing recipes and discussions for the full range of BIR dishes. You name it, it’s there: onion bhajis, chicken tikka masala and saag aloo. The hottest topic on the website, however, has to be the creation of a “base” sauce. Indian restaurants in Britain will not typically cook their sauces (or gravies) freshly with each order. Preparing a curry from scratch would be too time-consuming. Instead, they will use a ladle or two of “base” and add extra ingredients to customise the dish: pre-cooked meat, tomatoes, extra spice, lentils etc. Indian gravies need to cook for some time in order to develop their flavour, but the use of a base sauce allows the restaurant to produce curries in no time at all.

While I admire the dedication of these enthusiasts, I can’t help chuckling at the lengths they go to in order to replicate dishes at home which are designed by restaurants to made as quickly and cheaply as possible. Surely all of their curries must taste the same? For me, the appeal of Indian food is the diversity of dishes available to the adventurous diner. Having said that, I understand the appeal of having producing some sort of basic curry sauce as it allows you to freeze or refrigerate portions for convenience. After a busy day at work, all you need to do is add some chicken or vegetables.

The difference between my curry “base” and those used by “The Star of Bengal” is that my sauce is delicious on it’s own. But you can still customise your curry depending on the style you prefer. Some variations are given in the notes below. This recipe will make enough for 12-15 servings.

I’ve found that when scaling up a dish, it’s not a case of simply multiplying all ingredients by “x”. There are some special considerations. Salt and any of the stronger spices (such as black pepper, chilli and garam masala) need to be added judiciously or else they may dominate the base sauce. I find it best to tread carefully with these items and adjust the flavours before serving the finished dish.


  • 3 tbsp sunflower/groundnut oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1kg onions, chopped (about 4 very large onions)
  • 16 large cloves garlic, peeled
  • 100g root ginger, peeled
  • 2 tbsp of each of the following: ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric, paprika,
  • 1 tbsp of each of the following: garam masala, dried fenugreek
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns, ground
  • 15 green cardamoms, crushed
  • 10 cloves
  • 4 black cardamoms
  • 6 x 400g canned tomatoes
  • 1 litre water
  • 1½ tsp sea salt


  1. Place a deep cast-iron casserole on the hob and heat the oil and butter. Cook the onions gently for around 30 minutes until soft and brown in colour. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 190°C.
  2. Chop finely or grate the garlic cloves and ginger. I use a mini-food processor for this.
  3. When the onions are brown and caramelised, add the garlic and ginger mixture and fry gently for a minute or two until softened. Add the ground spices and one can of tomatoes and stir-fry for a few minutes.
  4. Now remove the casserole from the heat and add the rest of the canned tomatoes. Using a stick blender, whizz the sauce until it’s very smooth.
  5. Put the casserole back on the heat and add the whole spices. Bring back up to a gentle simmer before covering the casserole and putting it in the oven for 1½ hours. I simply turn off the oven and leave the casserole in there overnight. Your reward is a sweet, deeply flavoured sauce. If you require a thinner consistency, just add some extra water.

Variations – Chicken and vegetables work best when de-frosting this curry sauce for a quick evening meal. Lamb and beef will take a little longer to cook, though that depends largely on the cut of meat you’re using. In my opinion, if you prefer meat curries it’s best to cook the sauce from scratch along with the lamb. Here are few of my favourite variations on restaurant and homestyle favourites.

  • Vegetable – my favourite because it’s so easy to prepare. Add two handfuls of diced fresh vegetables for each portion of sauce. Finish the dish with a dollop of natural yoghurt or some lemon juice.
  • Chicken – add a diced chicken fillet to each portion of sauce and simmer very gently until the chicken is cooked. Finish with a good sprinkle of homemade Garam Masala and a handful of chopped fresh coriander.
  • Coconut – you can make a creamy chicken or vegetable curries can by adding 200ml coconut milk 5 minutes before the end of cooking.
  • Saag – Make a spinach and chilli purée. Put 300g of spinach leaves in a large saucepan along with a splash of water. Place a lid on the saucepan and steam until the spinach has wilted down. Transfer the spinach to a liquidizer along with 2 chopped green chillies and any residual water from the spinach. Blend until smooth and add to the curry sauce. Add some dried fenugreek leaves and simmer gently for a few minutes. This makes an excellent addition to a chicken curry.
  • Madras – Add some extra chilli powder and the juice of half a lemon and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Vindaloo – Adding lots of dried chillies, a slug of red wine vinegar and some cubes of fried potato. (Highly inauthentic of course, but delicious. Try this for a more authentic take on vindaloo.)
  • Dhansak – Add a portion of tarka dal, brown sugar, lemon juice and some cubed pineapple.

