Beef Rendang

It’s true – curry is hard to photograph!

I’m sitting here sweltering: the thermometer has slid past 36°C yet again, and I’m hanging out for the cool change late this afternoon or early evening. Tomorrow’s forecast 29°C sounds almost chilly.

As I’m very much a winter person, I would like to swap with my mates in Leeds, who are currently enjoying temperatures just above 0°C. At least in that weather you can rug up, head to the pub for a cheeky pint and then tuck into a big curry. OK – you do have to dodge the icy footpaths (something I very definitely do NOT miss), but at least you feel like eating, which is the last thing on my mind right now!

Before temperatures took off, I made this beef rendang. The original recipe came from a 2003 Sainsbury magazine. As I no longer own the original I have no idea what tweaks may have taken place in 10 years. If you are familiar with rendang then you’ll notice that mine looks nowhere near authentic: I didn’t have the time to leave it cooking for long enough for the coconut milk to evaporate properly. It doesn’t matter: this still tastes fantastic!

Take 1kg of cubed beef and brown it in a large pan, in batches if necessary. Remove the beef and set aside.

In the same pan, add a little extra oil (use a flavourless oil, such as peanut) and brown a generous 2 tsp of grated ginger, 1 stalk of lemongrass, finely sliced, 1 onion, finely sliced and 6 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped. Add 10 curry leaves (as I have these growing at home I always add even more because I love the flavour!), chilli to taste (either fresh birds eye chillis or chilli flakes), ½ stick cinnamon, 4 cloves, 5 green cardamom pods, 1 star anise, chilli powder (again, to taste – the original recipe states 1 tbsp but you really have to hold your nerve to use that much!), 1 tbsp turmeric, ½ tbsp ground coriander and ½ tbsp ground cumin.

Give this all a good stir fry and then add a 400mL tin of coconut milk and an additional 200mL of water. If you are in a hurry reduce the amount of coconut milk you use and omit the water – this will give you a thicker gravy without the long cooking time.  Bring this mix to the boil and then add an additional stem or two of lemongrass (whole, but bruised).

Reduce the heat and return the meat to the pan. Simmer (very gently – if you let it boil now you’ll end up with super tough meat) for a couple of hours.

The longer you can let it simmer for the better: flavours will develop and the coconut milk will start to evaporate, leaving behind a dense, fudgy and quite dry curry, with beautifully tender meat.

Serve with rice, and garnish with fresh coriander.

Perfect for staving off a cold winter night in the northern hemisphere … and, if you put enough chilli in, great for working up a sweat here in the sweltering south of Australia!

Anjum Anand’s Punjabi Chicken Curry Recipe

Punjabi Chicken Curry

A brief spate of cool weather saw us thinking about fitting in a curry. Andy initially wanted a lamb curry but we’d had arni souvlaki earlier in the the week so we ended up opting for chicken.

I chose this recipe, from Anjum’s New Indian, mainly because we had the ingredients all in house and ready to go. I’m not sure if Anjum Anand’s shows have made it on to Australian TV, but she did some fun programs in the UK where she showed curry enthusiasts that it was just as easy to cook a curry from scratch as it is to open a jar.

While this recipe doesn’t require a lot of cooking time for the meat, it does require time and it lends itself really well to being something you prep in the morning. Try throwing it together when you get home from work and you’re tired and hungry and I doubt it will turn out as well.

Begin by making a paste of about 1 tsp of crushed ginger, 5 cloves of garlic and a little water.

Next, take 2 black cardamom pods, give them a whack and put the seeds into a mortar. Add 2 cloves and grind and then mix in about ½ tsp of ground cinnamon. The black cardamom seeds smell amazing: they have the anise notes you’d expect but also a really strong menthol character. As in, really really strong. Make this curry if you have a cold!

In a large pan (in my case, the wok) heat some peanut oil, add about 20 curry leaves (washed and dried) and 1 onion, finely chopped. Anand uses a bay leaf but we have a curry leaf plant and I love the smell of them.

Now, boring part number one. Cook unti the onion browns. This takes ages. Don’t make the mistake of whacking up the temperature, because all that does is burn the onion. You need a medium temperature and you need to hang around and stir the onion so that it browns evenly. This part of making a curry bores me to tears but it is also well worth it.

When the onions are brown, add the garlic and ginger paste and, in my case, one dried Kashmiri chilli. Anand uses fresh, whole green chillis that you prick all over. But, as with the curry leaves, we have the dried chillis coming out of our ears so that’s what got used!

Cook this for a few minutes and then add your chicken. I used chicken thigh fillets (about 400g), cut into generous mouthful sized pieces. Anand always recommends using joints. Yes, the bones do mean flavour but generally I’m pretty lazy and thighs at least have more flavour than breast fillets. They’re also less likely to dry out.

