Wednesday, September 20, 2006

vindaloo, vindaloo la, la


A big football day today with Manchester United playing Arsenal and Chelsea taking on Liverpool in what Sky have called Grand Slam Sunday. It was also pay day on Friday so it's time for a big supermarket shop and something substantial to take me through the day.
While perusing the shelves a Patak cook-in sauce, reduced to 67p, catches my eye. It's vindaloo, and the memories come flooding back. Apparently, curry is now the no 1 food choice of the British public, and I try to remember how I first got interested in this most magnificent of meals.
It goes back to when I was about 15 at school and my mum brought home a Vesta Beef curry. This constituted dried bits of what looked like sawdust with little nobbly bits of Rabbit droppings. Yet put them in a pot, add water, bring to the boil and instant curry - magic!
Then came the sixth form and an offer to do a cookery lesson every two weeks as a "fill-in" subject between A level classes. Me and my mate Tom decided to give it a crack on the basis that the lesson came before lunchtime and we could eat our recently prepared food instead of the school dinner on offer that day.
Our first dish was spaghetti bolognaise, and the recipe has been with me ever since (I guess most of us learn how to cook that first). Second came curry, which was the same as spaghetti bolognaise but with curry powder added. After a while the teacher gave up trying to teach us new recipes and let us do what we wanted. So every fortnight Tom and I would make a curry, adding more and more curry powder as time went on, seeing how hot we could stand it.
From there it was a short leap to stopping off on the way back from a night out on the tiles, fully loaded, at a curry house in Gloucester Road, Bristol. Here myself and my mate Miller would attempt to prove our machismo by ordering vindaloos. The Indian gent serving us obviously thought: "We've got a right pair here, off their faces... just chuck in every hot chilli and spice you can find, lads, and see if we can make them spontaneously combust!"
Normally it took about two or three bites before we looked at each other and gave up. I guess a lot of young lads go for this approach, but as you get older you tend to go soft. First you step down to Madras, then a tikka masala and, if you are a real softie, you end up with a korma. As for Baltis, when did they start? You used to go for an Indian, then overnight it changed to a Balti. There were no longer Indian restaurants in the high street, the Hindu Temple suddenly turned into the Balti Brasserie overnight. Still, through it all, the memory of the unique vindaloo experience stays with you.
And there it is. Patak Vindaloo sauce. It's got to be done. Can I still hack it? Am I still tough enough? The challenge is thrown down, the vindaloo in the trolley. Now what to go with it? I buy a cooked chicken for £2.99 and some veggies and hot foot it back home to test out my toughness.
What you need:
vegetable oil
1 tin Patak vindaloo cook-in-sauce
A cooked, roast chicken 2 peeled potatoes cut into big chunks one egg.
Half a diced red pepper/half a diced green pepper
five or six mushrooms
Put potatoes and egg into a small saucepan bring water to boil and remove potatoes after 4/5 mins leave egg on until hard boiled (another 5 mins)
Heat up vegetable oil in a wok. When hot add the newly boiled spuds and the peppers.
Cook for 5-10 mins then add Patak sauce.
Meanwhile, soak rice in warm water for 15 mins. Rinse rice and put in saucepan, cover with about an inch of water Bring to boil and add a touch of turmeric to give it some colour (its not pilau rice, but it looks like it) Boil rice down until nearly all water has gone, then turn heat right down and put on lid. Meanwhile, add the mushrooms and chicken to the vindaloo sauce.
Add a little water if it looks too thick. Cook rice for 10 mins then turn off but don't remove lid. Cook the vindaloo, stirring often.
Rinse boiled egg in cold water, peel and cut into slices, add to vindaloo.
Dish rice onto plate, top with the vindaloo. Serve.
Here's what should happen: First mouthful and you establish that Patak have managed to get the authentic vindaloo taste.
Second mouthful: Develop hiccoughs.
Third mouthful: Feel sweat breaking out on the top of your head.
Fourth mouthful: Get up for a break and make a cup of tea (water just doesn't do the trick, but tea will help to ease the burning) .
Fifth mouthful: Get towel from bathroom and dry off dripping head, wonder why you appear to be crying...
Sixth mouthful: I know, let's save the rest for tomorrow... Yeah, as Vindaloo taste tests go, that one was spot on.