Serves 12-15.


Jamie Oliver – Peter’s Lamb Curry

Curry & Rice

I take my hat off to Jamie Oliver. I’ve never tried a recipe of his where I wasn’t pleased with the outcome. His first book, The Naked Chef, has to be one of the most useful cookery books available. It’s worth the price of admission for the bread and pasta recipes alone. The curry recipes in Jamie’s latest books do tend to use ready-made curry pastes for speed and convenience. Nothing wrong with that, of course, I just prefer to make a ruby from scratch.

This recipe is extremely good, worthy of Camelia Panjabi herself. It’s adapted from his second book, “Return of the Naked Chef”. I thought it looked interesting and was tempted enough to try it last weekend. It’s quite similar to the base lamb curry I normally use, so I thought I’d adapt my own recipe to include Jamie’s “fragrant spice mix”. I’ve upped the amount of green cardamom in the recipe, as I love the flavour so much. The whole spices are toasted in a dry frying pan before being finely ground and added to the curry. I also cook the entire dish in the oven rather than cooking the lamb on the hob. It requires less babysitting, as I can just throw the casserole in the oven and forget about it.

Serve with some pilau rice and naan bread. Jamie recommends adding paneer to the curry, a type of Indian cottage cheese. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Jamie Oliver recipe without a final flourish of “fresh ‘erbs”, would it?

Masala Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tbsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tbsp fenugreek seeds
  • ½ tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 clove
  • small piece of cinnamon stick
  • 10 green cardamoms

Curry Paste Ingredients

  • thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled
  • 2 large red onions, peeled
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 red chillies

The Other Ingredients

  • fresh coriander & fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons butter/oil
  • 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 300ml stock
  • 1.5kg lamb, diced
  • fresh mint, handful
  • fresh coriander, handful
  • 300ml natural yoghurt
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • lime juice
  • salt and black pepper


  1. Toast the whole spices for a minute or two in a dry frying pan until they release their aroma. Transfer to a spice grinder (or mortar) and leave to cool. Grind to a fine powder and set aside.
  2. Put the curry paste ingredients in a blender and process until you get a smooth paste. Add a little water if you wish.
  3. Heat a large casserole and add the oil/butter. Gently fry the curry paste and ground spices, stirring regularly.  Add the tomatoes and the stock and bring to the boil. Cover the casserole with a lid and place in the oven for one and a half hours to intensify the flavour.
  4. Fry the lamb pieces in the oil until coloured before adding to the curry sauce. Return the casserole to the oven and cook for around 2 hours or until the lamb is tender.
  5. Stir in the chopped fresh coriander and mint, then stir in the yoghurt.  Season to taste with some freshly ground black pepper and some lime juice.

Serves 6.


  • If you’d like take try some different curry recipes, I’d recommend my South Indian Lamb Curry as a good starting point. After that, try your hand at these! 🙂

Lamb Shank Rogan Josh


This is a really special recipe, for those who like putting a bit of love (and time) into their curry-making. The spicing is different to my standard Kashmiri Lamb Rogan Josh recipe because it doesn’t use any shortcuts. I don’t use a lot of pre-ground spice here – I toast the cumin, coriander, fennel, peppercorns and cloves before grinding and adding to the gravy. I use authentic Kashmiri chillies for both their flavour and deep red colour. I use shanks of lamb because traditional Rogan Josh is slow-cooked with the meat bones, giving a very deep flavour and rich consistency. It would make a fantastic dinner party dish.

