Thursday Night Smackdown: It Turns Out I Did Need Those Lips, Because I'm Really Missing Them Right Now

ONLY TWO DAYS LEFT IN THE JAMIE OLIVER GIVEAWAY!

I got this book, Curry Cuisine, at the local Barnes and Noble Booksellers. (Barnes and Noble must both be getting pretty old by now, I don’t know where I’ll purchase my folios once they kick it.) I bought it purely because the cover is really fun. Also it was on sale.

I didn’t actually open the book until I got home and was relieved to find that it actually seemed to be of some quality in addition to having a section dedicated to Myanmar, which differentiates it from every other cookbook I have. I also appreciate the “Indian and Southeast Asian Ingredients For Dummies” sections, where it shows me what all the ingredients I’m supposed to be hunting down look like, because what the fuck do I know? I need a picture with an arrow that says THIS IS GALANGAL. I still won’t be able to find it, but at least I’ll know what it is that I’m not finding.

I’d already destroyed 95% of the taste buds that had regenerated themselves following the first roast jalapeno salsa episode after this Tuesday’s second roasted jalapeno salsa episode. They haven’t had enough time to come back online so I figured I’d be good to go with the first real recipe in the book, fiery lamb curry. (The first recipe is ghee, which I also made but which doesn’t really count.)

Fiery lamb curry is made fiery with the addition of these little red peppers. We use these same little red peppers when we make chili (the book wanted me to use Kashmiri chiles, which I would have been more than happy to do except that Lee’s Continental Fruit and Vegetable* only had the little chiles de arbol), and we use 3 or 4 for the whole big-ass pot. Here, for a 4-serving dish maybe a third of the size of a standard batch of chili (that somehow required 2 1/4 pounds of lamb, but that’s a separate issue), you use TWENTY FIVE TO THIRTY CHILES.

You do soak them first, so that probably takes care of the heat. The hot water must leech it out, right? Right? And then that’s why you have to add the extra two teaspoons of cayenne.

*I have nothing against Lee’s Fruit and Vegetable. They have Tate’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, Pirate Booty, those little dried shrimp you use in pad Thai and fresh mung bean sprouts, and the lady behind the counter is not as mean as she looks. Keep up the good work, Lee’s.

Back to this lamb thing, and the 2-1/4 pounds for four servings. Maybe it’s just me, but it sounded like a lot. I don’t cook lamb often, but I don’t recall it wilting down like spinach or being so particularly light that eating a half-pound of it would not stretch the boundaries of the stomach.

Luckily, we only got 2-4/5 of a pound. Yes, that’s more. Thank you for that, Whole Foods butcher who could not be bothered to do the ONE THING that is his job and CUT A FUCKING PIECE OF MEAT. Fine, we all know that 90% of the people who work behind the counters there are not actual fishmongers or cheesemongers or lambmongers, but could they at least try to fool us and learn to use the equipment.

To pour salt into the open wound of their incompetence, the “butcher” couldn’t even muster the normal level of perky helpfulness affected by WF employees to compensate for their lack of job skills. Actual conversation:

Brian: “Can you cut me a two-pound piece of the boned leg of lamb?”

Whole Foods Impostor in a Butchers’ Apron: “No.”

FIN.

It’s true, I wasn’t actually there. I’m just channeling the righteous indignation. So now there’s some bonus lamb in the freezer, I’m $8 poorer and there’re a couple of dogs around here who had a Very Special Dinner.

While some green cardamom pods sizzled and popped, bay leaves fried and onion and garlic browned in the ghee I’d made when I first got home*, I put together the yogurt mixture that would eventually go into the curry: plain yogurt, ground black cardamom, toasted cumin seeds, salt, and cayenne. It is “fiery lamb curry,” after all, so you need your spice somewhere.

Oh yeah, and then i took the 30 chiles, popped the stems off ‘em and left them to soak in some hot water. I should have separated them into 30 individual bowls to stop them plotting how to permanently disable the 5% of my taste buds that are currently functioning at full bud capacity.

Alas.

*I know full well that butter’s not 100% fat, but dang does it take a lot of butter to make a cup of ghee. Also dang does sticking your nose into a fresh bottle of green cardamom pods give your sinuses a 5am wake-up call. Nobody told me.

