Curry Magic: How to Create Modern Indian Restaurant Dishes at Home by Pat Chapman | Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Curry Magic: How to Create Modern Indian Restaurant Dishes at Home

Curry Magic: How to Create Modern Indian Restaurant Dishes at Home

by Pat Chapman

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How to bring the flavor of your local curry restaurant to your home kitchen and make it your own

Many people are first introduced to Indian food at a restaurant, and this wonderful book will teach cooks the simple, effective, and time-saving techniques used by Indian chefs. Unlike many cookbooks, this one offers straightforward


How to bring the flavor of your local curry restaurant to your home kitchen and make it your own

Many people are first introduced to Indian food at a restaurant, and this wonderful book will teach cooks the simple, effective, and time-saving techniques used by Indian chefs. Unlike many cookbooks, this one offers straightforward instructions that focus on how to create food with an infinite variety of tastes, helping readers to cook delicious, hassle-free meals. There is an excellent selection of well-tested dishes combining all the restaurant favorites with a liberal sprinkling of recipes found in Indian homes. With a little practice cooks will be able to produce snacks, meals, or even banquets that will delight their family and friends. Includes dual measures.

Editorial Reviews

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"Readers on this side of the Atlantic will welcome Chapman's easy to follow handbook. . . . Recipes are adapted for the typical Western kitchen and cook . . . With their lively writing and opinionated treatment of curry cuisine, these recipes are a pleasure to read, a pleasure to cook from and, most importantly, a pleasure to sample."  —Publishers Weekly

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John Blake Publishing, Limited
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Curry Magic

How to Create Modern Indian Restaurant Dishes at Home

By Pat Chapman

John Blake Publishing Ltd

Copyright © 2013 Pat Chapman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78219-419-4



For two reasons I have decided to start this chapter in a slightly unusual way for a cookbook – by describing the daily routine at the average curry house. It is not that these routines have much, if anything, in common with our own household routines – nor with those of the household in India. Nor do I include this information to assist those whose ambition it is to open their own restaurant.

The first reason for including it is that it is fascinating to understand how an establishment copes with providing, almost instantly, the many dishes on its menu. The second is that there are certain methods and techniques which we can use to advantage in our own cooking.

The remainder of this chapter contains other useful background information, which you need to understand in order to produce curry dishes.

The Curry House Routine

Running a curry restaurant is a complicated business, requiring a number of skills. Most curry houses do a small lunch trade (although many do well at Sunday lunchtime) and busy evenings – Saturday is the busiest and Monday the quietest. The average 80-seater can easily serve 200 diners on Saturday, but only 30 on Monday. It will serve 700 people in a week.

Recently I was privileged enough to be invited to 'guest chef' at both The Bengal Lancer, 253 Kentish Town Road, London NW5 and The North West Frontier, 310 Caledonian Road, London N1 for four days each. It was a fascinating experience. I observed the daily routine in these two restaurants, and it is no doubt identical in most of the 5,300 curry establishments up and down the country.

At 10 am the kitchen staff assembles and it does its preparation for the day. A medium-sized curry house has a kitchen brigade of six for each 100 seats. One will be on holiday or on his day off. The others all have specific jobs to do. Two will prepare the garlic, onions and vegetables and top up their curry gravy. One will butcher the meat, preparing 25–50 lb (11–22 kg) of leg meat, depending on how busy they expect to be (i.e. which day of the week it is). Another will prepare chickens, skinning, boning and dicing them. The fifth man will be making tandoori marinades, firing up the clay oven, making bread dough and washing the rice. By midday most of the preparation is done and cauldrons are simmering on the stove. Mutton is being mildly curried, so is chicken and a lentil dish. Another huge pot is bubbling away with curry masala gravy.

