Take the 2-minute tour ×
Seasoned Advice is a question and answer site for professional and amateur chefs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

It's become something of a quest for me to find a curry recipe that tastes like the curry you get from an Indian Takeaway. I'm getting close with the consistency, but can't get the taste right.

I won't list the various and numerous things that I've tried, but most of the variations that I've tried include:

tomatoes (I've tried fresh, tinned and purée), onion, yoghurt (although this doesn't seem to affect the flavour, so I stopped using it), cumin (tried seeds and ground), mustard seeds, coriander (fresh and ground), ginger (fresh and ground), fenugreek (fresh and ground), garam masala.

I'm pretty sure that I'm missing one or two ingredients that restaurants and takeaways use as a matter of course, but I haven't been able to find it. Can anyone point me in the right direction?

EDIT:

I didn't realise that they differ, but I'm in the UK - so that's the takeaway I'm referring to.

I appreciate curry's vary in taste, but there seems to be an underlying taste to all the tomato based ones. For the purpose of clarity, I'm trying to make a Rogan Josh.

Here's a sample of the sort of thing that I've been trying:

  • 4 - 5 tomatoes, skinned and chopped
  • 1 Onion chopped
  • 1 lb Diced Lamb
  • 2 - 3 Garlic cloves crushed and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of Garam Masalla
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 inch root ginger grated
  • Oil

Slowly heat the mustard and cumin seeds until the pop, then add the onions and garlic and fry gently until soft. Add the meat and up the heat to cook. After about 10 mins add the other ingredients and leave for an hour or until the tomatoes have turned into sauce.

Another thing that I've tried is puréeing the garlic, spices, tomatoes and ginger and adding that after the onions are cooked. This helps with the consistency, but doesn't really affect the taste.

EDIT:

The best single answer that I had to this was cream. However, cloves did also make a difference. I still haven't managed to get the takeaway flavour, but thanks for all the suggestions.

share|improve this question
2  
I'm still lost on what's actually wrong. Too spicy? Too bland? Too thick? Too runny? Too chewy? Not chewy enough? There may be people out there who can come up with good answers, but in order to know what ingredients or preparation steps are missing, they have to know what's missing from the result. –  Aaronut Aug 5 '10 at 17:18
    
I agree with @Aaronut. The recent edit makes this a much better question but this is still impossible to answer without some idea of what is wrong. –  hobodave Aug 5 '10 at 21:28
    
It's virtually tasteless. If I make a lamb curry, it just tastes like lamb, or if it's beef then it tastes like beef. The sauce it usually very watery and doesn't quite get that taste of curry that you get with a takeaway. –  pm_2 Aug 6 '10 at 6:42
    
To get some tips on how to figure out the "secret" ingredient or step that you're missing in your recipe, check out the forum at the website "Curry Recipes Online". It's a forum where people discuss on how to reproduce the recipes from their favorite Indian take-away. –  Rinzwind Dec 29 '10 at 15:04
1  
Yes that's right - all us Indians eat unidentifiable meat every day. Its what gives our cuisine its unique taste. FFS. –  5arx Apr 5 '13 at 9:46

17 Answers 17

up vote 11 down vote accepted

If the English curry is similar to this, you are missing CREAM!

Bowl of curry

share|improve this answer
    
What type of cream and when would you add it? Won't it curdle? –  pm_2 Aug 5 '10 at 16:09
10  
If it's British takeaway you're after, then cream might be a good bet. I daresay the Indians would probably use coconut milk. On the other hand, Chicken Tikka Masala was invented in Scotland. –  Carmi Aug 6 '10 at 13:26
6  
+1 for the coconut milk idea. Adding just enough coconut milk will give you a creamier texture without much, if any, actual coconut flavor. If you actually want some coconut flavor, I would just add a little more coconut milk. –  Chad Aug 9 '10 at 17:57
8  
This is a just one example of the main general difference between good home-cooked food and restaurant food: More fat/oil. You'd never dump a whole bunch of fat in your own food, but you'll still buy it from a restaurant because you don't know they've put it in - and it tastes delicious. –  MGOwen Dec 21 '10 at 5:29
2  
A healthier and more delicious alternative (and quite "authentic" for some curries) is yoghurt. Most curries taste about twice as good with some yoghurt mixed it. It's seriously like magic. –  MGOwen Dec 21 '10 at 5:31