I also use a whopping 25 green cardamoms in this recipe – no, it’s not a mistake! I love the flavour of cardamom and it’s certainly pushed centre-stage in this recipe. Removing the seeds from the green husk is a bit of “pullaver”, but it’s worth the effort. You could add a little saffron, as it’s very traditional in Rogan Josh, but I find the flavour tends to dominate and I don’t want anything to interfere the other spices. A traditional Rogan Josh will also normally include some yoghurt but I prefer it without as I don’t want a creamy consistency in my RJ. Give it a try, it’s the best curry you’ll ever taste.


  • 4-6 lamb shanks
  • 2 tbsp sunflower/groundnut oil
  • knob of butter
  • 500g onions, chopped (about 3 large onions)
  • 8 cloves  garlic, peeled
  • thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and chopped roughly
  • 25 green cardamoms
  • 1 tbsp each of the following: coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2-inch piece of cinnamon (broken into small shards)
  • 5 cloves
  • 500g tomato passata
  • 500ml water
  • 1½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp Kashmiri chili powder (if you can’t find this, replace with 1½ tsp regular chili powder and 2 tsp sweet paprika)
  • 3 whole dried Kashmiri chilies
  • 2 large black cardamom pods
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp garam masala (optional, but make sure it’s homemade!)


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160°C.
  2. Crush the green cardamoms using a mortar and pestle. Separate the black seeds from the green husk and discard the husk.
  3. Using a dry frying-pan, carefully toast the cardamom seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, peppercorns, cloves and cinnamon shards. Keep the seeds moving in the pan, taking care not to burn them. You’ll know they’re done when they start to release a heady aroma. Transfer to a spice/coffee grinder (or a mortar and pestle) and allow to cool.
  4. Grind the toasted spices to a fine powder.
  5. Place a cast-iron casserole on the hob and heat the oil and butter. Add the lamb shanks and turn until golden on all sides. Remove the shanks using a slotted spoon and set aside.
  6. Add the onions to the residual oil in the casserole and cook gently for around 30 minutes until soft and light brown in colour. Add the garlic and ginger and for another two minutes.
  7. Remove the browned onion mixture from the casserole using a slotted spoon and add to a blender. Add a little water and blend until very smooth.
  8. Put the casserole back on the heat. Add the onion/garlic mixture to the casserole, then add the ground spices, chilli powder, whole dried chillies, black cardamom pods, bay leaves. Fry for a minute before adding the tomato passata and the water. Stir well to combine before returning the lamb shanks to the gravy, along with any juices that have collected. Transfer to the oven and cook for about 3 hours until the meat is very tender, almost falling off the bone.
  9. Before serving, you can spoon off some of the fat which has risen to the top of the sauce, if you wish. You can add a little garam masala to taste also. Best served with plain basmati rice or a Kashmiri pilaff.

Serves 4-6.


  • Of course, you could use good quality stewing lamb in place of the lamb shanks. Use 1.2kg of leg/shoulder and follow the instructions in the Kashmiri Lamb Rogan Josh recipe.
  • This recipe requires a very smooth gravy. For this reason, I’d recommend investing in an electric spice (coffee) grinder. But a mortar and pestle will work well too – it just requires more effort to get a finer textured masala.

Traditional Irish Stew

Irish Lamb Stew

Ok, first of all: “Irish Stew”, in the traditional sense, is never made with beef and it does not involve Guinness! (See here for a delicious Beef & Guinness Stew.) Traditional Irish Stew is the most simple of dishes, consisting of lamb, vegetables, stock and little more. It’s a perfect example of how good quality ingredients can taste amazing when cooked very simply. Some purists might baulk at the idea of putting carrots and thyme in an Irish stew but that’s my version. Give it a try.

I roasted a shoulder of lamb recently and got it together to make an excellent stock from the bones, which I then put in the freezer for later use. Lamb stock has quite a strong flavour and is not as “all-purpose” as chicken or beef stock; it is generally used only in lamb dishes. The stock is well worth the effort and you can use it as a base for this stew. If you don’t have any, just use light chicken stock.

Serve with some soda bread on the side.


