Rick Stein’s India – In Search of the Perfect Curry
Recipes From My Indian Odyssey
By Rick Stein
BBC Books – £25.00
I have to confess, Rick Stein’s India – In Search of the Perfect Curry, is as much a lavish photography book as it is a cookery book. Indeed, James Murphy’s spectacularly taken photographs do just as much to trigger the gastronomic taste buds into doing the rumba (quick time), as do numerous recipes herein.
That the book is anchored to the idiosyncratic cuisine of India, might marginally explain some of the background behind said photographic reasoning. As countless regal reds, garish greens, brash blues and yielding yellows – like much of the tantalizing food itself – simply drips off the page…
What’s more, the sub-title of this cookery book, In Search of the Perfect Curry, is highly indicative of the author. Having already reviewed a number of Stein’s books – who I once met at a party in Cornwall, and who I have to say, is one of the most unassuming of people I have ever met – it does appear that he is something of a perfectionist.
After all, is there such a thing as ‘the perfect curry’? Perhaps yes. Perhaps no. Which ever way, I do know what he means.
The author’s quest to either stumble upon the perfect curry, or devise it by way of his own design, is partially touched upon in the book’s Introduction, wherein he writes: My greatest dilemma in my journey and in writing this book has been that I just don’t know enough about Indian cooking, and the more I learn, the more I realise I need to know. So at this stage I’m holding my hands up and saying to any Indian readers, I know there are things in here you won’t agree with […]. I’m no expert, but this is my book and I’ve done my best to understand a cuisine I love.”
Such honesty is just one of the traits that is endearing about Stein. Not only does it allow him a certain gastronomic leeway, but it suggests that he, like many a novice in the kitchen, is fully prepared to learn.
And I have to say, all lovers of a good curry, let alone a perfect curry, will find lots to learn about amid this thoroughly well presented and, glorious book. I’ve already learned something from the headings of the six chapters alone: Dhaba (”…are street snacks the most irresistable food in India?”), Sabzi (”…succulent vegetable dishes, transformed by spice”), Macchi (…the incomparable taste of fish and shellfish, coconut, tomato, tamarind and spice”), Murgh (…spicy and creamy chicken curries, fragrant rice dishes and a little roast duck”), Gosht (”…deep and dark meat curries, kormas, pulaos and biryanis”) and Meetha (…kulfi, nimish and some other indulgent Indian sweets”).
Is this cookery book mouth watering?
Well where to begin? From ‘Hot Smoked Salmon Kedgeree,’ to ‘Black Dal,’ from ‘Green Chilli and Turmeric Dhokla with Prawns, Curry Leaves and Mustard Seeds,’ to ‘Coconut Prawn Curry (Chingri malai),’ from ‘Chicken and Apricot Curry with Potato Straws (Sali murghi)’ to ‘Lamb Pulao (Idris yakhni pulao);’ curry is herein delivered and explained in such ways that I didn’t know existed. For instance, with regards the latter dish ‘Lamb Pulao’ – which is one of my favourites – Stein writes: ”I know this is only an academic point, but I’m blowed if I can see how this pulao isn’t a biryani. As I see it, the main difference between a biryani and pilao is that in a biryani the rice is precooked and in a pilao it isn’t – yet the rice in this pulao is precooked. And a certain amount of layering of rice and lamb takes place. But who am I to say? It’s lovely, and don’t be put off by the large amount of rice in it relative to the lamb and masala – biryanis and pulaos are all about the rice.”
Rick Stein’s India is all about learning how to make the most out of what still has to be one of the most tantalizingly alluring dishes in the world. So if you like curry, buy this book. It’ll transport you unto curry induced places (and dishes) you never knew existed…