Ingredients That Will Transform a Curry Sauce

There are plenty of products on the market that can take the 'hassle' out of making a curry. Jars and tins of ready made sauces can be found everywhere as well as curry powders and pastes, dry sauce sachets etc. Most people who use these shortcuts must agree that they can produce an acceptable curry, but bear little resemblance to the curries served up in Indian restaurants. I appreciate that on occasions time can be a strong factor and people will find it convenient popping open a jar and adding it to a saucepan. My wife quite occasionally does this and we have found that there are a few ways to improve the 'standard' of these 'cheats' curries by 'cheating' a little further to get more of a restaurant taste. Below is a few tips on disguising these 'synthetic' sauces to make them more like a restaurant curry.

Before you start, make sure you have in your armory 5 'magic' ingredients. These are:

1/ Garam Masala (best if home made)

2/ Fresh or frozen coriander

3/ A good quality curry paste/powder or home made curry powder - a simple but effective recipe is to combine 1 part each powdered cumin, coriander seed, paprika to ¼ part of turmeric and chilli powder to your own discretion - combine and store in screw top jar.

4/Garlic and ginger best if fresh but can be bought minced in jars and can be stored in the fridge once opened.

5/ Always have fresh onions in stock

Optional extras:

6/ Dried fenugreek leaf (bought from Asian supermarkets or larger stores). This spice added to the curry at the last few minutes will give it the familiar aroma.

7/ Vinegar (any type)

Basic Recipe for Commercial Curry Sauces in Jars or Tins

Before adding the meat and sauce to the pan as instructed on the jar, stir fry a teaspoon each of chopped garlic and ginger in a tablespoon of oil for 30 seconds and then add a chopped medium onion and fry for 10 minutes until soft. Next add 1-2 teaspoons of curry paste/powder. Here you can add fresh chopped chillis or chilli powder if you like. Sizzle this for a couple of minutes then add the meat/chicken and cook for a few minutes. Now add the jar of sauce and simmer low over hob for about 20 minutes with the lid on, occasionally stirring and checking that sauce is not sticking to the pan. After around 20 minutes, I suggest removing the lid and letting the sauce simmer until it thickens and then add half a teaspoon of garam masala and a pinch of powdered fenugreek leaf (optional). Next add 2 teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice (optional) and simmer for a couple more minutes. Just before serving stir in 1-3 teaspoons (or more, especially if frozen) of chopped coriander leaf and stir for a minute more. You will find that you have greatly improved the curry and given it a more fresher, authentic taste compared to the 'jarred' taste you would have got.

Curry Pastes or Powders

I like using curry pastes. I find that they give good results if used in moderate amounts. What I don't suggest is that you use 'half the jar' as suggested on most curry paste labels on the side of the jars - commercial curry pastes are very concentrated and you should use them sparingly -  a tablespoon is fine! (3 teaspoons). To make a good curry using pastes or powders follow the above basic recipe but instead of adding the jar of commercial curry sauce, add half a 14oz tin of plum tomatoes that have been whizzed up in a blender and a cup of water and follow the recipe the same way. You can vary this to your own tastes by adding cream or yogurt towards the end of cooking (if adding yogurt, take pan off the heat when stirring in or it could curdle, then reheat over a low heat).

Super Quick Chicken Curry

This is a great supper for 1 or 2 if you have a tin of 'chicken in white sauce/chicken supreme' in the cupboard (or even a tin of chicken curry or stewed steak). Fry garlic, ginger and onion as in the 'basic recipe'. When onion is soft add curry paste/powder and fry for a minute or two. Add a cup of water and the tin of 'chicken supreme' and bring to a simmer stirring carefully (I must confess it is quite difficult trying not to let the chicken break up). Add a chopped, skinned tomato and a teaspoon of tomato puree and simmer for 5-10 minutes until sauce is thickened and heated through. Then add the garam masala and usual ingredients from the 'basic recipe'. Serve this with ready made nan breads and you have a delicious meal!

Using a little imagination and experimentation you can whizz up a 'cheats' curry in no time at all. Try adding whole green birdseye chillis for a 'Jal Frezi', lots of sliced onions instead of chopped for a 'Dopiaza' or instead of adding tomatoes and/or chillis - add a star anise, 2 cloves, ground almonds and finish off with fresh cream for a Korma. Experiment in this way and you will have a lot of fun and success in making curries. For further curry ideas then you must visit

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About The Author, Paul Houghton