Brown the chicken and then add the spices: 2½ tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp ground cumin, a pinch of red chilli powder (to taste, really), some turmeric and about 1 tsp of garam masala. And, of course, the cardamom, clove and cinnamon mix. Also add a good pinch of salt. Stir, and add three smallish tomatoes, cut into wedges. Top up the pan with some water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and cook for a further 15 minutes.

Uncover the pan and increase the heat to high to brown and reduce your sauce. This is boring bit number two, but not as bad as the first as you don’t have to hang around quite as much. But you do really need to let it cook slowly for a while with the occasional stir. Suddenly you’ll notice the sauce has thickened and darkened.

When you’re ready to serve, mix through a generous handful of chopped coriander. Instead of rice, we had homemade naan bread. Delicious, and absolutely worth the hanging around and stirring!

Rogan Josh

Rogan josh spice mix

Ages ago I won a copy of Just Add Spice, by Lyndey Milan and Ian Hemphill. I have actually made a couple of things from it, including an excellent fish dish, but not blogged them. So today we redress that with the book’s take on rogan josh.

Rogan josh is a Kashmiri dish which is typically made with lamb but I’m sure this dish would work just fine with any other meat of your choice.

Just Add Spice has a lot of emphasis on making your own spice mixes, which I wish I found in more recipes. I always like to compare recipes for dishes such as this and while googling came across too many that gave lists of ingredients that included “jar of Rogan Josh curry paste”. Sigh.

If you can spare yourself the 5 minutes (or so) to make a spice mix it’s an invaluable thing to have in your culinary drawer. There are plenty of times when making a curry needs to be a quick exercise and if you have a decent homemade curry powder you save yourself a ton of time (and money).

Having said that, in this case the recipe gives you just the measurements you need for the finished dish but you can always double or triple up. The other thing about this spice mix recipe is that you don’t need to toast the spices at all. It’s just a case of measuring them out straight into the grinder and off you go.

Don’t be too pernickety about measuring things out here – you’re working with rough ratios and we’re not baking. So, into your grinder measure out: 2½ tsp coriander seeds, 2 tsp cumin sees, 1 tsp paprika, ½ tsp each of chilli powder, ground ginger and turmeric and ¼ tsp each of fennel seeds, nutmeg, cardamom seeds (from green cardamom) and cloves.

Measuring out nutmeg is a bit of a pain so I just grated what looked like roughly the right. Cardamom seeds – well, yes, if you only have pods there is a bit of bother here. You’ll need to get the seeds out of about 5 pods. The pods are easy enough to break into: a firm whack with the back of a solid knife will do the trick.

Grind everything up into a powder. This makes approximately 2 tbsp.

Although this supposedly makes enough for this recipe I found I had some leftover which I used up next time I needed to jazz up some meat.  Of course, it would work perfectly well for vegetarian dishes too!

For the rogan josh itself, take approximately 1kg of diced lamb (we used leg) and marinate it in a mix of plain yoghurt and the spice blend. The recipe calls for 500g of yoghurt but, based on my experience, this will be way too much. Tread carefully with your yoghurt!

You only need to marinate it for about 15 minutes so don’t feel you have to start this recipe a day in advance.

On the stove, heat ⅓ cup of mustard oil in a heavy casserole which will be OK in the oven. When it’s hot, add some chopped onions (I used 3 – I suggest you use some judgement depending on how much you like onion!) and cook until golden. Add 5 or 6 cloves of crushed/chop garlic and then the lamb and yoghurt mix.

Give it a stir, then add ½ tin of chopped tomatoes and bring to a simmer. The place in a preheated oven and leave it to do its thing.

The book says to have the oven at 100°C (80°C fan) and to cook for 2 hours. This temperature is just waaaaaaaaay too low. After two hours the meat was barely cooked through, the sauce hadn’t even begun to thicken up and dinner was starting to look a long way off.

When cooking meat slowly like this you don’t want to hit a boil – you want things to stay just under a simmer. And I guess that is why the recipe suggests putting the curry in the oven on such a low heat. Next time I’d just cook this on the stove because it’s much easier to keep an eye on how quickly things are moving, and it’s also much easier to take the lid off to allow for sauce thickening up. If you do want to use the oven I think I’d be starting things off at around 150°C and seeing how they progress.

When the lamb is cooked and tender serve with rice, garnished with coriander.

On first eating this dish I thought it was really dull – the yoghurt really seemed to have washed out the flavours of the spices. However, the next day it was much tastier, so I suspect the problem lay in the fact that the oven cooking had been at such a low heat the flavours (and sauce) had had no opportunity to concentrate. I may have also been too generous with the yoghurt marinade.

I later used the leftover spice mix in something else and it was perfectly tasty so I can’t lay the blame there.

The spice mix I will definitely make again but as a whole, this curry recipe doesn’t really cut the mustard.