30 August 2007

What I mean in the Book ... in Pictures! (Part II)

When I last left you, I stopped at the point where you would now have the baseline for a basic curry type dish. To make it finalised, however, there are a couple of extra steps to go through. Don't worry! We'll do this together, and I'll have lots of pictures to get you through this. It's not difficult at all.

Once the onions are softened, and look a little dark brown around the edges, you'll notice that there are spices forming little crusty brown bits along the bottom of the pot. These little bits are pivotal in getting the final dish its depth of flavour and colour. You need the bits. The bits are good. Feel free to omit the alcohol if you don't imbibe. It's fine! I didn't add any at all, and it was delicious.
This is the point at which you want to add a liquid agent to perform the ever-important deglazing step. I've described deglazing in depth in the cookbook, so this should be a review for those of you who've read it. What you're looking to do at this point is to add something with liquid sufficient to release the crusty brown bits, and to dominate the dish at this point. Up until now, there has been more oil than water in the pot, and the ingredients have been cooking at very high temperatures. This is what gets them all roasty toasty brown, and smelling so delicious.
That's where our tomatoes come in. When you add that large, soft, squishy, and wet tomato, you instantly drop down the temperature of the stuff in the pot. Because water is so good at maintaining its temperature, the oil will not have the chance to get hot enough to allow spices (or the oil!) to burn. Add the tomatoes to the softened onions, and mix it in well. If you'd like to add a few pinches of salt, some dried chili flakes, and some wine or vodka, it'll amp up the flavour to new degrees of tasty. After the tomatoes are stirred through very well, turn down your heat to medium, and let them bubble away. This is where you'll thank yourself for having a pot with deep sides—the juices will not splatter and make a mess of your clean counter tops and stoves. You want the tomatoes to cook down a fair bit. They need to get broken up and form a sort of thick saucy thing. This is what I mean when I say to cook down the tomatoes until they're broken down in the cookbook. You can cook them less if you'd like for there to be pieces of tomato in the final dish, but I prefer to have them cooked down this way, so that they melt away into the background, and lend their beautiful colours quietly to your final dish.
Once the tomatoes have cooked down, you're in the home stretch. This is the base for a soup, stew, or daal. You've been doing all this work to form a strong, clean flavour profile in the final dish. Even if you make no adjustments at all in the spicing of the stuff, you'll still turn out stellar dishes every single time. If you are adding beans at this point, however, I certainly hope that you also throw in a bit of cumin and coriander powder, along with some extra black pepper and chili powder, to launch the taste into the heavens. If you're just doing a simple soup or stew, however, feel free to stick with the base, and work from there.
I added the potatoes and chayote at this point (reserving the green beans), because I wanted them to have long enough to cook. I turned the heat back up to high (you'll want to do this if you're making beans, otherwise they'll never come up to the boil!), and covered the lid for about ten minutes or so. Every five minutes, from now until the potatoes are cooked through, I give the vegetables a quick stir to redistribute them around. It's not strictly necessary, but I like to do it, because I get nervous that I'll end up burning something if I don't!
While that was going on, I diluted two or three tablespoons of cocoanut milk (the extra rich kind) in about three litres of water. When I say extra rich, I'm really not joking around. This stuff was packed with fat, and all of it was saturated fat! It was meant for recipes that require a thicker cocoanut milk. In the cookbook, when I call for cocoanut milk, feel free to omit it, or scale back on it heavily and dilute it out with water, so that you're not swimming in a cholesterol-inducing jungle. The flavours are wonderful without the extra fat. I just personally really like extra fat, so feel free to do with this information what you will.
Once the potatoes and chayote were cooked down, I poured in my cocoanut milk and water mixture into the pot. I let everything come up to a full, rolling boil, and then dropped the heat down to a simmer. If I wanted this to be a stew (which I wanted), I would let it simmer long enough that the excess water evaporates off, and makes it thicker (which I did). If, however, I watned to keep the soup as is, and have the amount of liquid, I could have left it at this point. The choice is completely up to you, and I hope you'll experiment.

I hope you've enjoyed this pictorial journey with me. Let me know what you think, and I might continue these in the future!