Some good tips here and I share your quest to get that authentic taste. I find that takeaway/restaurant curry has a hell of a lot of ghee and garlic in it. Curry also tastes better reheated the next day (caution is required and common sense). Have you tried adding roasted apples (cored)? Also, whizzing up curry with food processor before adding meat or prawns, and adding chopped coriander before serving.

share|improve this answer

Rogan Josh was originally a Kashmiri dish. 'Rogan Josh' means 'bubbling fat'.

Nowadays 'Rogan Josh' is pretty much any lamb/goat curry with a red gravy. Most of the Rogan Josh I've had in the US & UK isn't anything like what my Kashmiri in laws make.

The red color of Rogan Josh comes from a lot of 'Kashmiri mirch', a red chili powder that is rich & flavorful as well as hot - a good substitute for Kashmiri mirch is a mix of 1/2 cayenne pepper plus 1/2 paprika.

Ratan Jot (made from red cockscomb flowers) is also used to color Rogan Josh traditionally, but doesn't add much flavor.

Tomatoes are NOT used traditionally in Kashmiri Rogan Josh.

This is my Kashmiri mom in laws recipe for Rogan Josh-

(Note-Kashmiri Pandits would use Asafoetida not onion & garlic, Kashmiri Muslims do use onion & garlic)

2lbs lamb or goat, cut into 2 inch pieces-bone in & fatty preferred

6 TBS ghee

1 tsp cumin seeds

3 inch piece of cassia bark or cinnamon stick

7 cloves, whole

5 black cardamoms, bruised in mortar & pestle

1/2 tsp coarsely ground black peppercorns

1 TBS Kashmiri mirch

1 tsp ground fennel

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 & 1/2 cups full fat yoghurt mixed with 2 tsp flour

Grind to paste-

2 onions

1 TBS garlic paste (or 6 cloves garlic)

2 tsp ginger paste (or 1 inch ginger)

1) Fry mutton pieces until brown in ghee in batches in a deep skillet. Set mutton aside.

2) In same ghee fry onion/garlic/ginger paste plus 1 teaspoon salt until most of moisture gone.

3) Add cumin, cloves, cassia, black pepper, and black cardamom to onion mixture, fry for around 2 minutes.

4) Add mutton pieces, Kashmiri mirch, fennel & ginger, stir well to coat all mutton pieces.( A tablespoon of Kashmiri mirch sounds like it would make this dish unbearably hot but the yogurt mellows the heat & gives it a rich, deep flavor)

5) Remove pan from heat, add yoghurt mixture 1 TBS at a time and stir in well.

6) Return pan to heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until most of liquid from yoghurt is gone.

7) Add 1 cup water to mutton mixture, stir well and simmer until mutton is tender. Salt to taste and serve.

share|improve this answer
    
I have no idea what this meant to taste like. I made it tonight and it was fab :) –  Iain Oct 4 at 20:15

Tamarind. Looking through the various jars of mixes I use, tamarind is in quite a few, and gives it a very bright red colour.

Other than that, garam masala, and very very very very reduced onions. An Indian taught me a generic recipe. Fry chilis, then onions, then combine with tomatoes into a base sauce. Fry meat until browned, add the sauce, garam masala, lemon, and mango powder, and simmer for 15 minutes. But, although totally authentic, this is very Indian, not very English. Tasty, but probably lacks what you (and I) are looking for. So, I do all the above, and throw in a jar of Patak's. Sometimes, I use a little cream, sometimes some other marinades before hand, but the base remains as above, and it's pretty Indian.

