At one time, a ‘Madras Curry’ was a standard on Indian restaurant menus in the west, and was also a fairly common recipe entry in Indian cookery books. It seems, however, to be a little less frequently encountered these days and this is perhaps because the Indian City of Madras (whence the name) is now known as Chennai, and the eponymous curry was probably more of an Anglo-Indian, rather than a purely Indian creation. Whatever the case, the Madras Curry is still something of a classic and well worth adding to one’s culinary repertoire.
In my research of a wide variety of spice blends, I have found that the Madras Curry blend is the closest to what most westerners would call the ‘curry flavor’ and the typical ingredients are much the same as found in the generic ‘Curry Powder’ you can find in almost any supermarket. The one major difference between the two, as far as I have seen, is that the generic type tends to be high in Turmeric and low in Chili, while, in a Madras blend, the reverse is usually true. In this post, we will have a quick look at the general composition and then I’ll provide a fairly straightforward version that you can use as a starting point for your own culinary creations…
I generally view complex spice blends as having primary, secondary and tertiary ingredients. The primary spices are those that are almost always found in a particular type (and usually in large relatively amounts), while the secondary ones occur commonly, but less frequently, and generally in smaller amounts. The tertiary ingredients are those which occur occasionally, but are far from being standard.
In my review of a large number of Madras Curry recipes from a wide variety of sources, I have compiled the following results:
Primary Spices: Coriander Seed, Cumin, Turmeric, Chili, Garlic, Ginger, Pepper.
Secondary Spices: Cardamom, Mustard, Fennel, Fenugreek, Cinnamon, Clove.
Tertiary Spices: All spice, Mace, Nutmeg, Poppy Seed, Bay Leaf, Trifala, Cassia, Saffron, Nagkeser.
By the way, Trifala and Nagkesar are relatively obscure spices included in the Ship Brand™ Madras Blend which I used to use quite regularly. Trifala can be found online (and I have used it before) but I have never been able to locate Nagkesar and don’t know much about it. As it happens, I have only seen these used in the Ship Brand version so I wouldn’t worry about looking too hard for them.
In any event, my (fairly basic) blend is as follows:
- 4 Tbsp. Coriander Seed, lightly dry roasted in a frying pan and ground;
- 3 Tbsp. Cumin Seed, lightly dry roasted in a frying pan and ground;
- 2 Tbsp. Cayenne Pepper;
- 1 Tbsp. Turmeric;
- 1 Tbsp. ground Ginger;
- 1 Tbsp. Garlic Salt;
- 1 Tbsp. White Pepper;
- 1 tsp. dry Mustard;
- 1 tsp. ground Cardamom;
- 1 tsp. ground Fenugreek;
- ½ tsp. ground Clove;
- ½ tsp. ground Cinnamon.
Once you have toasted and ground the coriander and cumin, simply blend them together with all the remaining components and store in a jar. The amounts given above will make about 2/3 of a cup of curry powder, which will be enough for several dishes. It is not advisable to make up much more than that at once (unless you plan to eat a LOT of Madras curry) as the blend will lose strength after a while.
Obviously you can play with the amounts as much as you like, and add or omit components to suit your taste. Madras Curries are generally quite hot but the amount of chili (cayenne) I have used is fairly moderate, so you may wish to add more. Basically, you can use the blend in pretty nearly any recipe calling for a curry powder but, of course, the primary use will be in the typical Madras curry like the one I made to test this blend (shown below)…
The recipe will follow in due course…