It’s much easier to make curries at home nowadays. With the help of ready-made curry paste, adding coconut milk, meat, some vegetables and a little more seasoning and you are set. I had also been taking the advantage of this until one day when I decided to make curry paste myself, from scratch. Being in Indonesia with its well-known ‘spice islands’, also encouraged me to undertake this quest.
The first sign of failure came with me choosing to buy a wooden mortar and pestle. I have seen those stone ones and I thought that a stone mortar would be too heavy for my apartment. I learned later that the stone pestle would be better at cracking and mashing up some hard herbs and spices. It also took me forever.
I had my mind fixed on cooking Massaman curry, a mild curry with roasted peanuts. I first had to match the names of spice with pictures for I had never known what they look like. That came with more work since I had to match their English, Thai and Indonesian names together. Having done that, I went to the supermarket to get the stuff I needed.
I began by roasting those spices which would take longer time to cook namely cardamom, nutmeg, coriander seeds followed by cloves and cumin. I then put everything into the mortar, my lovely wooden mortar and began smashing all the spices. The smell was very good. I was heartened to see that maybe I was on the right track. But after half an hour, the ingredients were still not mashed. I pressed on and added some shrimp paste. After another quarter of an hour, it became a mixture, sort of, but nowhere near the smooth texture seen in the recipe. I had an idea. Since the smell is good now, probably I could just put the mixture in a blender. Ah and one more thing to add, cinnamon.
And here came the next unfortunate incident. I put whole cinnamons into the blender in the hope that the blender would grind it to become fine powder. It did not. And I should have known better that it would not. A few minutes in, some white smoke and smell emerged from behind the blender. I stopped immediately. The cinnamon still kept to its shape. I only learned later that I was supposed to put it in the curry later on to add smell or else use the ground cinnamon in the mixture. I was not supposed to put whole cinnamon in there.
With blending failed. I made do with what I had. I heated the pan. Put some coconut milk in. The trick was to stir in low heat until coconut milk gave up some oil. But that also did not happen. Before coconut milk got stuck together, I had no choice but to add the ‘half-done curry paste’. The smell was okayish but the texture was not. I must have also not paid careful attention to the amount of each spice I needed. The curry became yellow/grey-ish in colour. I put some chicken in. It looked creamy. More like yogurt chicken instead of a curry.
Half-way through, I decided that my curry would not work. So I put the chicken and the curry sauce into the oven. The Massaman curry became roasted chicken in curry sauce, well sort of.
You may ask what it tasted like. It was just okay for one-shot eating. Not to be heated up and eaten again. The sauce was a bit too thick and creamy (with all the condensed coconut milk from making curry) and the spices’ smell was too pungent while the taste was quite bland.
After the ordeal, I bought a few ready-made curry pastes and I think I am satisfied with using them for the time being. Probably in the (not so near) future, I will try doing it from scratch again, with blender (and without the whole cinnamon in there).