Converting a traditional recipe to BIR style


It was always my desire to explore the infinite variety that spice combinations produce, typified in traditional recipes from the many and varied states of India.
Traditional Indian cooking, however, does not 'do it for me' and I was always disappointed by the results from cooking in the traditional style, so I haven't cooked that way for a long time. BIR style cooking on the other hand - need I say more?.
So, in order to explore the huge flavour variety from the various regions of India, I endeavour to take a traditional recipe and put it through a conversion process that conforms to the BIR style of cooking whilst retaining the traditional regional flavours.
Over the years this has produced some excellent and unexpected results.

Stage 1 - How to start  Back to Top

The first step is to access a genuine traditional recipe from a specific Indian state.
This is more difficult than it might appear, and I have found the best solution is to gather as many recipes from a given state as possible, for the same dish if possible, and examine them for similarities.
If they are genuinely authentic traditional recipes you will find the same ingredients cropping up in many of the recipes.
Such an analysis can guide you in determining what ingredients are traditionally used in a given area. This is not an exact science, but the results have worked well for me.

It is perhaps best explained using a specific example...

What about a curry characteristic of the state of Maharashtra - Kolhapur for example.
Numerous recipes for Chicken Kolhapuri can be located on the internet or elsewhere.

Distilling the recipes and picking out the common ingredients may lead you to a list such as this...

yogurt, turmeric, lime juice, salt, chilli powder, fresh coconut, fresh tomato, onion, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, ginger/garlic paste, oil, chicken and water.

Traditionally the chicken would be marinated in the yogurt, turmeric and lime juice, the whole garam spices fried, and a masala paste made from the other ingredients, into which the marinated chicken would be mixed, water added and cooked until done - not at all BIR.

This technique is going to be completely ignored. In addition, the ingredients are examined and modified to be more typical of BIR.

(1) Replace the peppercorns, cloves, bay leaf and cinnamon stick with some garam masala powder.
(2) Replace the fresh tomato with tomato puree. (I find this gives a more BIR flavour)
(3) Replace the fresh coconut with one of the following: coconut flour, coconut milk, creamed coconut block or desiccated coconut - but which? The traditional recipe calls for the fresh coconut to be toasted, so the decision is to use desiccated coconut.

Now we have the following ingredient list...

yogurt, turmeric, lime juice, salt, chilli powder, desiccated coconut, tomato puree, onion, garam masala, ginger/garlic paste, oil, precooked chicken and of course base sauce.

Stage 2 - How to cook  Back to Top

Now this may be a little controversial but I, from experience, have found it so...

Simplifying it a bit, the cooking style can emphasize the base sauce or the spices.
If the spices are cooked in a significant quantity of base sauce (mainly water) the spice flavours do not develop as much as if the spices are mainly cooked in oil, so use a technique that maximises the contribution of the spices with the base sauce providing a supporting role. This means that the exact base sauce used is not as important.

To be more BIR, rearrange the order of ingredient usage as follows...

oil, onion, ginger/garlic paste, chilli powder, turmeric, garam masala, tomato puree, precooked chicken, toasted desiccated coconut, salt, lime juice and yogurt. The base sauce is added gradually throughout the cooking process.

On reflection, the spicing in this list seemed a little limited, so re-examining other recipes indicates that some use ground coriander and ground cumin, and some add mustard seeds and poppy seeds, so the ingredient list I ended up with is...

oil, onion, ginger/garlic paste, chilli powder, turmeric, ground coriander, ground cumin, black mustard seeds, poppy seeds, garam masala, tomato puree, precooked chicken, toasted desiccated coconut, salt, lime juice and yogurt. The base sauce is added gradually throughout the cooking process.

That feels much better whist still embracing the essence of the traditional regional ingredients.

Stage 3 - Quantities?  Back to Top

The quantities can be estimated from the original recipes, scaling down from the typical 'serves 4' to the single portion. It is worth remembering that spices cannot be scaled pro-rata.
I don't know the chemical reasons for this but when scaling down from 4 to 1, spices should be scaled something like 1/2 to 1/3 and the exact levels are adjusted to suit your tastes and from experience.

So the final recipe emerges as follows (all tspn measurements are level)

2 tbspn oil
60 gm onion (chopped)
1 tspn ginger (grated)
1 tspn garlic (crushed)
1 tspn chilli powder
0.5 tspn ground coriander
0.5 tspn ground cumin
0.5 tspn turmeric
0.5 tspn black mustard seeds
0.5 tspn poppy seeds
0.25 tspn garam masala
300 - 400 ml base sauce (add a little water if you run short of base)
1 tspn tomato puree
1 portion precooked chicken tikka
2 tbspn toasted desiccated coconut
pinch salt
1 tbspn lime juice
3 tbspn yogurt

Stage 4 - Preparation  Back to Top

(1) Grate the ginger and crush the garlic, then mix together with a little oil to make a paste.
(2) Dry roast the desiccated coconut in a frying pan until it is a golden brown colour but do not burn.

The cooking style I mentioned earlier is designed to maximise the spice flavours and they are cooked predominantly in oil for longer that many would consider normal.

Stage 5 - Cooking  Back to Top

(1) Heat the oil in a wok or heavy pan and cook the onion, stirring regularly, for 2 min.
(2) Add the ginger/garlic paste and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.
(3) Add the chilli powder, ground coriander, ground cumin, turmeric, mustard seeds, poppy seeds and garam masala and cook, stirring for 1 min, adding a little base sauce if needed to prevent drying and burning.
(4) Stir in the tomato puree and 80 ml of base sauce and cook, stirring, for 1 min, adding base sauce as needed to prevent drying and burning.
(5) Add the precooked chicken, toasted coconut, salt and 80 ml of base sauce and cook, stirring regularly, for 3 min, adding base sauce as needed to maintain the desired sauce consistency.
(6) Reduce the heat and stir in the lime juice and yogurt and cook, stirring, for 1 min.

Note: My chef's spoon is 40 ml, hence the addition of 80 ml is 2 of my chef spoons.

Stage 6 - Summary  Back to Top

This was duly cooked as described and it produced what I consider to be a delicious regional curry, but cooked in the style of BIR. Perhaps not 'just what the doctor ordered' but well worth all the research and effort.
It's not rocket science - anyone can do the same and I'm sure it will bring great pleasure if the results are good.

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