The vegetable man delivers a sack of onions, 6 lb (2.7 kg) of garlic, and a huge assortment of vegetables. It is quickly chopped up. There is already a mountain of garlic – not chopped, just peeled – and a huge bucket full of peeled onions. The buckets are topped up. Deftly and very fast vegetables are got ready for onion salad, mushroom bhajee and so on. Some of the mutton is placed in a bucket of vivid orange marinade, whilst chicken quarters and breast cubes are placed in plastic buckets containing red marinade. 'For tikka and tandoori,' grunts the tandoor chef, at the same time prodding the charcoal at the bottom of his clay oven.

In the restaurant five of the six waiters are at work cleaning, polishing, laying up tables, re-stocking the bar and re-ordering drink from their supplier.

Then it's lunchtime. About twelve people come in between 12.30 and 2 and they are served.

Meanwhile the kitchen is still hard at work preparing for the evening. By now the meat has cooked; it is completely tender and has been strained and allowed to cool. Amazingly they throw away the lovely stock juices. It's the same with the chicken and the vegetables.

At around 2 o'clock, someone half-cooks two huge saucepans of rice – one plain boiled, the other pullao rice. Once both are ready they are put into a warm oven. This will finish off the grains slowly, allow them to become separate, and will be perfect for the evening.

At 3 o'clock everything is ready and they all take a three-hour break.

Six-thirty and everything is humming. The first customers have placed their orders. The waiter takes his written slips to the kitchen. The tandoor chef loads up his 4 foot (1.2 metre) long skewers and places his kebabs and tikkas into the white hot coals. He grabs a tennis-ball-sized piece of dough and, as he deftly slaps it between his hands, it becomes a naan. He carefully places it on a rounded pad covered with a teatowel and with this he places the naan on to the inside wall of the tandoor to which it sticks and elongates into its familiar tear-shape whilst cooking. At the stove two chefs take long-handled frying pans in which they heat some ghee over the high-pressure gas stove. Then they add this and that spice from an array of plastic tubs in front of them. A flick of a giant cooking spoon and in goes a dollop of curry gravy. The pan is clattered back and forth and intentionally made to flambe. A huge sheet of flame whoofs up and at once dies – it caramelises the spices in the pan, I'm told, in go the cooked meat and cream and almonds for a korma. In another pan it's chicken dhansak: lentils and other vegetables are made to flare then simmer. The pans seem to burst into life all at once. The cooked food is then put into warm serving dishes, along with the rice, and taken off by the waiters.

By 7.30 the restaurant is full: 80 people are being served. The kitchen is going full tilt. The two huge stoves are always in use, as is the tandoor. The washer-up is equally busy, and for the five kitchen staff and five waiters work goes on without a break for another 5½ hours until the restaurant shuts at 1 am. Some 200 people have ordered up to 1,000 items between them. Everything went smoothly tonight – it usually does. The staff finally relax and eat their own meal – a mutton and chick pea curry they cooked for themselves during the bedlam. Little is said as they scoop up their meal with chupattis. But there is hardly any food left over, and there is still the kitchen to clean up. By 2 am the last of them has locked up and gone home to a well-earned bed, safe in the knowledge that the same routine will start up again at 10 am in the morning. Who ever said catering was easy?

Kitchen Equipment

In the recipes which follow, you will need a frying pan, a grill pan and wire rack, two or three saucepans, the largest of which should be 5 pints (3 litres), about 8 inches (20cm) in diameter and 5 inches (13cm) deep. You will also need one or more lidded casserole dishes of between 3½–5 pints (2–3 litres) capacity, and ordinary oven baking trays. For preparation work you need large and small mixing bowls, measuring equipment, sharp knives and a rolling pin and board. The average kitchen should already have all this equipment.

