Welcome to Hey Chef, a series where we ask pros around the country for tips on how to use ingredients we love.
Curry powder is as traditionally Indian as a plate of British kedgeree, but its sweet and spicy aroma is still enough to inspire hunger pangs. It's an ingredient with few limits, but if you're looking for some direction, read on to see what five chefs around the country do with this versatile spice blend.
Season Fried Vegetables (And French Fries)
We make a mix of salt, pepper, curry powder, and cayenne pepper, then season our French fries. The blend works well with chicken or pork chops, or sometimes a piece of fried fish, but we particularly love it with any fried vegetables. I've always really loved the flavor of curry with them, and it's unique and a little unexpected but pleasurable. The blend is about 80% salt, and then maybe 5% curry, 5% cayenne, and 10% black pepper, so it's just a touch of unexpected flavor.
Curry Mayo (Maybe For Those Curry Fries)
Stephanie Izard is a Top Chef winner and owner of Girl & The Goat and Little Goat Diner in Chicago, where most dishes get kissed by the wood grill.
I love mixing curry with mayonnaise for dipping fried food; we serve it with our fried pickles. Years ago I was in an Irish pub where they did curry chips [fries] where they put some kind of sticky curry sauce on top. It tasted like curry water thickened with cornstarch, but it inspired me. Though I figured it'd be better to put curry powder directly in mayonnaise for a better version of the same thing.
Make Curry Oil
Jeffrey Saad is owner and executive chef of Studio City's La Ventura, offering customers his interpretations of traditional Mexican cuisine curated through his own travels to Mexico. He is also responsible for San Francisco's Sweet Heat and Pasta Pomodoro restaurants.
All spices have fat soluble flavors, so if you throw spice into a stew you don't get the same impact as cooking it in oil. So I take very small amount of canola oil, garlic, and curry powder, bring it to a sizzle, and then I have an Indian spiced oil that you can add to anything. Simmering the spices is a vital step; the wakeup call for spices that are waiting to come to life.
Curried Apple Butter
Texas-born chef Matt Greco worked in New York's Café Boulud, A Voce, Café Grey, and Char No. 4 before moving west to The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards, just outside of San Francisco.
We make a curried apple butter that we then use as a garnish on squash soup. I love it. It's apples cooked down for so long that they start to caramelize. We brown 1/2 pound of butter, and then sweat 2 ounces of ginger in it. Then we add about 9 pounds of peeled, cut apples and 2 ounces of curry powder. Once the apples are soft, we break them with a masher, continue to cook them down, and then add another 2.5 ounces of curry powder, blending into a puree until smooth, for a double dose of curry.
A Versatile Curry Cake
Chef Jon Bignelli worked at wd~50 under Wylie DuFresne since 2007 before moving to run his kitchen at Alder, where he was a chef until just recently. We have Bignelli to thank for those tasty Chinese sausage pigs in blankets.
I make a not-sweet curry cake that's really great with both sweet and savory flavors. I've served it as is, buttered, and also dehydrated to make a sweet crouton. It's a great cake recipe because it's very versatile; you can add tarragon, bay leaves, miso, you name it.
Curry is normally a spicy ingredient, so balancing it with the sweetness of berries or peaches—anything that's kind of sweet and acidic—is really cool. For a savory application, you could toast or dry it and serve it with fried chicken instead of cornbread. A chicken liver pâté spread on top would be really good, too.
For the cake, whisk together 240 grams of cake flour, 20 grams of baking powder, and 5 grams of salt. Put 185 grams (four whole) eggs and 155 grams of sugar together in a mixer and start mixing them. Then take 150 grams of whole milk (you could probably use 2% or skim, but we don't like to skimp), 150 grams of sour cream, and 50 grams of curry powder (you can go up or down depending on how spicy you want it; 25 grams for mild and up to 100 grams for a spicy cake), and blend them in a blender.
Drizzle in 150 grams of grapeseed oil to make an emulsion (you could probably do in a bowl with the whisk, but I like to add it slowly so it doesn't break). Then fold the wet blender ingredients into the dry ingredients and gradually fold in the eggs and sugar, gently. Spray a cake pan—we used a small square pan, around 6 by 8 or 10 inches (roughly the same as an 8 or 9 inch round pan, respectively) with cooking spray and line it with parchment paper, then cover it with foil and bake it at 350°F for 40 minutes, rotating the pan after 20 minutes and removing the foil for the final 15 if you want some color on the top.
Use a toothpick to see if it's done—it should come out clean—then go nuts.