  • 12 small lamb chops ( I used loin chops, you could also use an equivalent amount of neck or gigot chops)
  • 10 medium sized potatoes, halved
  • 4 sticks celery, quartered
  • 4 large carrots, washed but unpeeled and quartered
  • 1 litre lamb or chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp pearl barley
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper


  1. Trim some of the excess fat from the chops. Melt the fat in a large cast-iron casserole and add the chops. Fry until golden and reserve. Por the fat out of the casserole and de-glaze with some of the stock.
  2. Place all of the ingredients in the casserole, then top up with water to just cover the meat and veggies. Season with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Cover the casserole, bring to a gentle simmer and leave for 1½ – 2 hours. Check the seasoning and add some chopped fresh parsley.

Serves 4.


  • If treated right, leftovers can be more impressive than the original meal. To the leftovers of this stew I added 500ml of hot vegetable stock and whizzed with a stick blender. I added some frozen peas, broad beans and some chopped flat-leaf parsley. The results were superb.

Traditional Beef and Guinness Stew

Beef in Stout

This dish is great for Sunday lunch, you have to try it. I use a full litre of stout and gently simmer on the hob for around two and a half hours. The sauce reduces and meat becomes really tender. No stock cubes needed here! Eat with plenty of floury spuds, a cut of bread, or a pint of the black stuff.


  • 125g streaky bacon, cubed
  • 1kg stewing beef (such as round steak), cubed
  • 2 tbsp flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 1 litre stout
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 3 celery sticks, sliced
  • 3 large carrots, washed but unpeeled, cut into large chunks
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (optional)
  • 1 tbsp tomato pureé (optional)
  • 2 tsp light brown sugar (optional)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper


  1. Add a little oil to a frying pan and fry the streaky bacon until golden. Transfer to a large cast-iron casserole or heavy stewpot.
  2. Brown the beef. Toss the beef in the seasoned flour. Add a little more oil to the frying pan and fry the beef in batches until caramelised. Make sure you do this  in batches so as not to overload your pan. Transfer the browned beef to the casserole.
  3. Add a little more oil and fry the onions until caramelised. Add to the casserole.
  4. Pour some stout into the hot frying pan to de-glaze it. As the stout bubbles, scrape at the bottom of the pan to remove any caramelised juices from the bacon and the beef. Add the rest of the stout and de-glazed juices to the casserole.
  5. Now, assemble the rest of the dish. To the casserole, add the celery, carrot, tomato pureé, Worcestershire sauce, stock, herbs, salt and the rest of the stout. Season with  plenty of freshly ground pepper. Stir well and place a lid on the casserole but leave a large crack to allow the sauce to reduce. Bring up to a gentle simmer and leave for about 2½ hours (check after 2 hours). Give the casserole a stir every so often to ensure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the casserole. Taste for seasoning and add a little extra salt if you need.


  • You could use shin beef for this. Just trim a little of the fat from the meat and add at least an hour to the cooking time to allow this tough meat to tenderise. The extra fat in the meat will melt out, giving a rich and unctuous sauce.

Serves 4.

Lamb Saag

Indian Spices

This recipe is more or less Rick Stein’s Lamb & Spinach Karahi recipe, but I’ve simplified the recipe slightly and radically adjusted the amount of ghee/oil required. There is absolutely no sense in using 250g pure fat simply to fry half a kilo of onions. It’s crazy!

I’ve also added some dried fenugreek – it gives a great background flavour and is so typical of Indian curries.

As well as having a great flavour, this curry has a vivid green colour and makes a great visual contrast to “red” curries such as Kashmiri Lamb Rogan Josh or Butter Chicken.


