May 22, 2020
For years, I would bristle at the use of the word “curry” — it sounded like a blunt catch-all description doing injustice to the aromatic, nuanced stews of India. The word is practically non-existent in the Indian lexicon — every preparation has a regional name, from Jalfrezi for a stir-fry to a creamy Korma to Dhansaak, a lentil meat stew. Neither was curry powder ever used in India — it was always a unique combination of spices and herbs that distinguished each preparation.
Although there are many explanations of the word “curry,” it was most likely derived from Southern Indian languages where “kari” or “karil” denotes a spiced dish of sautéed vegetables and meat. In the early 17th century, the Portuguese used the word “caril” or “caree” to describe broths made with butter, nuts and all kinds of spices. The British transformed “caree” into “curry,” then used as a generic term for any spicy dish with a thick sauce or gravy from every part of India.
Resigning to the inevitable, over the years I have embraced the word and even make a “curry masala” at my restaurant. With crawfish season in full swing, here is a South Indian-inspired Louisiana crawfish curry using coconut oil, which adds an interesting and delicious flavor. Enjoy it with simple rice or toasted buns.
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound crawfish tail meat
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 cup minced red onion
1 tablespoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons canned tomato purée
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 tablespoons unpeeled grated ginger
One 14-ounce can coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon garam masala (optional)
Juice of a lime
1/2 cup fresh herbs for garnish
In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the coconut oil and add the minced onions. Turn the heat to low, cover the pot, and let them cook for 5 to 7 minutes until the onions turn translucent or golden brown.
Add the minced garlic, tomato purée, and curry powder and turn the heat to low, continuing to cook, covered, for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the ginger and coconut milk, turn the heat up, and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover the stockpot, lower the heat and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes — the fat from the coconut oil may rise to the top.
Gently slide in the crawfish tails along with the garam masala and cook for another minute. Turn the heat off. Serve with fresh herbs and lime juice.
The quality of the curry powder will determine the taste of the dish, so source it well.
Garam masala is a blend of “warm” spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and more. Replace with ground cinnamon or cardamom with a pinch of cloves.
The curry tastes even better the next day. Reheat gently so as to not overcook the crawfish.
December 02, 2022