Curry and beer – such a very British combination eh? Makes me think of bald heads bent over bowls of steaming vindaloo, pints of pee-yellow lager at the ready to quench the ensuing fire before bobbing out of the formica-tabled Indian curry house and stumbling back onto the streets of Bradford or Brick Lane.
But of course there’s more to beer than fizzy lager, as we are discovering now more than ever with the recent revolution of Irish craft beers. And there’s more to Indian food than famously hot vindaloo from southern Goa or roganjosh from Kashmir which straddles India, Pakistan and China and from where much of what defined ‘Indian’ cooking in British culture originates.
Last weekend I went to the unlikely location of Ardee, Co Louth to learn more about the kind of cooking you might find on the streets and in the homes of Bangladesh. (Read on for details of this Thursday’s Bangladeshi street food and Irish craft beer night – or this autumn’s Bangladeshi cookery classes which will keep off in September.)
In case you don’t know (I didn’t), Bangladesh is poised at the northernmost coast of the Bay of Bengal, with India’s Calcutta to its west, Nepal to its northwest and Burma to its southeast. It is hemmed in by mountains and coast, so as you can imagine, the Bangladeshi are fond of their seafood. So much so that this is what Sarajit Chanda was marinating for dinner that night for him and his Donegal-born wife Sarah Nic Lochlainn (who he met in a restaurant in Sydney while both were on their travels):
The couple moved to Ardee in 2005 to set up Fushcia House, and have garnered a loyal following in that time, including local curry aficiandos who come every Friday for the thali (a traditional tasting of many dishes, sort of like a curry version of a bento box) and food critics such as Tom Doorley who helped put Fushcia House on the map. Sarajit and Sarah may not be brave enough to feature Clogherhead octopus on their varied menu, but you will find the likes of red snapper alongside crowd-pleasers like Ma Chanda’s Chicken Curry (which you can also make at home, now that the couple have launched their range of Aruna sauces).
I joined a group of food bloggers to get a preview of some of the dishes that will be served at this Thursday’s Bangladeshi street food and Irish craft beer night (Thursday 12th July, 7pm, €50 per head). The evening will be hosted by Tom Doorley and will feature treats from many of the new breed of Irish brewers including Trouble Brewing, Stonewell Cider and Dungarvan Brewing Company (that’s one of their seasonal brews above, the Comeragh Challenger).
Sarajit loves to demystify Asian cooking, translating familiar names into direct culinary terms. I learnt that ‘roganjosh’ means “boiled in its own oil” and that ‘bhuna’ is a highly reduced sauce (and the preference of the Muslim palate, while the Hindi palate prefers a saucy sauce). I learnt that ‘tarka dhal’ denotes a lentil dish in which the spices have been fried separately and then mixed in with the simmered lentils. And I learnt that that ‘bhaji’ and ‘pakora’ are essentially the same thing with different names, and that at its most basic ‘bhaji’ means fried, so that making aubergine bhajis can be as simple as rubbing them in spices and frying them in hot oil.
(For those who like a little more direction: Cut 1 aubergine into finger-width rings; rub with a paste made up of 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, a pinch of salt and 50ml water; fry in a few tablespoons of rapeseed oil until golden; and drain on kitchen paper.)
Sarajit was full of interesting tips too. Anyone who is serious about cooking Asian food knows that the key is in cooking the spices properly – undercook them and they won’t release their fine flavours; overcook them and they will burn. New to me though was the trick of soaking your dry ground spices such as turmeric, cumin, coriander and chilli powders in a little water for up to an hour beforehand (or even just a few minutes) and adding as a paste to the hot pan. This is what Sarajit does for his famous Ma Chanda’s Chicken Curry, an aromatic combination of whole spices such as ginger, garlic, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves together with the dry spices listed above.
Sarajit insists that authentic Asian dishes can be super-simple to make even when they are full of complex flavours. Indeed his lamb roganjosh was one of the simplest one-pot dishes I’ve ever seen demonstrated, involving lashing all the ingredients together in a big heavy pot, setting aside to marinade if you’ve time, and then stirring over a medium-to-high heat for 20 minutes.
(The ingredients? 700g cubed lamb, 200ml yoghurt, 2 chopped tomatoes, 1 chopped onion, 1.5 tablespoon garlic-ginger paste, 6 bay leaves & 6 cardamom pods, 1 tablespoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon each chilli powder, turmeric & salt, 1 cinnamon stick and 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil.)
That’s the complicated bit. After that, just loosen it with about 300ml of water, cover and reduce heat to a low simmer. Fifteen more minutes and you’ve got yourself a dinner.
And if you’re worried about making the rice, don’t be. Sarajit’s trick is to boil fast in loads of water (7:1 parts water to rice) and drain once cooked. You do have to rinse basmati rice at least three or four times first to get rid of the starch, but that’s the bulk of the work. And you need to bring it to the boil from cold water (adding rice to hot water will cause it to clump), but to speed things up you could bring the rice to the boil in half the water and then top up with the other half of the water straight from a just-boiled kettle. Drain the rice as soon as it is al dente so that it doesn’t overcook and get claggy in the colander.
If you’d like to meet Sarajit and Sarah and taste their curries, get yourself to Fuchsia House Restaurant, Ardee, Co Louth this Thursday 12th July for 7pm (call Sarah on 041 685 8432 to let her know to expect you, or email firstname.lastname@example.org). You can ask her for details of September’s cookery classes too.
Or if you’d like a taste of Sarajit’s home in the comfort of yours, you can pick up one of the ranges of Aruna sauces now widely available in the chilled cabinets of many foodstores around the country – and named after Sarajit’s formidable looking mammy, Aruna Chanda, in honour of the woman whose home-cooking remains the holy grail for her Louth-based son.