Never go on trips with anyone you don’t love….Ernest Hemingway "I am not a glutton -- I am an explorer of food." Erma Bombeck (1927-1996)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Using Onions In North Indian Cooking

Onions are a basic ingredient in many North Indian dishes, and they are found in most curries. By using different techniques to cook them, you can achieve the best texture and flavour for your dish, but remember: cooking onions requires a good deal of patience, and as I like to say, your love.

You'll find that chicken dishes originating in North India ask for chopped onions, whereas sliced onions are more common with meat dishes. The stage at which onions are cooked can often depend on a chef's style: Mughlai cuisine chefs prefer to saute onions before cooking them along with the meat (and under their influence, this is how I usually cook my lamb and beef dishes), and Hindu chefs opt for cooking the onions first until they are brown over a low fire. You won't believe the passions that are roused by the debate over which is the right technique: I can remember being drawn quietly aside by supporters of each method to be given advice on the 'correct' method. The influence of both styles remains in my own cooking to this day.

Regardless of which method you use, be sure that you are patient with your onions. You want them to be fully cooked, and not burnt. My grandmother was always able to tell me when the onions were 'raw' in a dish, and I now share this habit of perception when eating curries.

Another point to remember is to limit the amount of onions in your dish carefully. If you overdo it, you will find that sweetness from the onions is infused through your dish. Onions should not be overpowering, but should give body to the dish.

In fact, you shouldn't even see the onion in many dishes. Rather, the presence of well-cooked onion is noticeable because of the beautiful and thick consistency of the gravy in the dish.

Beyond their use in North Indian dishes, onions can be used as a garnish. Chefs at weddings or banquets commonly deep-fry onions for this purpose (they can subsequently be kept for up to two weeks when cooked in this fashion), whereas people cooking at home will mostly just stir-fry or shallow-fry them.

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