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Bang-up British Beef Curry

Curry is often thought of as a dish indigenous to the East and West Indies. And so it is, but its popularity has soared in the UK; so much so that it can now be considered a traditional British dish too.

I once heard the story that curry was invented during the days of the British Raj in India. In the days before refrigeration was available, the flavour of meat quickly became tainted by the hot climate of the Indian sub-continent. The British would not accept meat that did not taste fresh so chefs invented a mixture of spices that would disguise its flavour.

Now that story could just be an old wives' tale but it sounds plausible enough. No matter what the origin of curry it has a tradition in Britain that goes back to at least the middle of the 20th Century and probably even further than that.

There are many varieties of curry available in jars as ready to cook sauces. One of the best-selling brands comes from the UK (and is, incidentally, a popular item on the shelves at Blighty's Tuck Stores).

I wanted to see if I could make a scratch curry that would taste every bit as good as the store varieties. I think I succeeded; here is how I did it.

  • Butter
  • Onions
  • Flour
  • Curry powder, Cayenne, Bay Leaf
  • Oxo Cubes
  • Cream
  • Tomato Ketchup
  • Good quality beef

  • Make a roux by gently melting 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan and stirring in an equal amount of flour.
  • Cook the roux until it just begins to turn golden then remove from the heat.
  • Stir in 2 cups of stock made from Oxo Cubes. Add the stock slowly and stir vigorously to prevent lumps forming.
  • Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the sauce has thickened. It should still be quite liquid but cling heavily to a wooden spoon. Set this pan aside until later.
  • Finely chop an onion and cook in butter (in a separate pan) until soft but not brown.
  • Stir a heaped tablespoon of curry powder into the onion and add a bay leaf.
  • Pour half a cup of stock made from Oxo Cubes over the onions and bring to the boil.
  • Boil for about 15 minutes then stir the contents of the second pan into the first pan and cook for a further 15 minutes.
  • Stir in half a cup of tomato ketchup and adjust the flavour of the curry with cayenne. If you prefer a hot curry be generous with the cayenne. If you like a mild curry you can omit the cayenne.
  • Sweeten with a little sugar if necessary to mask any bitterness from the curry powder.
  • Stir in half a cup of heavy cream at the end of the cooking process (optional but it does give the dish its "wow" factor).

  • To prepare the beef, trim the fat from the meat and cut into cubes. Coat with a little oil then toss in flour until well coated. In a very hot wok or similar large pan, brown the meat quickly but do not overcook it or it will be tough. Slowly cook the meat over a low heat for at least three hours.

  • Finally, mix the meat and curry sauce together and cook gently for 15 minutes.

John's Notes
Bingo. Professional chefs might shake their heads at the use of ingredients like tomato ketchup but my finished curry tasted superb. This curry can also be made for chicken. Substitute Knorr Chicken Cubes for the Oxo and miss out the tomato ketchup. Instead, stir in a generous tablespoon of real butter at the end of the cooking process.

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  1. I am intruiged and wish to make your recipe. you propose to slow cook the meat for 3 hours after browning it. Can you specify the precise method as to how you slow cook this meat for the 3 hours? Thanks. definitely high marks for innovation my friend. and I like that you can do this with chicken as well.

  2. Patrick: I use a slow cooker but you could also cook the meat in a medium hot oven (mine has a slow cook feature; but you could just set your oven to about 300F and cook the meat in a covered casserole dish) or just simmer it on the stovetop.

    The important thing is to cook it slowly so that it is very tender. Beef that is cooked quickly tends to be tough.