Wednesday 4 June 2008

The trouble with Salt n' Garlic

Cooking without garlic is unimaginable for some. Italian chef Antonello Colonna says “to eliminate garlic is like eliminating violins from an orchestra.”1 The problem is that it has a very strong, predominating and permanent flavour – it hangs on the breath for hours. Garlic is seen as integral to indian cooking, salt too, in balancing a dish, better defining the spices. However, the combination of garlic and salt can quite often undermine a dish if used too liberally.

My Jaipuri curry at Jaipur, Southsea, lost the gentle woody taste of cinnamon, the toasty crunch of cumin seeds and the buttery perfume of bay leaves as a result. Only warm bitter cloves registered. Salt n’ garlic lamb - fine, except where other ingredients are compromised. Across the indian restaurant scene there has to be a little more respect shown to, in essence, the world’s greatest and most various cuisine.

Spices in a curry will be more evident the longer left to blend. Restaurants cannot keep customers waiting but they musn’t feel pressurised into rushing. There will continue to be a compunction to offer ‘traditional’* curry to satisfy the masses who won’t order anything that isn’t CTM (easily abbreviated, instantly recognisable, reputedly tasty) but chef’s could still cut menu’s (out with the English dishes for one!) and have time to prepare special sauces in advance as well as concentrating more on spicing.

Joe public like salt and garlic but if only they could taste the difference.

In truth a number of curry house chefs aren’t the masterchefs they claim – most can cook meat and veg OK but many can’t get flavours and aromas from whole spices or herbs, typically fenugreek. A solution? Use more powdered spice, be generous with herbs, take time to taste one’s effort, make sure not to throw in too much salt and garlic! Everyone would sleep better for it. There are time and monetary costs involved but an over reliance on garlic and salt could keep the Indian fare in Britains 7000+ curry joints from being considered worthy of it’s name.

*the irony being these dishes are usually the least authentic on offer

1 'Is Garlic Essential in Italian food' - Napa Valley Regsiter: June 26, 2007

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