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When making a curry, it's essential your spices are fresh. Stale spices will add nothing to your dish, so chuck out that jar of garam masala that's been at the back of your cupboard for months – we've all got one! Dev Biswal, executive chef of the multi-award-winning The Ambrette restaurant, suggests: 'For best results, I recommend home cooks grind their own spices in relatively small quantities and keep them in airtight containers for use within a few days or weeks.' If you're short on time, or lazy like us, use an electric grinder to whiz up whole spices in seconds.
It's always difficult to get the balance of heat right when cooking a curry, especially since chillies can vary enormously. To avoid any nasty surprises, the Hairy Bikers recommend sampling a small amount of raw chilli before cooking to get the quantity spot on – just make sure you have a glass of milk to hand. The heat of fresh chilli also reduces during the cooking process, so, if you want a milder curry, add them earlier, or put them in later if you're feeling brave.
Another top tip for cooking a great curry is to ensure that you don't scrimp on the oil (or ghee, if you want to be really authentic). Spices must also be fried thoroughly to prevent them from tasting harsh and gritty,but be careful not to let them burn. If your spice mix is looking dry, add more oil or some water – be sure to add only a drop at a time as you want the spices to fry, not boil. Indian food expert Anjum Anand estimates that spices need cooking for around 40 seconds, or two minutes if you're adding water.
Though spices are typically fried at the start of a recipe, there are also benefits to adding them later on. Dev Biswal explains: 'Generally, it's better to add garam masala at the end of the cooking process, as it works on an aromatic level, raising the whole nature of the dish.' So stir a little into your curry just before serving to release all those fresh, vibrant aromas.
When making curry at home, it can be difficult to recreate the thick, silky sauces you often find in professional kitchens. Indian chef Maunika Gowardhan suggests using tomato purée, coconut milk or yoghurt as natural thickening agents to achieve the perfect consistency. Adding ground nuts such as almonds or peanuts can also be a great way to ensure your curry is a knockout.
Slow-cooking your curry can make all the difference. Since onions form the base of most curries, getting them right is crucial. Anjum Anand suggests cooking them slowly, until soft, then increasing the heat to colour them. 'The deeper their colour, the more flavour,' says. Taking your time when making a curry also allows the flavours to fully develop for a rich, authentic result.
Keep it fresh
And save the world at the same time...
What if we told you there was a way to help hungry families across the world just by eating a curry? When we found out about Curry for Change, an incentive raising money for hungry families by encouraging people to cook curries at home, we jumped straight in the kitchen.
It's really easy: simply order an event pack, cook a curry, invite your friends around for dinner and ask them to make a donation for the amount they might usually spend on a takeaway. With free Natco spices and recipes from top chefs inside every pack, we thought it was a fab idea and a great excuse to get everyone together to feast on one of our favourite foods.
Curry for change is running until the end of June so, if you fancy getting involved, head over to curryforchange.org.uk to request your event pack.
Saving the world one curry at a time
In need of some Indian inspiration? Check out some of our mouthwatering recipes.