The Curry Guy


I can’t live without it. And thus it was only natural that I used some of my Santa Claus money to buy myself a copy of Dan Toombs’s clever cookbook, The Curry Guy: Recreate Over 100 of the Best British Indian Restaurant Recipes at Home (2017). The cooking found in British Indian Restaurants. Or BIRs.

Two days after the book arrived, the weather turned cold – well, cold for here in north Florida anyway. And so I popped into the kitchen for a whole day and cooked from Mr. Toombs’s cookbook. When my kitchen turned steamy and hot and smelled “all garlicky and gingery,” as Mr. Toombs describes it so enticingly (also “magificient”), I decided to pre-order his next book,  The Curry Guy Easy: 100 Fuss-Free British Restaurant Classics to Make at Home (May 2018)

I’d discovered when I spent time in London that for some reason curry dishes in an upscale Kensington Indian restaurant all tasted suspiciously alike. And slightly gooey. Please forgive me, but at that time it didn’t occur to me that such a conclusion should not have been a surprise. Not a clue did I possess about the inner workings of the BIR kitchen.

But guess what?

My taste buds told the truth. British Indian restaurants DO use a base sauce for many of their curries. You’ll not be shocked, either, I am sure, to learn that a restaurant’s staff also cooks most of the meat beforehand. This process saves time, gets food to customers fast, and maximizes the bottom line. Cooking that way takes on the nature of a paint-by-number enthusiast, however, or so it seemed to me.

But no.

Despite making the base sauce, pre-cooked stewed chicken, spice stock, tomato puree, and mixed powder – a sort of curry powder, I found the Chicken Pathia required a few more steps than simply playing the “dump-everything-together-in-the-pot” game. Nor paint-by-numbers, either. And that, dear Readers, is the key.

You DON’T throw everything in the pot and hope for the best. No, the Chicken Pathia tasted fresh, with none of the library paste consistency I expected from a pre-made sauce. An “aha” moment for me, because I suddenly “got” the secret behind Sharwoods’s successful line of curry sauces.

I cooked another of Mr. Toombs’s dishes, Lamb Keema, only I used beef instead, not being fan of anything remotely sheep. The resulting curry sauce did not taste anything like that of the Chicken Pathia, even though the recipe required the exact same base sauce.

The best part? Ending up with almost 5 quarts of curry base in my freezer. Plus a tomato-scented chicken stock from the pre-cooked chicken, which I used for creating a quick soup after a long and tiring day.  Mr. Toombs includes a number of recipes for many of the old standbys of the British Indian kitchen in The Curry Guy, too: spice mixtures for your pantry, various breads, and a whole slew of pickles, raitas, and chutneys.

You know what else I discovered? Mr. Toombs produces a marvelous website with many videos of his recipes. Take a look.

Curry every day. Or close to it. That how I see myself using Mr. Toombs’s books.

© 2018 C. Bertelsen


2 thoughts on “The Curry Guy

  1. Yes, Penny, Toombs mentions the Bangladeshi influence. The whole phenom is not unlike the rise of Chinese restaurants in the USA, where “coolies” built the railroads that criss-cross this vast country of ours. Home cooking, it is true, is where the best is. I find the whole process fascinating.

  2. it is also the case Cynthia that many curry restaurants here were started by people (usually men) from Bangladesh, who were not cooks and had little knowledge of or interest in cooking. In post-war Britain they were feeding a population largely ignorant of real Indian and Pakistani cuisine. A perfect storm of greasy vindaloo and bright pink tandoori bits of unidentifiable animal protein, and, as you say, the same sauce on everything. Annoyingly, the long-awaited renaissance of Indian/Pakistani food is taking its time – it is possible to find good cooking, but not easy and the best of it is still in the home.

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