Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Britain's Love of Curry + Super Easy Coconut Curry Recipe

Curry is a complex dish that can trace it's origins to Eastern and Southern Asia.  And using spices, herbs, and chilies, curry is a very robust and flavorful dish, one that is extremely popular all over Britain.  Featured as either dry or wet, curry is cooked utilizing a variety of techniques depending upon who is making the dish. But where did Britain's love of curry come from?

Curry can, in some form, trace it's roots back in ancient history, "Archaeological evidence dating to 2600 BCE from Mohenjo-daro suggests the use of mortar and pestle to pound spices including mustard, fennel, cumin, and tamarind pods with which they flavoured food. Such dishes are also recorded during the Vedic Period of Indian history, roughly 1700 to 500 BCE" (Wikipedia).  So, when and how did curry become so intertwined in the British landscape?  

Coat of Arms of The East India Trading Company (Wiki Picture)

According to 'Go For An English, website' "When the British first established trading posts in India in the mid 17th century they were simply trading partners. The food eaten by the employees of the East India Company would have been largely the same as the food eaten by the local Indian population. And there appears to have been plenty of choice; one East India Company employee wrote in 1759 "The currees are infinitely various". By the time the British had become the colonial rulers of India in the mid 1800's there had been a huge influx of British nationals into India to administer British affairs. The British colonials were by now eating predominantly British-style food although they found that they had to adapt to local conditions and use local produce. Numerous books were written to help newly arrived young British wives advising them how and what to cook and how to manage a household in India" (goforanenglish). 

Due to large demand for the new dish, back home in the British empire, but the lack of ingredients needed to reproduce the curries found within the colony of India, a curry powder, which could be transported easily, became the 'go-to' staple for much of the British curries in the late colonial and up into the Victorian era.  Mrs. Beeton's Victorian book of Household Management, which wiggled it's way into many a households and kitchens had a prized recipe for curry beef using the powder (MrsBeetonHousehold):

CURRIED BEEF (Cold Meat Cookery).
620. INGREDIENTS – A few slices of tolerably lean cold roast or boiled beef, 3 oz. of butter, 2 onions, 1 wineglassful of beer, 1 dessertspoonful of curry powder.

Mode.—Cut up the beef into pieces about 1 inch square, put the butter into a stewpan with the onions sliced, and fry them of a lightly-brown colour. Add all the other ingredients, and stir gently over a brisk fire for about 10 minutes. Should this be thought too dry, more beer, or a spoonful or two of gravy or water, may be added; but a good curry should not be very thin. Place it in a deep dish, with an edging of dry boiled rice, in the same manner as for other curries.

Time.—10 minutes. Average cost, exclusive of the meat, 4d.

Seasonable in winter.

Curry was just about everywhere in Britain, including at the table of Queen Victoria, "Kitchen archives at the Queen’s favourite residence, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, reveal that curries featured on the menu every Sunday during lunchtime. “Had some excellent curry, prepared by one of my Indian servants,” the Queen remarked in her diary later that summer" (Revealed).  

Queen Victoria with Family (note the Indian servants behind)

With the influx of Britain's going to and from India, as well as the influx of Indian's arriving in Britain and soon opening restaurants and becoming chefs and cooks, it is no large surprise that curry became an integral dish of Britain. 

Wiki Picture

Sake Dean Mahomed by Thomas Mann Baynes (c. 1810) Wiki Picture

And it has remained an integral part of the British food scene ever since, "Almost 200 years before the Indian restaurant became a fixture on the British high street, [Sake Dean] Mahomed, a Muslim soldier, founded the first curry establishment in Britain, the Hindoostane Coffee House in Portman Square, London. It gave the gentry of Georgian England their first taste of spicy dishes. Two centuries later, the British are still in love with dishes flavoured with cumin, coriander, ginger, fenugreek, cayenne pepper and caraway. We spend an extraordinary £2.5bn in Indian restaurants every year. Around 80 per cent of "Indian" restaurants are actually owned by Bangladeshis, and their cuisine derives not just from India but Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. And curry describes not just one dish, but a meal and the cooking of an entire subcontinent" (Independent).  

In keeping with our curry theme, I present an easy (and I mean EASY) coconut curry recipe.  All ingredients are from Trader Joe's.

1 Can Coconut Cream (you'll only need 1/2)
1 Jar Thai Red Curry Sauce
1 Package of Rice (the box comes with 3, just use 1 packet)
1/2 an onion, chopped
Salt and pepper, optional
1 package of garlic naan bread
1 package of chicken, 2 lbs or thereabouts, cubed
Pat of butter or olive oil for frying

Preheat oven to 400 (or whatever your naan bread directions say).  Shake a little pepper over the cubed chicken.  Fry the chicken in butter or olive oil, when nearly cooked, toss in onions and cook until translucent. Cook rice per package directions. Toss rice, 1/2 can of coconut cream, and 1 jar of Thai Red Curry Sauce in the pan.  Mix well and bring the curry sauce to boiling. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.  Put naan bread in the preheated oven for 3 to 5 minutes. Once done, serve and enjoy.  Super easy and feeds 3-4 (ingredients can be doubled as needed).

Curry simmering away.

Curry always smells so delicious and it is truly one of my favorite dishes to make.  Of course, I always plan to make an elaborate curry but, like everyone else, time slips away from me and in the end I use Trader Joe's ingredients and to be honest, it's just as tasty! Plus, knowing that Queen Victoria had her own love of curry makes me smile even more.
It warms my little Anglophile heart...

(And many more than are linked within the blog post). 

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