The best curry-making advice I ever received was this: never, ever, EVER use a jar of curry powder that you have bought from a shop. I remember reading, years ago, that commercial curry powder is mainly comprised of the scrapings and dust from the factory floor; while I doubt that is actually true, some of the curry powders I have tasted over the years are so disgusting that it wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Many curry recipes don’t call for curry powder at all, instead they require freshly roasted and ground whole spices. I have an extensive spice cupboard filled with all kinds of whole and ground spices that I use so frequently that there is never a danger of anything going beyond its best. That is the first true secret to a great curry: use the freshest spices you possibly can. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using ground spices from a packet, just make sure they are from a reputable, high-quality manufacturer – I don’t do endorsements but you will quickly learn which ones are the best – and make sure they are as fresh as possible. If that means digging into the back of a shelf in the store to get the newest stock then don’t be embarrassed.
There are times however when a good curry powder is exactly what is needed, and this mix – compliments of Madhur Jaffrey – is as good as it gets. It has layers of complex flavour and aromas, it bursts with life and does a little dance with your taste buds. If that all sounds like I’m getting a bit carried away, make it and see for yourself…
RECIPE – makes a small jar
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tsp black peppercorns
1 1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
6 whole cloves
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
2 tsp hot chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
In a large pan – NOT non-stick – place the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, brown mustard seeds and whole cloves. Put over a high heat and stay with the pan, shaking every few seconds. Within a minute or so the spices should start to become aromatic, this is the dangerous time…
If you burn your spices you have no option but to start again, so watch them carefully. Just as the cumin seeds start to darken and you can really smell everything – this takes just a couple of minutes at the most – add the fenugreek seeds. Shake the pan for ten seconds then take off the heat and immediately empty the spices onto a plate (preferably a metal one) to cool. The pan will be very hot so if you had left the spices in it they would burn.
Using a small electric coffee grinder – I have a small, cheap one which I use exclusively for grinding spices – or a mortar and pestle, add the chilli flakes, chilli powder and turmeric to the toasted spices, and grind to a fine, well mixed powder.
Store in a jar in a cool, dark place and this mix will easily last 3 months or more without losing much of its vitality. It is quite exceptional when used straight from the grinder.