Two special Indian cooking pans which I find extremely useful are the karahi or kadahi and the tawa or tava. The karahi is the Indian version of the Chinese wok. Traditionally it is made of cast iron, has two handles and a rounded bottom for use over charcoal fires. Modern karahis are made from pressed carbon steel and the bottom is flattened to enable the pan to be used on modern stoves. The karahi is an all-purpose cooking pan used for stir-frying, simmering, frying and deep-frying. Its hemispherical shape makes it efficient in a way that a conventional frying pan or saucepan is not. The heat is at its hottest on the flat part and it then gets progressively cooler the higher up the sides you go. This enables the cook to control the temperature of the ingredients by shifting them from the centre outwards. The shape of the karahi makes it very efficient for deep-frying. A conventional saucepan, being flat bottomed with straight sides, requires more oil than the curved-sided karahi. Both of these pans are worth investing in. They can be obtained by mail order from The Curry Club, see Appendix 1.

Ever since Kenwood invented their Kenwood Chef, the cook's life has been made easy. Jobs such as making purees and doughs, shredding, slicing, peeling and grinding, became virtually instant and absolutely effortless. Blenders and liquidisers are ideal for making purees.

The new-style food processor purees just about anything, without liquid, and is particularly good for garlic, ginger and onion. I also find it perfect for 'grinding' meat for kebabs. It achieves the fine pounded texture akin to the authentic stone-pounded technique,especially when fresh garlic, ginger, coriander, chilli and spices are thrown in too. The difference is that the processor does in 60 seconds what the Indian villager would need 60 minutes' hard labour to do.

Other useful tools include thermostatically controlled deep-fryers, slow cookers (excellent for curry making in place of casseroling), rice cookers (again excellent, but expensive if seldom used) and yoghurt makers.

Electric coffee grinders manage to grind most spices in small doses, but a newly developed product by Kenwood – the spice mill designed to fit on to the Kenwood Chef – does a much better job. Every serious curry cook should invest in one.


Spices are vegetable matter: most are seeds, pods or berries, while others are dry leaves, stigma, buds, roots, rhizomes, even resin. They are harvested from trees, shrubs, plants or flowers.

Most spices taken on their own are bitter, unpalatable and in some cases inedible (cassia or cinnamon bark for example), but used correctly in small amounts, singly, or in combination, they add flavour to food. There are over 60 whole spices that can be used in Indian cooking. Fortunately some of these are rarely used, whilst some are virtually indispensible. Some are used whole, some ground. The questions which face the curry cook are what spices to purchase, in what quantities, where can they be obtained, how much will they cost, and how long will they last. I have listed all the spices used in this book in Appendix 2, along with sensible storage quantities.

As to the cost, even if one bought everything listed in Appendix 2, the total is minimal – certainly no more than the cost of one good meal at a restaurant, and of course the enjoyment of using the spices more than offsets its small cost in terms of money. Frequency of usage depends on how often you decide to cook a curry!


Whole spices retain their flavour longer than ground, for one year or more sometimes. Ground spices give off a stronger aroma than whole, and of course this means their storage life is that much shorter. Three months is about right for most ground items. So plan your larder accordingly, and buy little and often and grind freshly. Keep the spices out of sunlight (better in a dark pantry) and in airtight labelled containers. Coffee or jam jars are excellent.


It is better by far to grind your own whole spices whenever you can. Firstly you can be sure of the quality and contents, and secondly they will be fresher and tastier. The traditional method is by mortar and pestle, but you can use an electric coffee grinder or the new Kenwood spice mill After a damp wipe a coffee grinder can still be used for coffee – it might even enhance the flavour! Use small quantities to prevent overloading the motor.

Don't try to grind dry ginger or turmeric. They are too fibrous for most small grinders, and commercial powders are adequate. Peppers – chilli, paprika and black or white pepper – are tricky, and commercially ground powders will suffice. The oilier spices such as cloves, nutmeg, brown cardamoms and bay leaves are easier to grind if roasted first.

In the recipes, when a spice if referred to as 'ground', this means factory ground. Where it requires the spice to be home ground (usually after roasting), the recipe clearly states this.


