Monday, 25 October 2010

Currying flavour?

I was privy to an interesting conversation the other day. The topic of the conversation was the reason for the extreme hotness of Thai and Indian curries.

The claim was that the reason those countries curries are so (in many cases) unbelievably hot is because generally (when cooking in their native state) the basic ingredients used are sub-standard, and in order to disguise that fact, strong spice usage occurs.

My initial instinctive reaction was to totally refute that statement but on reflection, decided this was a feasible explanation. Thailand or India aren’t like Australia geographically: they don’t have thousands of acres of outback areas devoted to sheep and cattle production. So it seemed logical to me that in order to disguise food that was possibly past its use-by date (and therefore definitely not at its freshest), hot spices were used to mask that fact.

A quick googling of the origin of curry only provided me with the background and definition of the actual word, rather than the reason for it.

Once again – food for thought.
Posted on by Rita


sir grumpy said...

Indian curries don't have to be hot, Rita. The quality of the ingredients will vary, but spices also help preserve meat.
No bad thing in hot climes. especially as the cuisine developed pre-refrigeration.
But then it was black pepper, not chilli, still to be brought in by the Portuguese in trading from South America.
If you get Camellia Panjabi's 50 Great Curries of India, you will find lovely mild curries, some heavily reliant on cardamom as the driving flavour.
Me, I like a nice Bhuna, medium and full of flavour.
With a nice paratha (which you can't get in Hobart, not a proper one anyway). Or a couple of chappatis.
You can turn down the heat on Thai too.
I had a nice yellow curry the other day (sans coconut milk) and it was lovely...just medium.

Rita said...

I agree Sir G about ones ability to make your curries appropriate to the level of hotness you want, rather than sweating the bejesus out of you! Following my chemo, I found that curry of any kind (which had previously been my favourite meal) was impossible to eat, so I had to go back to scratch with a (boring) stew/casserole meal, then gradually build up, slowly adding more and more spice (or curry paste), till I regained my previous love of and taste for a hot-ish curry.

sir grumpy said...

That must have been a harrowing time for you Rita.
I have nibbled a few curries in me time and know that longer cooking and a bit more coriander (seed and powder) can lessen the sting of the chilli and let them impart their flavour a lot more.
Mild paprika in half and half with chilli poweder is a greatr fix. Or any proportion of the two you like.
Kashmir chillies from Herbies Herbs (Wursthaus at Salamanca has them) or Spice World in Hobart give a lovely scent and a slightly lesser kick.
But you have to watch the other hots, ginger and pepper and mustard seed or oil.
Yoghurt is the foil, both in the pot and served as a side, in say a raita.
I had a vindaloo the other day from a cafe and it was nicely hot but the cook ruined it with too much salt. Ah well, I might make my own again!

Cartouche said...

My dad was in the Navy, he always said that curry hides a thousand sins. They reckoned (back in the 50s, that you always offered it to a dog in the street first, if it refused then..)with the heat it was hard to keep fresh food, after you boil it to death and kill the nasties, then the taste was disguised with spices.
Me, I love a good curry, but I hate the over use of cayenne and chillie etc. I see no point on something burning me on the way in and stinging me on the way out (Johnny Cash ring of fire anyone). But the skillful combination of spices in sauce or a flavour that enhances a dish gets my attention every time.


steve said...

Hi Rita-It never ceases to amaze me that many people associate curries with the hotness of chilli. To me curries are all about fragrance first then taste and texture. Not all curries are hot, thats just ignorance.
I still remember the curries made for an Indian wedding years ago at the Hotel i worked in. It was all family cooking and the whole kitchen wafted with these rich and pungent aromas. The taste of them was to die for and not a single one was ass-burningly hot!

Victor said...

Rita - what make curry interesting is the different mix of spices, as you already know from teaching your classes. Coconut cream, coconut milk, yoghurt, palm sugar, fish sauce and tamarind juice all help tone down the hotness of the chilies in their own rights. I always vary the hotness on my curry dish, depending on my craving for a scale of 1, 2 or 3 chili hot. You may even choose to leave out the chili and use fresh curry leaves (like from my curry tree in my green house) to deliver the pungent, curry flavour from the leaves as a dried curry dish with no chili at all. Interesting eh? Multitude of curries in The Land of Curry.

