Archive | August, 2017

How to cook the perfect… vindaloo – recipe

15 Aug

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The peculiar place of vindaloo, a fierily fragrant speciality of Goa in popular culture can be summed up by the 1998 World Cup football anthem of the same name, whose irritatingly catchy chorus references the curry no fewer than 11 times. As the Observer pointed out, its authors, the “prank art collective” Fat Les, “persuaded, among others, a lot of xenophobic, racist Little England football supporters to celebrate an item of Indian cuisine as a quintessential expression of Englishness”. This is despite Goa having been a former Portuguese colony and one of the few parts of India that never saw British rule.

Yet the vindaloo with which most Brits are most familiar – the hottest rung on the generic korma, tikka masala, madras ladder – bears little resemblance to the aromatic, pickle-sour original. Dan Toombs, author of The Curry Guy, dubs them “eight-pint vindaloos”, after the amount of lager needed to finish one. As chef Vivek Singh observes, though vindaloo is probably one of the best- known Indian dishes, “it’s also one of the most misunderstood”.

Thought to be a corruption of the Portuguese carne de vinha d’alhos, or meat cooked in wine vinegar and garlic, an authentic, tangy vindaloo tingles the tongue with pepper, clove and other spices, rather than the one-dimensional heat of chilli powder. So unless you’ve got a Goan specialist nearby, if you want to try the real thing, your best bet is to make it at home.

The masala
Whether or not you use it to marinate the meat before cooking, every curry begins with a masala, or spice mix – and in this instance chilli is not the principal ingredient. Though they all use slightly different combinations and amounts, all the recipes I try contain an array of what we might think of as sweet spices – cinnamon, cloves and cardamom – plus a hefty hit of black pepper, and the earthy, nutty flavours of cumin, coriander and turmeric. Chilli powder is generally added for colour, rather than heat, with Jaffrey recommending “bright red paprika” and Stein and Todiwala specifying Kashmiri chilli powder, sold under that name by Indian brands and remarkable for its brick-like hue. According to one Goan of my acquaintance, vindaloo is defined by its “beautiful, deep-red masala”, so be liberal with the mild chilli for maximum authenticity. Jaffrey and Collingham also use mustard seeds, which win points both for their pleasing texture and the little pops of bitter warmth they release.

The vinegar
Though the Portuguese would have originally used wine vinegar (or, some speculate, simply wine that had soured on the long voyage over), the dish was quickly adapted to the local palm vinegar, made from coconut toddy. Collingham notes that if you can get hold of it, “it will add a particularly Goan flavour” to the dish. I manage to source some coconut vinegar, probably made from coconut water, in an Indian grocers (many Oriental stockists may carry a Filipino brand), but as I’m reliably informed, “it’s really hard to find the legit stuff outside the state of Goa, let alone abroad”, I wouldn’t worry too much about hunting a bottle down. Singh uses a mixture of white and malt vinegar, and Stein white-wine vinegar, but the best substitute I find is Jaffrey’s cider vinegar, which has similar sweet notes to the coconut variety.

The vegetables
Todiwala describes the dish as “a sort of meaty pickle, rich and intense in flavour”, which may explain the extraordinary number of onions in his recipe – but, in fact, their sweetness works brilliantly with the tangy vinegar and rich, slightly fatty meat. Much as I dislike chopping the things, it’s worthwhile labour here, especially if you can find the sweeter Indian pink onion; otherwise, yellow ones will work fine. Liberal amounts of garlic and ginger add to the chutney-like effect: rather than crushing them to a paste, however, slice them into thin rounds and strips as Singh suggests, so they don’t get lost in the whole.

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