I know in the UK that a lot of restaurants are actually Bangladeshi, so looking for specific recipes there might help.

share|improve this answer

A handful of chopped fresh coriander (or cilantro if you're in the US) added at about 5-10 mins before the end of the cooking process is hugely important. It adds a nice pungent aroma and flavour.

However the real trick is to find a recipe for a good basic core sauce from which you can create different styles of curry from - kinda like having a good stock.

I base mine on this basic curry sauce recipe which I stumbled across a few years back.

Most UK Indian Restaurants will start cooking a dish from a simple sauce such as this. I'm also guessing that because it's probably sat around the fridge for most of the day or from the day before, the various spices and herbs will have suffused and made the sauce richer in taste.

If I can't get fresh spices then Pateks Curry pastes do a pretty good job as a substitute.

Also experiment with small amounts of lemon juice to get that tang you find in more sour dishes such as Patia or Ceylonese Curry (not Korma).

It's the taste closest approaching that UK Indian Restaurant style - i.e. 1980's Koh-i-noor Glasgow or the Shish Mahal in Gibson Street Glasgow - both of which I used to frequent many times in my youth :)

share|improve this answer

Some interesting answers here!

I've studied this for years trying to find the answer to that simple question 'how do you replicate that 'Indian restaurant flavour' at home?

Here are the two key answers -

1/ Use a base sauce or gravy.

All Indian restaurants use one or more 'base sauces or gravies' for the vast majority of their dishes.

2/ Use a very high temperature heat burner to cook your dishes on.

Look in an Indian Restaurant and look at the burners they use to cook their dishes on. They are fiercely high temperature burners and the dishes are cooked over a very high heat, a heat I may add that few home gas burners can replicate unless you're lucky enough to have a high temperature wok burner.

share|improve this answer
    
What kind of base sauce? Single-dish recipes are roughly equivalent to making the base sauce and the full sauce at the same time. Restaurants use base sauces because it lets them divide/share the work effectively, not necessarily because it results in an inherently better final dish. With respect to high heat... I think the restaurants mostly just have burners that powerful because they need to be able to cook a huge pot, which takes more power. –  Jefromi Apr 1 '13 at 20:27

The main suggestion that I havent seen mentioned here is that Restaurant Indian uses base sauces.

An Indian restaurant will typically have two or three different base sauces - big pots of sauce cooking away all night, which forms the base of a curry. Each curry will use one or more of the base sauces, plus a variety of other ingredients which do not take very long to cook. This allows the restaurant to be able to prepare a curry very quickly, without having every curry already pre-made. It also contributes significantly to that 'restaurant curry' taste.

These base sauces are typically made up of large amount of onion, tomato and oil, maybe a couple of veges and a variety of spices for flavour. These are typically cooked so long that all the ingredients disintegrate, or a blender is used to puree the base sauce.

If you cant be bothered going down this route, my other suggestion would be to try using more oil - 3/4 tablespoons at a minimum probably

share|improve this answer
    
Restaurants use base sauces because it lets them divide/share the work effectively, not necessarily because it results in an inherently better final dish. A single-dish recipe will often effectively have you make the base sauce as part of the dish; you don't need a completely separate process. –  Jefromi Apr 2 '13 at 0:04
    
@Jefromi - many UK Indian takeaways build their dishes upon one or two basic sauces/gravies. It is a separate process and apart from creating the individual dish being cooked. I'm not necessarily suggesting this creates a "better" final dish, but it is the way it's done. I know this from personal experience, having made friends with the chefs and owners of my favourite local takeaways over the years and discussed their prep and cooking methods whilst waiting for my food. –  Kev Apr 2 '13 at 2:07
    
@Kev I'm not disagreeing that it's done separately. I'm just saying that often a single-dish recipe does something equivalent. –  Jefromi Apr 2 '13 at 2:11

Pat Chapman has written a number of books over the years, containing restaurant curry recipes, and I recommend any one of them.