Whole spices are roasted to enhance or change the flavour. The process is simple and can be done in a dry pan on the stove, in a dry electric frying pan, under the grill or in the oven. Each spice should be heated until it gives off an aroma. The heat should be medium rather than hot and the time required is a few minutes. The spice should not blacken, a light brown at most is sufficient. The original oil of the spice must not be totally cooked out or it will lose its flavour. A little experimenting will soon show you how to do it. in some recipes pre-roasted spices are important (see garam masala, pages 42–3).


The use of herbs in cooking performs a similar function to spices – to add flavour to food. They are usually fresh or dried leaves of plants cultivated exclusively for the purpose. They also add greatly to the appearance of a dish when used as garnishes. The use of herbs is, of course, widespread in Mediterranean countries such as France, Italy and Greece. Middle Eastern cooking uses almost as many spices as Indian, but it also uses a wide selection of herbs. Considering the historical relationship between the Arabs and India in terms of trade and invasions over the last 2,000–3,000 years, it is surprising that the use of herbs in Indian cooking is minimal. In fact, the main herb is fresh coriander leaf which has a very distinctive, acquired, musky taste, a little redolent of the not unpleasant fragrance of candle wax. But it is a very important taste which contributes greatly to achieving both 'that restaurant taste' and authentic flavours.

The other herb which is used from time to time is mint, particularly spearmint. Its use will crop up in a few of the recipes which follow. A tiny pinch of dried mint livens up many curry dishes, giving them a fresh taste. Add it 10 minutes before the end of cooking.


Certain ingredients are used to add texture and/or flavour to Indian cooking, chief of which are garlic, ginger and onion (see Chapter 2), coconut chilli, oils and dairy products.


Coconut is used extensively in South India and Bengal and all the curry lands to the East. Desiccated coconut is one substitute for fresh coconut and can be used by adding it dry to your cooking, or by simmering it in water and straining it to create coconut 'milk'. A new product to this country is coconut powder – very finely ground dry coconut flesh – which has a creamier taste than desiccated, and mixes well with water.

To choose a fresh coconut, shake before buying to ensure it is full of liquid (the more liquid it has the fresher it is). Coconuts without liquid or with mouldy or wet eyes should not be used.

To use:

1 Make a hole in two of the three eyes with a screwdriver or nail. Drain off and keep the liquid (coconut water).

2 Bake empty coconut in oven at 400ºF/200ºC/Gas 6 for 15 minutes.

3 While still hot crack it with a hammer. Remove the flesh.

4 Cut into 1 inch (2.5cm) cubes and soak in water for 4 hours.

5 Strain the flesh, keeping the liquid.

6 Squeeze the flesh to get remaining liquid.

7 Combine the liquids from 1, 5 and 6 to make coconut milk.

Use the flesh, in chunks or puréed in curries.

The familiar 7 oz (200g) rich block of 'creamed coconut' is a combination of freshly grated coconut flesh and coconut oil, which sets solid. To use this boil a little water. Cut off the amount required and melt it in the hot water. If you try to fry it without water, it will burn. It must be kept under refrigeration.

Coconut oil comes set solid in bottles with no instructions as to how to extract it. It is, however, simple. Ensure the cap is screwed on tightly then immerse the bottle in hot water for a few minutes. The oil becomes transparent as it melts.


Chilli peppers, of which there are over 1,500 species, are native to Mexico and the tropical forests of Central and Southern America. They were not discovered until the fifteenth century when Spanish and Portuguese explorers stumbled across them, along with tobacco, the potato, the tomato, the turkey and sweetcorn. It did not take long for the chilli to be carried across oceans to India. The Portuguese took them to their southern Indian bases, and the southern Indians took to chillies like ducks to water. Up until that time, and for thousands of years before, black peppercorn had been the 'heat' agent; indeed it remains India's greatest export – the 'King of Spices' – to this day.


Excerpted from Curry Magic by Pat Chapman. Copyright © 2013 Pat Chapman. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Pat Chapman is the author of The Modern Balti Cookbook and The New Curry Bible.

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