Christina said...

Victor, I have been after a curry tree for ages and have been unable to find anyone that stocks them in Tassie. Do you mind if I ask where you got yours as I would dearly love one?

Rita said...

I agree with both Steve and Victor about the skill in curry making being more about your use of the various combinations of spices rather than making them as hot as blazes, and I love the challenge of making curries for that very reason. However that is different from the original conversation I related in the body of the post which related to the origins of the heat of curries, and my feeling is that probably Sir G's suggestion that the spices assist in the preservation of food in those hotter climes sounds very feasible.

cheeky1 said...

I agree with all here.. people seem to think spice means heat when it is just aromatics. depends on what part of india your in some are sweeter some hotter.. but the main thing would be personal choice.. i love chilli i eat so much i dont even feel the heat in it i just get the flavour but someone who hardly ever eats chilli would have a heart attack if they tried mine

Victor said...

Hi Christina - I bough my tree a couple of years ago. Happened to stumble on it when I was at K&D Hobart! I was indeed very surprised. They had two at that time. It is growing well in my green house. I am hoping the flowers will seed, so I can try and grow them.

Cartouche said...

Hey Rita, got my copy of Tasmanian Life today. Love your bit on Blue skies, and your introduction to this quality mag.
Looking forward to much more from you you lucky thing.


Christina said...

Thanks Victor. I'll have to put a little more effort into stumbling across one myself then. We have a small greenhouse where we grow our basil and chilli so could be perfect.

bri said...

Christina, I have been trying to find one too, with no luck! I even asked at the speciality nursery stalls at the Salamanca markets. One of the stallholders had tried growing them commercially but didn't succeed due to the Tassie cold.

I guess we will have to continue to look for one at the bigger garden centres in case they make their way into the state :)

Christina said...

I asked at Spice World once Bri and was told I could probably order one from the mainland. Unsure about quarantine issues and such though. I'll keep my eyes open and if I find one will let you know.

doolz said...

Chilli is addictive.
For me all curry needs to have a some heat to it and at times I need fresh chillis on the side for extra pleasure. It enhances everthing else on the plate (it's pointless when's it's so hot your taste is numbed). Whatever suits you taste.
It doesn't hide the taste or render safe, OFF meat.
Our family here and abroad all love heat in any asian dishes. It's a great addiction.

a bit suprised said...

Sorry Rita off topic but I just saw the Hill St Grocer newsletter and was very suprised to learn that a butcher in Cygnet makes all the Rare Food stuff like sausages and green bacon and hams. Apparently the butcher uses Evans and O Mearas pigs for the Rare Food products. I was under the impression that Evans and O Meara made them? Can someone please clarify if this is true or not?

dillon said...

btw I grow my curry leaf tree in a pot on the balcony. It usually loses a lot of leaves over winter but gets lovely new leaves in spring. (frozen or dried leaves just don't cut it)
I got some fruit but the seeds so far have failed to germinate here. If I get some(or sucker shoots)this year I'll let you know

Plant Finder said...

Chandlers Nursery on Queen Street had a few curry plants for sale the last time I was there. The plants are in the octagonal glasshouse where tropical ferns and houseplants are kept. They are expensive, but if you use curry leaves extensively, the price will be a bargain.

Rita said...

Hi A bit surprised - Evans & O'Meara ARE Rare Foods, so it's all good.
Thanks Cartouche - glad someone in the world has seen it, as I definitely haven't! One of the guys at work went out to buy a copy today, went to 3 newsagents and came away still with no Tassie Life!
Thanks to observant Plant Finder - the ladies will be rushing there I'll bet!

Anonymous said...

rumours are flying today, all staff front and back of house at Marque 4 walked out yesterday, anyone got the goss

Anonymous said...

Restaurant manager and head chef both resigned this week, not related to each other. They gave good notice from all accounts. Some casual staff have or are leaving in the next few weeks. Apparently still operating as per usual. There has not being a mass walk out.

Anonymous said...

as i say, rumours, but thanks for the update

giggles said...

is marque iv the new peppermint bay?