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What are the best practices for scaling up Indian dishes such as chicken curry, butter chicken, palak paneer, etc. that follow these generic steps (albeit with different ingredients):

oil -> whole spices -> onions -> ginger garlic -> tomatoes -> chicken/veg

The process above yields extremely tasty & authentic dishes that serve 4-6 people and I have used various recipes with good success.

But when I double/triple/quadruple the quantity (i.e., the amount of chicken or spinach) things go awry. I increase the base curry ingredients (onions, ginger/garlic/tomatoes/spices) but not necessarily twofold, threefold, or fourfold, etc. The result is a dish that lacks flavor or balance.

The question is, should all ingredients proportionally increase?

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    The biggest mistake that people make when doubling or tripling a recipe is that they don't have a good way to double or triple the surface area of the cooking vessels and double or triple the amount of heat going into it. Which I would give as an answer, if someone hadn't closed the question. – Joe Jan 22 at 13:57
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    @bigbrownbear00: rumtscho is just following the rules of the site. Personally, I find it odd that mod's put in so much of their personal time and care for free. And yes, this community needs more Indians who can answer questions. I've introduced the site to friends and they loved it. I haven't had any trouble scaling. Specifically chicken curry, mixed veggies and palak dishes. The onion, masalas etc. were proportionally increased. For cooking time I recommend checking periodically to see if it's cooked, rather than depend on a number. – Nav Jan 22 at 16:53
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Cooking is as a rule of thumb more forgiving when you tinker with the ratios than e.g. baking. That said, if you have a recipe that works and you want to increase the number of servings, the first step is to increase all ingredients by the same factor, keeping the ratios consistent. This should bring you at least into the vicinity of the desired results.

Unfortunately, this can still be somewhat off target, as recipes depend not only on ingredients, but on basic physics (and chemistry), e.g. evaporating a percentage of liquid, or heat transfer to and from a body of food, may it be a roast or a pot with a given volume. A shallow layer of something in a wide pan will cook differently than the same amount in a tall and narrow pot. Whenever you scale up or down, you need to take these factors into account. And yes, this can influence not only the cooking time, but also the flavor profile. Just think of frying a small amount vs a large amount in the same pan - there’s a reason some recipes recommend searing some ingredients in batches.

It’s almost impossible to give a generic answer, but if you follow the principles of

  • scale proportionally
  • determine cooking time by doneness or desired intermediate states, not time alone
  • optionally, adjust liquids according to surface area

you shouldn’t be too far off and only need minor tweaks. Everything beyond that would need looking into the specific recipe.

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