Does it make a difference whether you cook you food on a gas or electric hob or over a charcoal fire? Our modern high tech kitchens tend to banish the smokiness that comes from traditional cooking methods involving a naked flame. For sure it’s safer and if you’ve just redecorated your kitchen the last thing you want is a film of soot all over your ceiling. But, on the other hand, there’s nothing like the taste of food cooked over a charcoal fire. A smoky woodsy flavour can really enhance certain foods. Curries, for example, really come alive with a hint of smokiness and tandoori dishes simply cry out for it.
If you haven’t got an outdoor charcoal grill or barbeque, don’t worry because there are some shortcut ways to that lovely smoky aroma and taste. You can buy a bottle of liquid smoke, a flavour enhancer that mimics some of the qualities of food cooked over an open flame. It’s a rapid and easy solution but not everyone wants to add chemicals to their food. An alternative is to use ingredients that already have a hint of smokiness about them. Smoked bacon, for example, can be fried and the resulting rendered fat can be used to cook meat and vegetables in. Add the bacon back at the end to finish the dish. Or you could consider using one of the dark beers, for example Guinness, which have elements of smokiness about them. Another solution is to use Lapsang Souchong, a tea with a naturally smoky flavour. Grind up loose-leaf tea in a spice grinder for the best effect. Or you could try a smoked salt as a finishing touch or a smoked spice. Cumin has an innately smoky aroma while other spices, such as paprika, can be bought ready smoked.
However, housewives in India have cleverly devised a method of adding smokiness to their curries without leaving the comfort of their own kitchens. You will need a piece of charcoal (or a barbecue brick) about three inches long. Using a pair of tongs, hold the charcoal over a gas flame for about five minutes or until it turns hot and grey. Heat a frying pan (which has a lid) and pour in the curry you want to become smoked. Place your smouldering charcoal in a small metal dish and place this in the centre of the frying pan. Pour ghee or melted butter over the charcoal – it will immediately begin to smoke – then cover the frying pan with the lid and turn the heat right down. In two or three minutes, your curry will have a wonderful authentic smoky flavour.
And find out more about making the curries of South East Asia by coming to one of the Tropical Spice Garden’s Cookery School and learning invaluable tips and techniques from the experts.