Homemade Madras Curry Powder
In years past, a ‘Madras Curry’ was a standard item on Indian restaurants in the West, and the typical blend of spices used these dishes combine to produce what many people think of as being the quintessential ‘Curry’ flavor. Indeed, most of the generic ‘Curry Powders’ available on supermarket shelves, are largely milder derivatives of the traditional Madras Curry blend.
Nowadays, Madras Curries are not seen quite as often on restaurant menus anymore, which is probably because the City of Madras is now named Chennai, and also because 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. You can use a commercially prepared Madras Curry Powder for such dishes, of course, but blending the spices oneself is more satisfying and allows for improvisation.
What is in a Madras Curry Powder?
As with any spice blend, there can be many permutations, but, usually, basic themes can be discerned and 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.
To determine the composition of the typical Madras Curry Powder, I looked at a large number of recipes both from cookery books, websites and the ingredient lists of commercial preparations. After winnowing out those that closely duplicated others I found, and discarding those that strayed to far afield from the traditional, I selected 30 recipes. I then made note of all the spices used and did a count of how frequently a given spice occurred across my sample group.
Here you can see the results of my analysis, with frequency of each spice component appearing as the number in the rightmost column. Using these figures, I 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 (or Triphala) 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.
My Madras Curry Powder Recipe
My Madras Curry Powder (the recipe card for which follows below), is relatively simple and relies only on the primary and secondary spices. Obviously you can play with the amounts as much as you like, and add or omit components to whatever suit your taste or fancy. Madras Curries are generally quite hot but the amount of chili (cayenne) I have used is fairly moderate so as to make a more versatile blend. You may wish to add more.
The amount produced by the recipe below is 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.
The final test for my spice blend was in the Madras Beef Curry you see pictured above. Beef is more traditional in Anglo-Indian curries, and was probably the most popular Indian restaurant Madras Curry, but Lamb is a very decent alternative.
Your Recipe Card:
Homemade Madras Curry Powder
- 4 Tbsp. Coriander Seed
- 3 Tbsp. Cumin Seed
- 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 Seed
- ½ tsp. ground Clove
- ½ tsp. ground Cinnamon
- Lightly dry roast the Coriander Seed in a pan, remove, and light dry roast the Cumin Seed.
- Grind the dry-roasted Coriander and Cumin Seeds together and blend with the other powdered ingredients.
- Store the blend in a suitable jar.