The thing is, restaurant recipes are designed for restaurant scale cooking. An Indian restaurant will typically start the day by preparing a large quantity of fresh garam masala, a big tub of onion puree, a big tub of masala sauce, and so on. Chapman's recipes work this way, each final recipe refers to a recipe for a sauce described earlier in the book, which in turn refers to a recipe for a spice mix.

These are difficult things to make well on a smaller scale, and if you try it at home you'll end up with a freezer full of spare sauce etc., which is fine if you intend to make use of it, but makes the first curry very labour intensive.

For this reason, I personally don't aspire to cooking a restaurant curry -- I can get one cheaply and easily by having a restaurant make it! I aspire to a curry such as a good Indian cook would prepare for her family on a special occasion.

One final thought: Analji Patak, founder of the company that makes jars of curry sauce, has insinuated that more restaurants use her factory-made sauces than you'd imagine. Make of that what you will.

share|improve this answer

You are right - there is a definite indian takeaway taste that is difficult to replicate. You can make something that tastes fresher, more authentic or healthier, but sometimes you want that takeaway style. A number of the Pat Chapman books go through making a takeaway style dish, also have a look on ebay, there are a number of people selling takeaway style curry recipe kits with prebagged and measured spices and instructions - I am sure some of those are done by enterprising takeaways themselves. They have been pretty good, and not very expensive when I have tried them. Anyway, a couple of things that I have picked up on that help get that elusive flavour

  1. As you mentioned, pureeing the onions helps with the consistency, which is important
  2. Use a lot of garlic - takeaways use a base curry sauce as the start of every dish, I am sure it uses a lot more garlic than you imagine.
  3. Use Ghee as your cooking medium. And use a lot of it.
  4. Salt. Don't forget it (I know plenty of people who forget seasoning as soon as they are cooking anything 'ethnic')
  5. Add dried fenugreek leaves (Methi) towards the end of cooking. Smell them - smell familiar? Smells like the takeaway!
share|improve this answer
    
+1 for being the only one to recommend just adding salt. –  Jefromi Apr 1 '13 at 19:45

A couple of suggestions that seem to work for me:

  1. Marinade the meat in spices before cooking.. I once used up the sauce from a takeaway curry that I handn't finished by frying some chicken and putting in the sauce. It didn't taste like the curry had the night before.
  2. Blend onions in a food processor until smooth(ish). Fry this until the onions are no longer bitter and add to the spice mixture you are using to make your curry sauce. It gives the curry the texture you associate with take away currys.
  3. Use lemon juice to taste. Add lemon juice near the end of cooking.
  4. In addition to 2, and depending on the type of curry you are making fry chopped onions for a long time, until they are golden brown. It will give the curry a lot of flavour.
  5. Don't be shy with sugar.
share|improve this answer
    
Lots and lots of sugar, palm sugar seems to do the trick if you can find it and don't mind using it. –  vwiggins Jun 25 '13 at 8:49

In general, from what I've tasted, takeaway curries seem to be, at least in Sydney (Australia):

  1. Made ahead of time and heated on request.
  2. Contain more sugar than usual.
  3. Seem to contain tomato paste, judging by the taste.
  4. Tend to be cooked for a long time.
  5. Contain an unspeakable amount of coconut milk and/or cream.

I suggest cooking your curry, however you choose to make it, for about 6 hours.

share|improve this answer

The single tip I've learned that makes curries taste like a takeaway is in the onion, garlic and ginger (chilli optional).

These three things should be whizzed to a paste with a touch of salt first. Fry this in ghee after your spices have been dry-toasted in the same pan. Then add the ground, toasted spices to the onion mix.

If your dish requires onions as the body of the dish they can be added afterwards, sliced or as required.

