Madras is not the hottest curry I make - that distinction belongs to the serve-in-tiny-quantities Balti Phal - but it's hot enough to clear a very foggy head. This recipe uses meat, but you can just substitute the same quantity of veg, or mix the two. My favourite veg for curries are aubergines, courgettes, and peppers. (I have other curry dishes for root vegetables and leaves.) It's also the first curry I learnt to make that tasted like proper proper curry, which I was starting to think was a Dark Art unobtainable in a normal kitchen. It turned out I just needed to follow the recipe properly! I have a lovely super-clear PDF of the recipe here, which I made for my mum's curry-fest party (more on that another time), so you can cut to the chase by reading that; meanwhile, below, all the lovely step by step photos.
Incidentally, I have various reasons for using so very many photos, one of which is pure self-indulgence (I think cooking is beautiful, I love photographing it anyway, I love sharing the photos), and another is that much of cooking is so much easier if you see it done. Most of my foundation of learning-to-cook was sitting on the kitchen counter chatting to my mum while she cooked, and incidentally hoovering up a host of techniques and approaches. So feel free to perch on my kitchen counter while I make madras (as this is imaginary, I'll conjure up an extra kitchen counter specially for you to sit on, otherwise we'll be hard pressed for space) and chat while I chop, and ooh, could you open this bottle and pour us each a glass? Lovely!
Da meat! I bought a three-pack on special and divvied it into two packs both the right size for curries (which the Balti Bible says is 675g, a bizarrely specific quantity which I approximate at will. Cooking as an approximate art.) The recipe PDF has all the quantities set for 1kg of a meat, which is a more sensible number, and serves 12. (So if there are two of you, that's one meal to eat and five for the freezer, for Future Yous.)
All the ingredients! Except the unexpectedly shy lemon. It will come out to play later. 3 tablespoons ghee or oil, 6 garlic cloves, 2 small onions, 1 tablespoon Balti masala powder, 3 teaspoons chilli powder (hot but not extra hot unless you want to blow your head off, which is fun too), 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 700g diced meat (or vegetables, if you prefer), 300ml fragrant stock or water (halve that if you're using veg not meat), 175g chopped tomatoes (I just throw in the whole box, though not the actual box, obvs), 2 tablespoons tomato purée, 2 tablespoons ground almonds, and 1 tablespoon garam masala powder. Making a later appearance are fresh coriander leaves, a lemon for lemon juice, and salt.
You're using the two onions on the left. The onion on the right has a basil leaf to tell me it's for the luxurious dahl I was making at the same time, which means this is the madras I was making for my godfather's visit. Ignore the onion on the right.
Finely chopping the onions, with the magic chef's trick for onions.
And here's those 6 garlic cloves, liberated from the bulb, with some more lurking at the back denoted by their basil leaf. (Those are for the luxurious dahl.)
Garlic and onion skins together create the most beautiful natural colours and sheen. As usual, I've got a bowl next to me for the idle beauty of peelings. Watching people throw offcuts onto the counter top makes me wince. Here's how to peel garlic easily, if you're new to the game.
Operation Garlic Crushing. (The back bowl is for the luxurious dahl. This post is haunted by the ghosts of dahl past.) A good garlic crusher is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Ours is decent, a charity-shop find, good and sturdy though takes a bit of strength, but still better than the modern ones we've bought which have fallen apart within a year.
If you don't have a garlic crusher, slice up the cloves, sprinkle them with salt, and mash them with a fork.
As soon as you've crushed the garlic, wash the crusher - the pointy bristles of a washing-up brush can get in there very nicely - or the garlic turns to some kind of insane superglue.
Initial prep reporting for duty! Finely chopped onions, crushed garlic, and a ramekin holding 3 teaspoons of chilli powder and 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds.
Heat the ghee (or oil, but if you've not tried ghee, you have to try it, it's incredible to cook with) on medium-hot heat, and when it's melted, throw in the garlic and spices, and stirfry for half a minute:
Look at that glorious bubbling! Be prepared to cough a bit on the chilli fumes, mind.
Next up, the onions:
Stir those in and turn the heat right down, so the onions and garlic (and spices) can do that special Balti slow-frying thing. You want them to go for at least 10 minutes, and pushing that to 20 or even 25 is magical. Stir them occasionally, but not obsessively.
If you want to use fragrant stock instead of water, this is a good moment to make it. Here's how.
Good moment to pop the oven on. 170 for a fan oven, 190 for normal.
These onions got 18 minutes before I decided I couldn't push them any further - you can see that lovely dark caremalised colour coming through. Turn the heat back up, throw in the meat...
and stir it in.
Sprinkle over the tablespoon of balti masala, and fry briskly so the meat is browned and covered all over with spices. Probably about 5 minutes.
All the red bits have gone, so that'll do nicely, time to get out the curry dish for the oven.
I love this curry dish so, so much. Not everyone sees the thing of beauty there that I see, so let me elucidate. I love its olive-green-or-hunter-green (depending on the light). I love its sturdy thickness, holding in the heat. I love its high strong glaze, creating the perfect smooth surface, always scrubbing back to perfect cleanness no matter how much you put it through. I love the size of it. Everything about this dish is wonderful. It also has a lid.
The frying pan still has some spices and onion/garlic bits stuck to the bottom, so I'm using the fragrant stock to loosen those - basically just pouring in the stock (or water) while the pan's still on, stirring it round, and then pouring it back in the jug.
The magnificent curry casserole dish in the oven. There are also aliens in the oven, as evidenced by the bright light.
The main work's all done now. The rest is setting alarms to occasionally add things at intervals.
Set an alarm for 20 minutes. Good moment for some washing up, and I tend to assemble the ingredients still to come so I don't forget things.
Ingredients for the next stages, grouped. After 20 minutes: half the stock / water. Another 20 minutes, then rest of the stock / water, the tomato, tomato puree, and ground almonds. (If you're using veg instead of meat, add this lot at the same time as half the stock / water, as veg needs less added liquid and less cooking time.) Another 10-15 minutes, then the lemon juice and garam masala - plus the coriander, which I'll chop just before.
After 20 minutes, half the stock/water goes in. It's looking unusually rich and glistening, as it scooped up those spices and oils from the pan. Curry back in the oven, set the alarm for another 20 minutes.
When the alarm goes, add the rest of the stock, the tomato and tomato puree, and the ground almonds, and stir it all in. Set the alarm for 10-15 minutes, as you wish.
Now that is looking proper! I just wish you could smell it...
Fresh leaf coriander, ready to chop, enough to make about a tablespoon or more.
The juice of half a lemon, on my beloved glass lemon squeezer...
Adding the fresh coriander, the lemon juice, and a tablespoon of garam masala. Give it five more minutes, and...
Ready to serve! Shown here with sag (that's spinach, to you), aloo gaijar (which is fancy for potato-carrot), and rice.
And of that litre or more of curry I just made, 250ml is for this dinner for two, and the rest is going into the freezer, for a curry-fest for The Godfather.