Homemade curry powder. Photo by Magda S.
Today’s tip is a teaching moment from Chef Johnny Gnall. If you have questions or suggestions for tips, email Chef Johnny.
If you produce your own seasonings, you have the discretion to alter them to fit your preferences, whether they be increasing the heat, decreasing the garlic or making whatever changes suit you.
Here are two Asian seasonings for you to make, store and use: curry powder and chile oil.
They’re easy to make, and you can use them in everything from breakfast eggs and luncheon salads to dinner recipes.
You can give them as gifts, too: delicious ingredients with a personal touch.
Make them in small batches at first, until you reach a level of comfort with the process.
Once you have it down, you can make quarts or more at a time and have them in your pantry for use in specific recipes, or to experiment with—or that last-minute gift.
MAKE YOUR OWN CURRY POWDER
This recipe is for a very basic curry powder. Curry powders you buy at the grocery store tend to be pretty generic (especially the domestic products made for the “American palate”), so you really are better off creating your own. It will save you money and enable you to bring out the flavors that you prefer. Throughout India and Asia, each household and restaurant has its proprietary recipe.
1. It’s a good idea to toast your spices in a pan over medium high heat, tossing as you do so; it will make your curry powder that much more aromatic and flavorful.
2. You can use a food processor or blender to combine the spices, or just mix them thoroughly with a wire whisk. Mix thoroughly and store in a tightly-capped jar or bottle.
VARIATIONS: Turmeric gives curry powder its orange/yellow color; cayenne, ginger and chili powder provide the heat. As you play around with the proportions, add the spices by the teaspoon. These spices are by no means the only acceptable ones for a curry powder. Try asafoetida, black cardamom, black pepper, caraway, cayenne (red pepper), cinnamon, clove, fennel seed, fenugreek, garlic, green cardamom, long pepper, mustard seed and/or nutmeg. If something smells or tastes right to you, give it a try.
Evidence for the blend of spices, later known as kari in the Tamil language of southern India, dates back 2500 B.C.E. The word kari means “spices,” and came to indicate a complex mixture of spices and herbs.
While blends varied by region and households, they usually included cumin, coriander, fresh or dried chilies, ginger and turmeric; and generally describes dishes prepared in a sauce.
Kari was written as “curry” by Portuguese traders. In the 18th century, Indian merchants sold a commercialized, pre-mixed, all-purpose curry powder for British Colonials returning to England to use in their home cooking.
MAKE YOUR OWN CHILE OIL
This recipe is for a fermented chile oil—much more complex than a store-bought chile oil.
I absolutely love oils like this. The fermentation develops the flavor in a unique way and brings out umami, which makes a recipe that much better.
Drizzle it into soups for a garnish-with-a-kick; add some to salad dressings, sauces and marinades; use as a dipping oil; finish a sauté. It can substitute wherever oil is used as a condiment, alone or in combination with a mild oil.
Homemade chile oil. Photo courtesy Caviar Russe | New York City.
1. Combine the flavor ingredients in the oil and heat over medium-low heat, to about 150°F (use a kitchen thermometer).
2. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cool, transfer to a jar or other sealable container and cap tightly.
3. Let the mixture sit for at least a week, preferably two weeks; then it’s ready to go. It’s interesting to see how the favors develop and change as the fermentation process takes place.
4. Once you’ve made a successful (to your preferences) batch, you can try versions with other herbs and aromatics. For gifts, tie a ribbon around the neck of a bottle and use your computer printer to create a gift label.