BIR or “British Indian Restaurant” is a style of curry cooking which originated in the (duh) curry restaurants & takeaways in England. The technique involves pre-cooking a “base gravy”, as well separately pre-cooking your protein, and then cooking individual portions in a pan to order.
When the orders come in, it is just a matter of heating your oil and spices etc, your base gravy and then your protein to quickly push portions to guests in the restaurant or takeaways.
There are quite a few different types of BIR curries, each with a different flavour profile. This really interested me, not so much the pre-cooked base gravy, but the different flavours and types – as the Durban style curries which I have been cooking are all chasing one specific flavour profile.
I follow a BIR group on Facebook and the modus operandi, is to cook a big pot of the base gravy and then to freeze it into portions. Then when they want to cook a curry, they defrost a portion, fry it up with with masala & whatever spices or additives are required , add the protein and it’s job done.
Might I say, the British home cooks who cook curries in this style, are as committed as they come. It is almost a cult. They take it very, very seriously and I have seen some photographs that absolutely blow my mind.
If you are interested, you can find the facebook group British Indian Restaurant (BIR) Curry At Home HERE
Anyway. The recipe for the base gravy, is very different to how we cook our curries in South Africa, which is pretty much Durban style or Malay style. The main difference is that they add carrots, green pepper, cabbage, & sometimes celery, which we do not do in South Africa, so this was quite an experience. Once all the ingredients are soft, they are blended into a puree.
I was not really in the mood for a 4 hour cooking session, so I just winged it and cooked up a cheat “base gravy” in a pot and then added some deboned chicken thighs, that I cooked in my electric pressure cooker. The meat was very soft and just came off the bone.
The results are not exactly the same as a BIR Curry, but the method was my first experimentation into the BIR Style. It tasted great and had everybody scanning the pot for seconds.
If I had, I would have finished this off with a splash of coconut milk.
BIR style requires you to blend your base gravy, I did not bother as the sauce was pretty smooth and I was in a rush. Next time I will do it properly step by step.
- Sunflower Oil or Gee or both
- Cinnamon Sticks, Star Anise, Fennel Seeds (to taste)
- Chillies (sliced, split or whole. Your choice)
- 3 Onions, finely chopped
- Garlic & Ginger (to taste)
- 2 Tablespoons Durban Masala (or to taste)
- 2 Teaspoons chilli powder (or to taste)
- 2 Carrots (chopped into small cubes or grated)
- 1 Handful Cabbage (chopped into small pieces of grated)
- Half a Green Pepper (thinly sliced into cubes)
- Tin of Chopped Tomatoes
- 1 small tin of tomato paste
- Teaspoon of sugar
- 1 teaspoon garam masala (or to taste)
- Potatoes, quartered. (poked with fork)
- Chicken Thighs
Method “Base Gravy”
- Cover the base of your pot with oil
- Add your Cinnamon Sticks, Star Anise, Fennel Seeds and infuse in the oi
- Add your Onions and fry till translucent & soft
- Add Chillies
- Add you Garlic & Ginger
- Add your Masala & Chilli powder, gently fry to release flavours (do not burn, add a splash of water if you need to save from burning)
- Add your Cabbage, Carrot & Green Pepper
- Add Tinned Tomatoes and Tomato Paste
- Add teaspoon of sugar
- Add water to thin the gravy out a bit, reduce heat & cook for 45 mins to an hour or until all ingredients have broken down
- Add Salt (to taste)
- Add potatoes, cover and cook till soft.
- Add deboned Chicken Thigh & cook for 5 mins or until perfectly incorporated.
- Serve & garnish with dhania (coriander).
Method to Cook Chicken
I used my electric pressure cooker. It is my best friend and the best thing that I have ever bought for the kitchen. If you do not have an electric pressure cooker, then boil as per normal – then rush out and buy an electric pressure cooker, it will change your life.
- Rinse Chicken Thighs and place in pressure cooker (just covered with water)
- Add generous pinch of salt
- Cook for 4 mins on Rice Setting
- When the 4 mins are up, do not open or release the steam, just leave it for 30 mins
- Remove and let cool
- Debone the chicken and set aside. (cover with clingwrap or lid)