Once the onion and garlic were golden, the lamb went in for a few minutes, followed by the (drained) chiles. Even drained, the chiles still carried some water – one of ‘em whizzed on me like a newborn baby boy when I accidentally squeezed its middle during transport – so that had to cook out.  Then the yogurt mix went in, and that had to cook down until nearly all the liquid was gone. Then stock went in, and THAT had to simmer and cook down until the lamb was tender.

It wasn’t actually as tedious as I’m making it sound; this is merely Acting! Genius! Thank you! Nor did it actually take that long, and it made the kitchen, den, bedroom, common hallway, and street for 3 buildings to either side of us smell rich and spicy. With each step, the curry’s color got deeper and it started looking more and more like a thing I might actually want to eat rather than a brownish-gray slurry.

The only actually alarming part of the whole thing was the ghee. You see, fat has this interesting property where it doesn’t enjoy mixing with water, because it is racist. This is why most fats live in gated communities. Anyway, with each addition of liquid/yogurt the ghee would soon make its way to the top of the pot, a quarter-inch slick of pure butterfat. I can’t lie, it was a creepy. I also can’t lie about the fact that it kinda smelled like mashed potatoes, because good mashed potatoes need lots of butter and ain’t no Swanson broth commercial gonna convince me otherwise. So: ghee = mixed bag.

While the curry was on its final simmer. Brian made the naan. He is to be commended, because not 20 minutes prior to being drafted into naan duty he was violently butted in the Special Man Region by our Old English Sheepdog, whose head is approximately the size of a bowling ball and is made, we’re pretty sure, of concrete with a small hollowed-out cavity for a rudimentary brain stem. Maybe some kind of proto-cortex, but that’s debatable. So I heap many props upon him, being careful to avoid heaping them on The Area.

The dough was a simple flour-egg-milk type thing; it rested for 15 minutes and then got hit with some vegetable olive oil. Cooking the naan was also pretty easy, since we have a tandoor in the form of a sheet pan pre-heated in a hot oven. After 5 or 6 minutes, they were vaguely naan-looking, cooked through, and tasted not entirely unlike buttermilk biscuits.  I think there’s some more naan recipe testing that needs to happen. Or we just need to eat curry over rice and call it a day.

Right before serving, the dish gets an extra flavor shot from a tablespoon of ghee that’s briefly simmered with chiles, garlic and more cloves, then poured over the curry. Because this dish might not already be hot enough, or have enough butter. If the Barefoot Contessa were to make a fiery lamb curry it would be this, except that she could somehow work lobster into it and then have 12 gay flower arrangers and 1 gay vintner over to share it.

All my whining aside, this was fricking good curry and I now want to cook my way all the way through Curry Cuisine. Thank god for the naan, because the curry sauce was hot as shit, hotter than Tuesday’s Salsa de la Muerta, and I needed the naan and milk. Whole milk, which is saying a lot, because whole milk is really only for making milkshakes or the occasional Oreo-dipping, not for straight drinking.

The mix of spices and heat level could not have matched better with the lamb if they’d gone on eHarmony; they were a perfect fit in all 29 dimensions.  The gamy, earthy lamb kept the curry grounded, while the heady spice mixture pulled it skyward. The overall experience was a paradoxical one of intense heat and balance, and gave me a new appreciation for a well-constructed curry.

The curry was so good, and my trust of the book (naan recipe nowithstanding) is such that I am happy to overlook the fact that the recipes list ingredients by ounces or grams, never by cups, so I have to haul out a scale to measure 9 ounces of chopped onion. (Y’all, 2-1/2 ounces of garlic is a LOT of garlic.) Get with the program, publishers who are obviously trying to appeal to the English speaking world, a good chunk of which (read: United States) still doesn’t understand the metric system: we need cups, half-cups, tablespoons. We keep our scales on high shelves because we don’t think we’re ever really going to need them, and we’d rather not risk blunt head trauma trying to get them down because we were too lazy to drag a kitchen chair over.

Other than that, kudos. Curry Cuisine has my vote.

