28 May 2012

Chicken Korma & Beef Massaman Curries - review of the Spice & Sizzle Kits

This is quite a difficult post for me to write - mainly because I hate giving negative feedback on something I've been sent to review.  However, surely that's the whole point of reviewing something - to find out what's good and what's bad about it?

The lovely people at Spice & Sizzle very kindly sent me a number of their Curry Kits to try.

Now I might have got the wrong end of the stick (although I doubt it), but my understanding of these kits is that you use the contents, plus (for example) a tin of coconut milk and some chicken, cook according to the instructions and bingo, you've got a curry.

See those two compartments on the left? Turmeric.
Well, it didn't happen that way for me.

The first one we tried was the Korma curry kit - to which I added chicken and a tin of coconut milk.

Included in the kit were turmeric, ginger, garlic, shallots and chillies.  Now I wasn't sure how these few ingredients would come together to make an Indian Korma Curry, but felt confident that they wouldn't say it could, if it couldn't.  Well, it couldn't.  I'm really not sure what it did make - but it was a very long way from an acceptable Indian Korma.

Chicken plus spices
All of the ingredients in the kit can be used to make a Korma - of that I've no doubt.  Just not in the quantities (either too little - shallots - or too much - turmeric) that they were supplied.  The dominant flavour was that of the fresh turmeric, which was gritty and unpleasant because of its quantity in relation to the lack of quantity of anything else.  The shallots might as well not have been there.  The coconut milk added some sweetness, but those few spices couldn't even begin to try to produce the many layers of flavour involved in a true Indian Korma.

To say it was disappointing is doing it a favour.  In truth, I cannot see how it can ever purport to produce an Indian Korma Curry without its background chorus of onion, cardamom, cream and at the very least, fresh coriander.

The end result - just horrid and full of gritty turmeric

However, so as not to write all the kits off in one fell swoop, I decided to give the Massaman Curry one a go, using some of the lovely silverside of beef that our butcher was selling.  However, with this one, I simply used the spices included in the kit and went a bit freestyle with the ingredients and cooking process thereafter, following a recipe which purported to represent an "authentic" Massaman curry.

Please note, however, that the kit itself contained lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, ginger, shallots, chilli and garlic.  The instructions recommended you "simply add beef, coconut milk and potatoes" and it would be "ready in 19 minutes".

In addition to the above roll call, I added galangal, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, cardamom seeds, cinnamon, star anise, whole shallots, fish sauce, tamarind and basil.

I began by making up a massaman curry paste, which included the lemongrass, ginger, chilli and garlic, plus the galangal, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and cloves, which I ground together using a pestle & mortar.  This very effectively broke the lemongrass down even further from its minced state and stopped it behaving in the way that the turmeric did with the Korma version, i.e. get in your teeth!

I then mixed the beef with the paste, the kaffir lime leaves and some peanut oil and left it to marinade for a half an hour or so.

Looks promising - but didn't deliver
I fried the beef (and curry paste) off in a pan and placed it into the slow cooker, along with the minced shallots from the kit, the whole shallots, cardamom, cinnamon and star anise which had also been fried to release their fragrance and flavour.

Next I added the coconut milk, fish sauce, some salt, pepper and a little water - until the liquid was almost covering the beef, but not quite.  I left the slow cooker to its own devices for the next 4-5 hours.

For the next phase, I spooned the meat (which was beautifully tender by then) out and poured the sauce into a pan.  I added another half a can of coconut milk, some potatoes (Jersey Royals, diced) and half the basil leaves, a hefty teaspoonful of dried chilli flakes because the chilli had completely disappeared, partly covered the pan and simmered until the potatoes were cooked and the sauce reduced a little.

The tamarind juice went in next - to taste - along with a little sugar and the remaining basil, together with the cubes of beef.  All was heated through and then served with plain white rice.

After all that, I was the only person who really enjoyed their curry.  Hubby found his bland and although he enjoyed the flavour of the beef, found the sauce to be verging on unpalatable.  Son & heir ate all his beef and potatoes and left all the sauce.

I agreed with hubby that the curry was bland - it lacked something that would make it stand up and be counted as a Massaman Curry as opposed to any other mild Thai curry.  (Oh, and by the way, do the Thai's DO "mild" curries?  I don't think so!).   I was so hoping that I would be able to say "well, okay, you can't make a good curry with just the kit, but you can use the kit's contents as components in a good curry" - but apparently not.

Such a shame.

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