We were sitting in our country kitchen, lazing over the last of the breakfast tea that our distinguished guest, one of the greatest amateur chefs in the country, had brewed himself. I saw his glance roaming a nearby row of shelves stocked with dried herbs and spices in little jars. Anticipating his thought, I hastened to say, "I shall replace all these things soon; they're stale now after a long winter in the kitchen." And he nodded in approval of my recognition that spices, to be used properly, must be entirely fresh.
Among the jars on the shelf was a box of prepared curry powder. "Of course," said our guest, looking me full in the eye, "you make your own curry powder." "Of course, I don't," I answered. "Well," he continued, "you should, you know, if you care about curries"; and he wrote down his recipe, a fine spicy list of ingredients but quite formidable in length.
I am not sure I shall ever attempt it, although, surprisingly enough, the powder is not too difficult to make—not a patch on the two-day stint of preparing 22 side dishes for a Malay lamb curry dinner party. It turned out that I learned a lesson on that particular evening, for five of the guests were on bland diets.
The thing to remember, before attempting the fiery stew associated with the ailing livers of Anglo-Indian colonels, is to inquire if the guests are aficionados of such fare. Then, if the answer is negative, either the guests or the menu can be changed.
If the problem is to be avoided altogether, I have learned that almost everyone finds the gentler French way with curries acceptable. These are still true curries: the curry powder, whether homemade or not, cooks with the meat or with the vegetables, instead of being added later to a white sauce, as in those pallid pabulums offered to lunching ladies.
I got the recipe at left (raw materials for this exotic dish are shown in the photograph on the facing page) from a French chef called Bernard who worked for us one summer whenever he had time between bicycle trips—he was, as he explained it to me, an ex-champion of the Tour de France. After one grueling excursion, he made a chocolate soufflé with salt instead of sugar, but he never failed with his kari.
FRENCH CHICKEN CURRY
3 broilers cut up as for frying, wingtips removed, thighs separated from drumsticks
4-6 tablespoons curry powder (depending on strength of powder)
3 medium onions, chopped fine
2 peeled, cored apples, chopped fine
3 ripe bananas, mashed and put through sieve
1½ cups heavy cream, heated
2 cups clear chicken broth (a slight additional amount may be needed)
slivered blanched almonds
Sauté chicken pieces in butter till light golden brown. Separately, in a large heavy pot, sauté onion and apple in butter till pale golden in color. Add curry powder; cook for five minutes.
Add chicken pieces, banana and 2 cups of broth. Simmer uncovered, turning frequently, for 30 to 40 minutes. Add more broth, if necessary, to keep chicken cooking in sauce.
Just before serving, add a squeeze of lemon juice, and salt to taste. Remove chicken pieces and place them on a heated platter. Whisk sauce from pot into heated cream; pour over chicken; then sprinkle with currants and almonds.
Serve with dry white rice and a dish of chutney.