14 thoughts on “Thursday Night Smackdown: It Turns Out I Did Need Those Lips, Because I'm Really Missing Them Right Now

  1. i like the look of that. i have bought some of those “clearance” cookbooks at b&n or borders that were published for the other english-speaking countries and i agree about the maddening metric measurements (by the way, thank you u.s. public school system for making me learn the metric system every freakin’ year because “we WILL be switching to the metric system in short order.” it has been 30 years now and STILL NO METRIC SYSTEM beyond 2-liter bottles of soda. when i think of what i could have learned instead all those years…). if you can deal with the measurements, those %5.95 books with great pictures are worth it.

  2. For a decent naan, you might try http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Naan/Detail.aspx.

    I put it directly on the grill as specified, and both the flavor and texture were almost perfect. (The grilling part was dramatic and fast. Flames! Flames, on the sides of my face…especially with the garlic-butter sloppery recommended by the commenters.)

    I didn’t get the texture to be QUITE as chewy/stretchy as the stuff I find in restaurants, but it was no biscuit. Also, they tell you to roll it out in what I thought were pretty small balls, and next time I might cut them a little bigger. Great jumping off point though.

  3. burkie, hey now, i shelled out a good $12 on this. and the amazon reviews of it are overwhelmingly excellent, so i feel like i done good. i see it getting good use in our house.

    vera, me too. but SO GOOD. i don’t mind crazy heat when there’s flavor backing it up.

    syd, he has a sphincter of steel. he lives for this shit. literally.

    salieri2, thanks. the biscuit-y naan was okay as a vehicle for sauce, but we really need something better.

    this recipe told you to roll it into small balls too, interesting.

  4. Your line is so awesome about the Barefoot Contessa and her friends. You crack me UP! While I am here, I’ll also mention that I am buying the ice cream book you mentioned in a previous blog (Perfect Scoop) for my boyfriend and his ice cream maker, and I love your live-blogging of Top Chef. OK, gushing over now!

  5. All those chillies! My eyes are tearing up just looking at them. I truly could not have handled them. Still looks delicious though, the sort of thing I’d persist with eating even though it made me cry.

    As someone who lives in an English-speaking non-US country (which somehow makes me feel really foreign, putting it like that) I very rarely use American cookbooks. I guess I’m used to metric but it just seems so much easier!

  6. I am from a metric country (Canada) and even there teaspoons and half-cups and so on are the norm for recipes. At least as far as I remember. It’s sort of like how everyone there knows their height in feet and inches, and their weight in pounds, and looks at people who know them in metric measurements as kind of nerdy try-hards.

    I also want recipes to tell me how much of something to use in a reasonable manner. I don’t want to be told to use half a cup of diced onion, or something. I want to be told to use half a medium-sized onion (or whatever that comes out to). Likewise garlic – how many cloves do I need? I don’t care how many tablespoons it comes out to! I know cloves of garlic come in different sizes, but I’ll adjust accordingly if I’m down to the puny ones at the inside of the head.

  7. Oh. My. Fucking. God.

    I have, at long last, found someone who has a foul mouth that equals mine! I LOVE YOU!

    Love your snarky remarks (although you forgot the 3 gay gardeners at Ina’s as well) and your delicious sense of humor.

    And, as a woman married to a South Indian dude, I’m thinking that this curry sounds like a keeper…Fire in the Hole!!!

    I will be following you with interest! Awesome.

  8. kristen, you will not regret buying perfect scoop i haven’t made anything from it that wasn’t stellar. glad you like the blog, thanks for supporting it, and see you for top chef vegas!

    anna, thank god we weren’t in a crowded theater.

    you know, because there wasn’t enough to share.

    laura, kay and camille, it’s not the metrics that get me – they were listed secondarily – i just found it so odd to have the measure ounces of onion. not my normal MO. but this was so good, i would gladly do it again.

    welcome, kitchenwitch! glad you found me – thanks for speaking up! i commend this book to you (and my blog – stick around! we have special fun during top chef season.)

  9. That looks frickin’ awesome!
    FYI, Kashmiri chiles tend to be much milder than chile de arbol. Not that that helps you now. Just sayin’. You live fairly close to NYC, no? You should do a big ol’ shopping trip to Kalustyan’s (or rather, Foods of India right next to Kalustyan’s, which is much cheaper and fresher.) For all your Kashmiri chile needs.

  10. emily, i’m just across the river. and sadly, work within walking distance of kalustyan’s. i just work so late lately, and i know i can get chiles de arbol at the bodeaga, and…ok, i really have no excuse.

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