  • 1.2kg diced lamb
  • 2-3 tbsp sunflower/groundnut oil
  • 500g onions, chopped (about 3 large onions)
  • 12 cloves  garlic, peeled
  • 50g root ginger, peeled and chopped roughly (about the size of a golf ball)
  • 400g canned tomatoes
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp each of the following: red chilli powder, sweet paprika, ground coriander, turmeric, garam masala, dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)
  • 300g spinach leaves
  • 4 medium-sized green chillies, stalks removed & roughly chopped


  1. Place a cast-iron casserole on the hob and heat the oil. Add the onions and cook the onions gently for around 30 minutes until soft and light brown in colour.
  2. Blitz the garlic, root ginger, tomatoes and water in a blender until smooth. Remove the browned onions from the casserole using a slotted spoon and add to the blender. Blend again until very smooth.
  3. Put the casserole back on the heat. Add the onion/tomato mixture to the casserole, then add the diced lamb, chicken stock and the ground spices. Stir to combine. Transfer to the oven and cook for 2-2½ hours until the meat is very tender.
  4. Just before the lamb is finished cooking, make the spinach puree. Put 200g of the spinach leaves in a large saucepan along with a splash of water. Place a lid on the saucepan and cook for about 2 minutes or until the spinach has wilted down. Transfer the spinach to a liquidizer along with another splash of water and blend until smooth. Set aside.
  5. Make the green chilli pureé. Blend the green chillies with some water until smooth and add to the curry. Set aside.
  6. Check the lamb is cooked to your satisfaction. At this point, you can spoon off the fat which has risen to the top of the sauce (see below). Stir through the spinach puree and the rest of the spinach leaves. Add the green chilli puree and simmer and heat through for another 5 minutes.
  7. Stir through the garam masala and fresh coriander. Taste for seasoning, adding plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Serve with rice and naan bread with some cooling yoghurt on the side, if you wish.

Serves 6.

Chicken Saag

The Big 8 – The only curry recipes you’ll ever need!” – Part 7/8

Indian Spices

Saag makes a really nice change from tomato-based curries, whether in a restaurant or cooking at home. The word “saag” typically refers to “greens” and not just spinach. In India, it would often comprise a mixture of spinach, mustard greens and fresh fenugreek leaves. Given the lack of availability of mustard greens and fresh fenugreek in Dublin, this interpretation uses spinach along with dried fenugreek (kasoori methi) for flavour.

As with most curry gravies, it is best to make the sauce in advance and allow it to cool. Then we can add our chicken and finish the sauce with the spinach. Simples.


  • 6 free-range chicken breast fillets (or use bone-in chicken thighs)
  • 2-3 tbsp sunflower/groundnut oil
  • 500g onions, chopped (about 3 large onions)
  • 10 cloves  garlic, peeled
  • 50g root ginger, peeled and chopped roughly (about the size of a golf ball)
  • 2 tsp of each of the following: ground cumin, red chilli flakes, ground coriander, garam masala
  • 1 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 green cardamoms, lightly crushed
  • 4 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 300g baby spinach leaves (or use regular spinach, stalks removed)
  • handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped
  • natural yoghurt, to serve


  1. Combine the ground spices listed above and set aside. This is our “masala”.
  2. Place a deep cast-iron casserole (or large saucepan) on the hob and heat the oil. Add the onions and cook them gently for around 30 minutes until soft and light brown in colour.
  3. In the meantime, blitz the garlic, root ginger and tomatoes in a blender until smooth. Add a little water to loosen if necessary. Remove the browned onions from the casserole using a slotted spoon and add to the blender. Blend again until very smooth.
  4. Put the casserole back on the heat and add the onion/tomato mixture to the casserole. Then add the ground spice masala, chicken stock and salt. Stir to combine and bring up to a gentle simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer very gently for about 45 mins.
  5. The sauce is now done. At this point it is best to leave the sauce to cool for a few hours (or preferably overnight). This really develops the flavour of the gravy and allows the spices and onions to mellow. You can skip this step however – it will still taste great.
  6. Bring the gravy back up to a gentlest simmer and add the cubed chicken. Cook for about 20 minutes (45 minutes if you’re using chicken thighs. Just remember to verify the chicken is cooked before eating.)
  7. Rinse the spinach in cold water and add two thirds of it to another saucepan. Cover with a lid and cook over a high heat for a minute or two until the spinach is wilted. Transfer the spinach to a clean blender and puree.
  8. Transfer the puree to the curry and add the rest of the spinach leaves. Cook for a minute and stir through a handful of  chopped fresh coriander. Drizzle over some natural yoghurt before serving. This goes really well with chapattis and plain basmati rice.

Serves 6.