My mate Pete called. He was bitten by some flying insect at Jayney's barbecue the other weekend and his arm swelled up like a balloon. He had been unable to drink since then because of the anti-biotics, so I wasn't surprised to get the call - he was desperate for a pint of Abbots.
Met at the Claude. It was quiz night and, though we didn't enter, we were pretty good at getting the answers between us until the final round: What happened last week. This short-term memory loss seems to be a symptom of old age, particularly as something from long ago seems to stick. Not only did I know who played the Joker in the Batman film but who played the Joker in the Batman TV series: Burgess Meredith, who later played Rocky's coach.

I had a Sopranos moment at the fish counter. I feel a real moral dilemma when it comes to swordfish. I love it, but I also know that this delicacy is being fished close to extinction. When I saw it on display it was a bit like Tony Soprano entering the fishmongers having consigned his mate, the FBI informant Pussy Bonasera, to "swim with the fishes" by chucking him off his yacht. As he viewed the display the fish started opening their mouths and asking: "Why d'ya have to kill me, Tony?"
Anyway, the moral dilemma lasted but three seconds - then I remembered how good swordfish tasted - like a succulent pork chop, but made of fish. Swordfish is quite a popular dish in the southern states of America, cooked in cajun spices.
When I was in New Orleans four years ago I bought a mixture of the spices for some ludicrous price, then used them about twice. The jar is still in the cupboard, but without any sign of a sell-by date I think it might be risking it to use them. So I make up my own spice concoction containing equal measures of Cayenne pepper, black pepper, Chinese five spices, cumin and garlic salt, then I rub this over the swordfish.
I opt to have it with herb and garlic potato wedges, thanks to a packet of schwarz herb and garlic potato wedge stuff.
Recipe: Pat swordfish dry Rub butter or marg and a small amount of olive oil into the swordfish. Then roll it in the spices and leave to marinate in fridge for while.
Cut two large potatoes into wedges.
Put in a bowl and mix with a good sprinkling of olive oil.
Heat oven to gas mark 6 (200) mix with half the wedge stuff until potatoes well covered.
Put on a baking tray into the oven and cook for 15 mins.
Then wash five whole mushrooms, wash and then fry them.
Toss the potato wedges that should be going brown, and put a generous number of small cherry tomatoes on the vine on top of them, then return to oven.
Light grill to medium and put swordfish underneath. Keep checking everything.
Turn swordfish when spices start to brown and fish looks like it has done on that side.
When it is done on the other side, put onto a plate.
Add mushrooms.
Remove potatoes from oven - the tomatoes should have wrinkled and softened and some can be squashed into the potatoes. Serve up with some crusty french bread.

Yesterday I went to see the film, the Black Dahlia. My recollections of James Ellroy's book are that nothing was resolved and the killer never found. It was all pretty confusing, anyway, and the film was no different. While the cinematography is excellent and the acting pretty good, particularly from Josh Hartnett and Hilary Swank, I got more confused the more it went on.
And I was shocked by the sexual content - not because Scarlet Johansen and Josh get it on but because of the circumstances.
They sit down to a full roast chicken dinner with all the trimmings and then decide to get jiggy on the table, pushing all the food to the floor. What a waste!
After a couple of hours I realised that I will have to get the DVD out to understand it better. Guess I'm just thick. Saw the film at the Odeon on Tuesday afternoon and was the only person in the cinema. Plenty of space to lol about, but a bit eerie.
Had the remaining vindaloo and jacket potato for tea then settled down to watch Panorama's special investigation into football bungs.

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