For absolutely ages - and I do mean ages - hubby has been asking for a "fruity, mild, creamy, Caribbean type curry". However, I've really only just begun to get my head around Indian curries, without trying to expand my repertoire to the Caribbean! However, I've been reading, watching, thinking and reading a bit more, to absorb all that is encapsulated within a "Caribbean type" curry.
I've had a few false starts, too. Curries that started off with every intention of going Caribbean, but wound up being resolutely Indian. I've had one or two "nearlies", in that they have been too heavy and a little bit cloying (forget using cream then!) and too rough in the spicing (leave out the ginger and cayenne), but nearly there.
Last night, however, I hit the nail right on the head. Now please don't - for a millisecond - think that this is an "authentic" Caribbean curry, because I wouldn't know one of those if it jumped up and bit me on the nose. No, this is "our idea of what a Caribbean curry would be like" - so is quite probably very different.
However, if you forget where I was trying to go with it and just take it on face value as "a curry", it was blinking marvellous.
Friends have suggested that maybe it has a flavour of Thailand, or Singapore. Well, I'm sure it probably does, as in the course of my reading and absorbing, I visited both those destinations and no doubt tucked some of their methods and/or flavourings under my wing.
I was jolly pleased with it, anyway. You know you are on the right track, when you take that first taste of the very young sauce and your immediate reaction is "Mmmmmmn!". Oh it tasted good - and very right - and very promising.
I had originally intended to make this curry with some of the Barcut Farms rose veal - and I'm quite sure it would be fantastic with that. I shall do a slow cooker version that would be perfect for the rose veal, now that I've had such success with the chicken. If only I could remember to take the meat out of the freezer the night before, so that it has defrosted by the time it comes to putting it in the slow cooker. But I didn't - and so off we went to Spring Fields butchers for some chicken, which doesn't take anything like as long to cook. D'oh! Nothing lost, however, as the chicken curry was a singular triumph.
I'd had plenty of time to formulate a plan for the chicken version, so a sudden change of protein type wasn't a problem at all. For once, I allowed plenty of time to do all the cutting, chopping and peeling - particularly as I also had a plan for a fruit salad, to use up the leftover pineapple. (A few leftover strawberries and a well ripened papaya worked beautifully).
I do so much prefer to cook knowing I've got time in hand. I hate the frenzied, Masterchef style of cooking where an imaginary Greg Wallace is yelling "only 45 minutes to go!" in "you should be panicking now!" tones in my head. I much prefer the Two Fat Ladies' style of "I'll just be peeling and chopping this onion, whilst regaling the assembled throng with a tale of breakfast at the Thruppington-Smythes, back in 1944" cooking. Much less stressful - and I'm quite sure that the end result is better for it, too.
So, with Clarissa Dickson-Wright (bless her) controlling my knife skills, I had a happy hour or so at the chopping board, before moving to the cooker and adopting a more Jennifer Paterson approach. Woe betide any onion chunk that decided to become airborne and avoid my frying pan. One stern look soon took the wind out of its sails and everything was peace and tranquillity again.
I love cooking curries. You just sit there and add stuff to your frying pan in order and lo and behold, a curry appears. Magic.
There is also magic to be had when cooking with coconut milk, I think. It's the transformation that occurs. When you open the tin you are confronted with a supposedly impenetrable wall of thick white goo yet, suddenly, there comes a flood of sweet coconutty water. After five minutes' stirring in the pan, you suddenly realise that the contents of the tin seem to have doubled in size and turned to - albeit delicious - pond water. Minutes spent diligently and gently reducing said pond water, turns it into a delicious sauce - however, beware turning your back on it, or within seconds it will dry out, the fat will separate and you'll wonder what the heck happened and where did the magic go. Fickle, that's what it is. Fickle coconut milk!
Ahem. So anyway - back to the job at hand - if you're not moved to poetry by pineapple, I am quite sure you could substitute mango without seriously damaging the balance of the dish. However, the two ingredients that are essential to the balance, are the sweet potato and the green pepper. You just have to have sweet potato, even if you hate the stuff and throw it away before you eat, or the sweetness balance just won't be right. Likewise, with the green pepper, it lends a savouriness to the balance that would be utterly lost without it. So there. Don't say you weren't warned.
A perfect curry for the hot weather, this one will fill you full of Caribbean sunshine without weighing down your hammock. Lovely! Chin chin!
PINEAPPLE & COCONUT CHICKEN CURRY Serves 3-4
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 large onion, half chopped fine, half left chunky
a pinch of sea salt
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small sweet potato, cut into 1cm dice
4 chestnut mushrooms, quartered
1 green pepper, cut into 1cm dice
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp Garam Masala, divided into two
2 tsp mild curry paste
200ml chicken stock
400ml coconut milk
200g fresh pineapple cut into 1cm dice
2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped and divided into two
1 tbsp coconut powder (optional).
1. Heat the sunflower oil in a deep frying pan or wok. Add all the onion and a pinch of sea salt and gently fry until the smaller pieces are golden brown and the larger pieces transparent. This should take around 10-15 minutes.
2. Add the garlic, sweet potato, mushrooms and green pepper and continue to fry until the mushrooms are beginning to soften.
3. Move the vegetables to the outside of the pan and add the chicken to the centre. Increase the heat slightly and fry the chicken until most sides of each chunk are whitened. The vegetables will mix in as you turn and fry the chicken.
4. Add the ground coriander, cumin, 1 tsp Garam Masala and the curry paste. Stir to combine.
5. Add the chicken stock and stir to combine. Bring to a gentle boil, cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes or so, or until the sweet potato is softened but not cooked through.
6. Remove the lid and, stirring occasionally, allow the liquid to reduce by two thirds.
7. Add the coconut milk and stir to combine.
8. Add the pineapple, half the fresh coriander and the coconut powder (if using it). Bring to a gentle boil, but stir gently and more regularly to avoid the mixture catching on the pan. Continue to cook while the sauce reduces, until it reaches your preferred consistency.
9. Add the remainder of the fresh coriander and the last tsp of Garam Masala. Stir through and serve on fluffy Basmati rice, with naan bread for dipping.