I can't tell you the flavour difference pureeing these things makes.

I also don't completely agree with adding cream. A rogan josh will be more often thickened (and soured) with Greek-style yoghurt.

share|improve this answer
    
I've heard these two suggestions before. The paste seems to help with the consistency, but does nothing for the taste - perhaps I have the quantities wrong? Also, every time I try to add yoghurt, it curdles. –  pm_2 Dec 2 '10 at 6:44
1  
For a regular amount of curry (weasel word alert! - say it serves 4 - 6) I use 1 onion in the paste, 4-6 garlic, 1 inch ginger. Works for me. For yoghurt: you need a low-fat yoghurt, added right at the end of cooking. The heat causes it to split otherwise. –  Gary Dec 2 '10 at 16:11
    
@pm_2 Don't discount the suggestion of salt here, and probably more than a touch - your original recipe didn't have it, and it greatly increases our perception of other flavors. –  Jefromi Apr 1 '13 at 19:43

As ever, it depends on the exact recipe. It seems to me that garlic is conspicuously missing from your list of ingredients, though.

Additionally, you could try very small amount (1/4 teaspoon for a medium put to start) of the following spices:

  • Cloves
  • Turmeric
  • Cinnamon
  • Cardamom (this really sorted out a dish I was making yesterday that was tasting a little flat)

You didn't put curry in your list, though I assume you don't need to be told that.

share|improve this answer
    
I have tried curry powder in the past, although from what I've seen, curry powder is essentially Garam Masalla with chili powder. I have also tried recipes that call for Curry leaves. In the past, I have tried all the ingredients in various quantities that you have suggested. –  pm_2 Aug 5 '10 at 15:39
    
Curry powder is just a mixture of some of the spices you might want in a curry. I prefer to work from first principles. However, I meant curry leaves, not curry powder. My apologies if that wasn't clear enough. –  Carmi Oct 26 '11 at 19:52

Use double or triple that volume of spices, and gentle dry roast them first

Use ghee (clarified butter) instead of oil

Use loads of cream to finish the gravy

share|improve this answer
    
Dry roast ALL the spices, or certain ones? –  pm_2 Nov 22 '10 at 10:09
    
usually it's all the seeds. –  cabbey Dec 3 '10 at 6:17
2  
Yeah, for best results, buy all your spices whole, roast (a few mins in a frying pan -- you'll smell when it's right), then grind. An electric grinder is worth it if you do this a lot. Using ready-ground spices is a lot less work, but you can definitely taste the difference. –  slim Mar 9 '11 at 15:37

It it is taste that is the problem, the issue may well be spicing. What might be missing depends on the type of curry you are trying to make and my best suggestion is to find someone who really knows how to cook Indian food and ask them.

One issue that is fairly common is not roasting the spices correctly before cooking the curry so you might want to experiment with that.

share|improve this answer
1  
I thought that's what I was doing :-) I've pretty much tried recipes for every curry you can think of, but something like Rogan Josh is what I had in mind. –  pm_2 Aug 5 '10 at 9:53

While preparing for Indian curry you can season Toor Dal, which gives better taste.

It tastes better and smells good If you season with chilli, mustard seed and curry leaves

share|improve this answer

Personally i think you should aspire to make one better than the curry house.

I think the trick is to use as much fresh spices as possible - make your own Garam Masalla and just use this instead of all your other spices.

we toast cumin, coriander, mustard seeds, fennel, one clove, and about 8 cardimon pods. or what ever takes my fancy at the time then grind them in a coffee grinder.

Each cook will have his own mix passed down through generations, usually a closely guarded secret. Which is why probably you'll never find that exact flavour.

share|improve this answer
    
While roasted spices result in distinct curries, the non-roasted ones can still cater for tasty curries. –  bonCodigo Feb 11 at 15:38

protected by Jefromi Apr 1 '13 at 19:23

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.