In many Indian recipes I see the phrase "cook until the oil leaves the side of the pan". For example, this recipe says:

Add tomato puree and cook until oil leaves the side.

Similarly, this one says:

[C]ook the gravy until the oil leaves the sides of the pan.

Is this the same as "cook until the oil separates" as described in this other question? Or is it something different? Since the other question talks about the oil leaving the curry/gravy rather than the "sides of the pan", they seem to be different phenomena. Thanks for your help!

  • 1
    Not an authoritative answer, and not a native English speaker, but FWIW: I encounter both in recipes (with a slight preference for "leaves the side of the pan", I'd say), and interpret them as describing the same thing. I also wouldn't know what phenomena it would otherwise be describing. Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 7:14
  • Having read the recipes, I think this is just a question of careless wording in a translation or something like that. Both recipes show pictures of a mixture sitting in the middle of the pan's surface, and in the first case you can even see the moment of separation where the oil leaves hte sides of the mixture. Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 9:34

2 Answers 2


Since I'm not an expert in Indian cuisine, I can't say this for certain, but I agree with the comments so far that this seems basically equivalent to the separation of the oil from the curry.

To my mind, the wording makes perfect sense, because in some cases with a lot of oil/butter, you can get separation happening early on the pan's edges. Oil tends to float on top, and usually the center of a pan is heated more strongly over a burner. Thus, you tend to get boiling/bubbling in the center, which tends to push any floating oil toward the edges.

But these recipes are not looking for that small amount of oil along the edge (which, depending on stirring and the thickness of the curry, can stay there through much of the cooking process). They are specifically waiting for the time when separation increases and fat appears floating on the surface even away from the edges of the pan.

  • Thanks @Athanasius. So it means something like "until the oil isn't visible just at the edges but has separated in the center too"?
    – verbose
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 19:28
  • 1
    Maybe not the "center," but at least starts to spread away from the edges (hence "begins to leave the side..."). To my mind, this may be highlighting when separation begins and in underway, rather than cooking until all of it separates as much as possible. (But again, I'm speculating a bit.)
    – Athanasius
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 19:39

It's a visual indicator of when the sauce is dry enough & actually frying rather than boiling, that you can continue on to the next step.

If you fry onion puree or tomato puree [paste] etc, initially it turns into more of a boil, it won't really fry. The idea is that you keep going until it will actually start to properly fry in the oil/ghee.
The oil will emulsify into this initially - you won't really be able to see it as a separate component.

As your mixture dries & starts to pull together, oil will separate once more. Once you do see it start to separate out, then you're properly frying & nearly ready for your next step. It's a good way to control water content in the early stages. You will at that point be getting some caramelisation - but you don't want to burn it.

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