The third time’s the charm, that’s what they say.
They, however, are FULL OF CRAP. They say lots of stupid shit.* Sometimes the third time is just the third time.
Can you tell I’m feeling a little let down? Yeah, I thought so. Dinner tonight was – finally – the Bengali chingri malal curry** from Curry Cuisine that I’d been trying and failing to make for the past three weeks. Other dishes prepared from this book have been excellent and I loves me some curry, so I was really looking forward to it.
*To wit: “A stitch in time saves nine.”
*Or jumbo shrimp in a coconut curry sauce.
And there are lots of reasons it should be incredibly flavorful, like this paste of two inches’ worth of ginger root and ten whole cloves of garlic. You’d think, with all that, that it would taste like SOMETHING, even if it was just garlic and ginger.
And then there’s all the onion. Yes, this looks like a bowl of something creamy and delicious that you might be tempted to scarf with a spoon. You would be wrong, as this is a bowl of onion pureed with oil. So you might think that, at the very least, the dish would taste of onion.
The shrimp are lightly dusted with salt and turmeric before getting quickly seared off in a hot pan. I always think of turmeric as a spice that adds more color than it does flavor, and a rich, sunny color it is; like the marigold of an organic egg yolk. In any case, this would lead you to believe that if nothing else, the dish would taste like shrimp.
After the shrimp came out of the pan, I cooked the onion puree with a few bay leaves in an assload of oil until the excess liquid had been driven off and the onion took on a lovely light brown hue. The ginger-garlic paste got mixed with more turmeric, cumin and water to form a slurry – and who among us can’t appreciate a fine slurry? – that got mixed into the cooked onion and sauteed for another seven or eight minutes.
Yes, I know what this looks like: dog vomit. It really does; I’ve been around a lot of dog vomit in my day, and the resemblance is uncanny. Maybe the likeness to hork should have been a harbinger of things to come.
Once all the aromatics cook together, you toss in a couple of chiles that have been slit down the middle. I couldn’t find any super-hot Thai death chiles, so I used the ubiquitous and boring yet perfectly servicable jalapeño. To try and eke out the maximum amount of spice, I sliced them straight down the middle and threw them into the sauce base with ribs and seeds intact to simmer for a few minutes.
You might suppose that, failing anything else, the dish would have a bit of heat.
I stirred some coconut milk into the aromatics and nestled the shrimp in to finish cooking through in the sauce. While they did, I ground up a few green cardmom pods to create a fragrant dust that is sprinkled on top of the finished dish.
A moment of conjecture might lead to the belief that even in the absence of all other flavors, the dish would taste of the freshly ground cardmom that’s added at the last possible minute.
I poured the finished curry into a serving bowl and left it to sit for a moment while I fluffed and plated some white rice. Each bowl got a generous helping of shrimp and sauce.
To recap the flavor potential:
- Massive amounts of aromatics: CHECK
- Goodly amounts of spices: CHECK
- Fresh chile peppers: CHECK
- Thick, full-fat coconut milk: CHECK
Yes, remember it well, and MARVEL at the utter lack of any flavor in the finished dish. Some blasted alchemy is at work here, to take such distinctive ingredients and suck all the life from them. All I really tasted was rice and salt. Yum!
Brian is baffled, and, in trying to make sense of things, posits that the richness of the coconut milk overwhelmed the other ingredients, muting their flavors. I am not sold on this explanation – it didn’t even taste of coconut, for the love of Pete – and continue to chalk it up to black magic.
Maybe it’s a sign of some perfect ratio: maybe all the flavors in the dish are so precisely balanced that they cancel one another out completely.
Whatever the reason, the result is the same: disappointment,* coupled with a craving for some good tikka masala. Dammit.
*Let this not be a reflection on the cookbook, which has served me well on numerosu occasions and which I will continue to recommend.