I'm addicted to curries and recently I participated on an internet discussion about oil separation in a curry. It is conventional wisdom that oil separation in a curry indicates the food finished cooking and that everything is ready. I take this for granted, but what I am really looking forward to is a technical explanation in english for this event. How exactly does the oil separation culminate with the finishing of cooking of the curry sauce and its ingredients?

  • Can you post an example recipe? Most that I've seen call for separating the coconut milk before adding other ingredients. Also, what type of cuisine is this? Thai curries are different from Malaysian curries are different from Indian curries, etc... – SourDoh Aug 10 '13 at 20:17
  • I'd imagine the chemistry changes would be the same across the different varieties of curries to a certain degree. I am particularly focused on Indian food myself. First example recipe from google: ayeshahaq.com/tag/achari – Goncalo Aug 10 '13 at 20:45
  • possible duplicate of Oil separating from fried onion spice mixture -- why does it happen? – jscs Aug 11 '13 at 6:39
  • Oil separation isn't mentioned in any of the four or five books on curry that I own, and the Indians I used to live with never did this. And what if the sauce hadn't separated before say, the capsicum were cooked? What if you were cooking prawns? – silves89 Aug 11 '13 at 13:34

The oil separating out of the milk both gives the final dish a glossier and more colorful appearance, and intensifies fat soluble flavor and pigment compounds (such as capsaicin). The separation primarily indicates that the flavor development of the sauce is done. Many recipes may simply be timed so that this will coincide with when the other ingredients finish cooking. It may be traditional wisdom that this indicates that all of the ingredients have finished cooking, but there isn't really anything special about the milk separating that indicates that, as the coconut milk is also sometimes cooked to separation prior to adding other ingredients.

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