lovefood meets... Madhur Jaffrey
by Andrew Webb | 22 October 2012 | 0 commentsTweet
We talk to the Empress of Indian cuisine about the search for Britain's favourite curries in her new TV show 'Madhur Jaffrey's Curry Nation'.
To meet Madhur Jaffrey is to have an audience with cooking royalty and I find myself instinctively standing to attention as she gracefully enters the room. Petit yet commanding, elegant and always stylish, Madhur arrived in Britain to attend The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts only a few years after Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne.
What was life like in 50s Britain, I wondered? "Pea green smog everywhere at three in the afternoon!” she replies quick as a flash. “But I loved the fish and chips, they were so fresh and cheap. That’s what I lived on because I didn’t like the rest of the British food I was being served!”
A taste of home
At the time there wasn’t much choice for a taste of home anyway, with only a handful of restaurants in the UK serving Indian food, and even they were stuffy and post-colonial. Today there are something like 10,000 from the Scilly Isles to the Outer Hebrides. And it’s not just restaurants; there’s a whole industry of shops and stores catering for Asian foodstuffs. “When I came here you couldn’t even get fresh ginger easily! What I love is the way Britain has embraced not just the curry that they know (the curry house curry), but also the regional foods, like the Gujarat foods that came here via Africa”.
Apples and currants
Madhur’s first book, An Invitation to Indian Food, appeared in 1973, a time when curry in Britain still featured chunks of diced apple and currants. “But that too has a history. When the British were in India a lot of them had fruit plantations and they would meet on Sundays at their clubs. Everyone would bring a dish to eat, a pot luck, but they often used fruit from their plantations, because they felt that you needed the sweet from the fruit to break up the heat of the curry.”
A curry census
And so after something like 50 years in the business, who better than Madhur to take stock of the state of South East Asian food in Britain today; a curry census, if you will. What’s particularly interesting about Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Nation, is that she doesn’t just visit restaurants, but bloggers, households and takeaways as well, leaving no stone unturned. She explores everything from the fine dining cooking of Vivek Singh to a Chinese chip shop in Leicester that makes curry sauce from powder using a kettle and a bucket. She also looks at dishes from India’s many regions, as well as its neighbours including Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
I ask her about some of the highlights of her tour of Britain. “There are so many, but I really enjoyed the fish balls in masala made for me by the author Tahmima Anam,” she says. Tahmima heralds from Bangladesh, where many types of fish are plentiful, and though you can find some of them frozen and transported to this country, Tahmima actually uses that humble member of the cod family, coley. Fish balls in masala recipe
Another favourite was Lamb browned in its sauce, the recipe for which was given to Madhur by food blogger and writer Mallika Basu, who runs Quick Indian Cooking.com. As you’d expect, Mallika’s style is all about getting great tasting food on the table quickly, and for this recipe she saves time by using a pressure cooker. Lamb browned in its sauce recipe
A question from a reader
Finally, on our Facebook page prior to my interview, Etta Corlett asked: “I find it impossible to get cilantro roots (even when growing my own coriander). Is there anything I can substitute it with?!” So I put the question to Madhur. “If you can’t get the root out, and they’re not big, just leave it out of the recipe, or use the stalk or leaves” is her stately sage reply.
More curry content
Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Nation is new and exclusive to Good Food, Sundays – Thursdays at 9pm from 4th November (Sky / HD 247, Virgin 260)