A warming experience
Keep your curries simple and you will be rewarded with a homely dish
I am going to be self-indulgent in this, my farewell column, and serve myself the writer's equivalent of the prisoner's last meal. It is (with apologies to vegetarians) a recently discovered recipe that represents the kind of cooking I enjoy best. It is not classical, but a simplification. As a dish for the home cook, it has far more integrity than many, apparently more authentic concoctions.
It is an Anglo-Indian curry, and appears in David Burnett and Helen Saberi's The Road to Vindaloo, out from Prospect Books on 1 October. Beef "bindaloo" was collected by Sir James Ranald Martin, a surgeon of the East India Company, in the early 19th century; it resurfaced in a Wine and Food Society pamphlet in the 1930s.
All it requires (for two to three people) is 450g of chuck steak, six onions, 225g of butter or ghee, two tablespoons of curry powder, and a cup (which I take to be about 180ml) of red or white wine vinegar.
You melt the heart-stopping quantity of butter in a casserole above a low heat, and tip in the onions. The recipe tells you to sweat them; but I think that it is a good idea to wait patiently for the 30 minutes or more that it can take for them to brown. Do not be tempted to hasten the transformation by turning up the heat, because you will burn both the butter and bits of onion, which will stick to the pan.
Meanwhile, cube the beef, and brown it. I toss the cubes in just a few drops of sunflower oil and sear them on a ridged grill pan, on a medium to high flame, for just a minute or so on each side. Transfer them to a plate.
Add the curry powder to the browned onions. One of the disadvantages of curry powder - its powderiness - can be tempered by gentle frying. Cook it for about ten minutes, but make sure, by stirring, that it does not burn.
Now add the vinegar - the "bindaloo" element. The original recipe says that you should trickle it in, presumably to get some evaporation before each new portion arrives. I found the process rather like adding stock gradually to a risotto: the onions and powder thirstily absorbed the liquid, and evaporation may have been minimal. Tip in the meat with the juice it has disgorged, add salt to taste, cover the casserole, and cook gently (I do it in a 130°C oven; gas mark ½) for two hours.
What emerges is tender meat with an unctuous sauce, thickened by the onions. The dish has the consistency you find in Indian restaurant curries, and the richness, too. Tasting it, in the knowledge of how much butter or ghee you have put in, gives you an inkling of the fattiness of curry-house meals.
You could tart up the bindaloo in various ways, or you could use individual spices instead of the powder. But that would compromise the essential, homely character of the dish.