Indian cuisine is one of the most diverse on the planet. Not only is it different depending on what region it comes from, but it can be combined with many other cuisines to create fusion. Indian food is all about bold flavours and creating a balance between heat, richness and acidity. Butter chicken, an iconic Indian dish, is made with butter and cream for richness, tomato for acidity and spices such as cayenne and chili for heat. Striking a perfect balance between these three elements is what makes dishes like these so popular and versatile.
No matter what kind of regional delicacy is being crafted, chances are that its base flavour is rooted in a hot, savoury spice blend known as garam masala. The beauty of this pungent concoction is that each one is different depending on who makes it. Garam masala is typically a family recipe, handed down from generation to generation. It is the pride and joy of Indian chefs and home cooks alike, and the ingredients are usually kept secret.
The reason garam masala can differ so much from one blend to the next is that so many spices can go into it. Essentials include cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper. Custom additions may include ginger, garlic, star anise, saffron, mace, bay leaf, turmeric and many others.
It is also important to toast the garam masala before use in order to bring out the oils and fortify the flavour. This process is similar to that of caramelization in which the sugars in a product are extracted and darkened by heat, which intensifies its flavour profile and adds sweetness.
Garam masala can be made into two forms; powder or paste. Powder is the easiest to make and is the most common. It is usually added to a dish later in the cooking process. It’s done simply by grinding each individual spice and mixing them all together. The paste version is made by cooking down the powdered spice blend with water, vinegar or coconut milk. Garam masala paste is usually integrated into the dish at the start of cooking because it provides such a concentrated flavour.
For recipe ideas, follow this link and try your hand at using one of the most popular and versatile spices in the world!
Chef, writer, musician and wild child, an avid adventurer in the world of gastronomy. Alex has a passion for food, and expresses that passion through cooking, writing and teaching. His body is a temple, built on brioche, burgers and bourbon. He refuses to serve a steak well done.