Slow Cooked Spice Beef Curry
There is something I always enjoy about any dish that needs to be cooked for a long time. Perhaps it’s that, having prepared the ingredients long before, it is almost a pleasant surprise when hours later there is suddenly a completely transformed and ready-to-eat pot of delicious food sitting on the stove. This, and the lovely smell that emanates the whole while, and the soft texture of meat that can be broken apart with a spoon too of course - all good things.
I made this dish using tiny dried Zanzibari chillies called pili pili hohoo. These are great as they are full of flavour and look beautiful, and dangerous, atop the finished dish. They are of course very very hot, so if using either these, or a similarly small and potent dried chilli, it’s a good idea to count them in to the dish, and then count them out at the end. How many to use is up to you – I’ve suggested four, which is a little on the conservative side, but means one for each diner as a kind of garnish on the dish. Do position on the very top of the plated dish if you choose to use, as here your diners will be sure to see them, and can make any manoeuvres they deem necessary to avoid the potent little parcels!
(Serves 4 as a main course)
- 1kg braising streak – cut into large, i.e. 4cm, cubes
- 1 teaspoon cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ a nutmeg
- 5 tablespoons of sunflower or canola oil
- 1 large red onion - roughly chopped
- 4 cloves garlic - crushed
- 3cm piece of ginger - peeled and finely chopped
- 1 large red chilli - de-seeded and finely chopped
- 1 dried red chilli
- 4 dried pili pili hohoo (or similar) - optional
- 3 plum tomatoes - roughly chopped (approx.. 320g)
- 2 heaped tablespoons tomato purée
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 200ml boiling water
- 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
- Salt & freshly ground pepper
The first job is to briefly toast the spices to ensure that these are at their most fragrant and flavourful. To do this, start by grinding the cloves into a powder using a mortar and pestle. Then, using a fine grater, grate half a nutmeg into the mortar as well. Heat a small, dry frying pan over a low heat, and pour in the ground cloves and grated nutmeg, as well as the teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Lightly toast for 2 minutes, or until the spices become aromatic. Take care not to keep the spices on the heat beyond this stage, as they do burn easily. Place the spices aside momentarily and continue to prepare the other ingredients.
Take a large, heavy-based, casserole pan (cast iron is ideal) and place it over a medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil, and allow to heat before adding the chopped onion. Fry until the onion begins to colour, then add the fresh ginger and red chilli. Continue to fry, letting the ginger and chilli start to cook, and stirring to ensure that the onions do not stick. Crumble in the dried chilli, seeds and all (this dish is intended to have a bit of heat), and cook alongside the other ingredients. The onions should have darkened quite a bit at this point, and almost have begun to caramelise a little. Unlike a lot of dishes, where the intention is to just sweat the onions without really colouring them, for this dish we are trying to get the onions to brown and release their sugars, creating a sticky, spiced base for the curry.
When mixture is almost at this stage, add the crushed garlic (which doesn’t quite have the long tolerance for frying as the other ingredients we’ve added), and continue to cook until the garlic has lightly browned. Scrape everything into a bowl, and put aside to be re-introduced again shortly.
Take care when cutting the beef into cubes to remove any connective tissue, or hard seams of gristle or fat, as these can be quite unpleasant to come across amongst the soft and easily broken apart texture of the finished dish. Once you are happy with meat, put the same heavy-based casserole pan back onto the stove-top and heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil on a high flame. Brown the beef in batches to avoid over-crowding the pan, and season each batch with salt and pepper as you go, (I find that adding the seasoning to each batch also helps in estimating the right amount). We are looking to only just sear the beef until it is brown on all sides, once you’ve achieved this, immediately remove the beef to a plate, and add the next batch.
Now, to put everything together. First, reduce the heat under the casserole pan to medium and add the onion mixture, then all of the browned beef. Cook together for a minute, before adding the tomato paste, paprika, and half of the toasted spice mixture (the other half will be added later). Cook another minute longer, stirring to combine everything, then add the fresh chopped tomatoes, brown sugar, pili pili hohoo chillies (if using), and boiling water. Bring to the boil and, once bubbling, cover with a lid and turn the heat down to a low simmer.
The beef can now be cooked for anywhere between about 2½ to 4 hours, depending on how much time you have. If you are content to cook the meat very slowly, you could even place it covered in the oven at 160˚C to quietly blip away while you get on with other things. All you need to do is stir occasionally and keep an eye on liquid levels. The finished curry is not intend to have a great deal of sauce – the texture is more meaty and sticky – but if things look like they are getting too dry, don’t hesitate to top up with a bit of water.
Lastly, about 30 minutes before you are ready to serve, add the reminder of the ground toasted spices. This is a little unorthodox, but it really helps keep the flavour of spices at the forefront. You could also use this opportunity to do a little salt and pepper check, and adjust if necessary.
To serve, dig out the little hot chillies, and place the curry into four deep bowls. Pop a chilli prominently on top of each – think of it as a warning flag! If you are feeling particularly energetic, you could fry some chapatti to serve alongside.