Arguably the most important ingredient, base gravy is an essential part of creating the amazing flavour in British Indian restaurant style cooking. Setting a theme with its simple ingredients, it is the fundamental backbone to the flavour, and combined with the right cooking techniques helps give a wonderful, caramelised, almost smoky taste.
It’s a safe, all-round sauce that ticks all the right boxes for BIR cooking, but remember it’s not so much what’s in it, but what you do with it that counts. This recipe will make enough base gravy for up to 16 single recipe portion curries.
Note: Before using it to cook curry with, the base gravy should be diluted with water to be the approximate consistency of semi-skimmed milk, and heated up to assist the cooking process. When making curries I always have a saucepan gently simmering away beside the frying pan. Whatever quanity of base gravy a recipe calls for, it means of the diluted version.
This is the primary (Mark I) base gravy recipe I use, and is in both my books, Indian Restaurant Curry at Home Volumes 1 and 2. There’s an excellent alternative gravy recipe (Mark II) in Volume 2 for those who like more variety.
INGREDIENTS (Stage 1)
- 200ml Oil
- 1½Kg Brown Onions, peeled and roughly chopped (unpeeled weight). Peeled weight approx. 1¼Kg
- 75-100g Carrot, chopped small (approx. half a large one)
- ½ Green Pepper, chopped (medium large)
- 100g Potato, roughly chopped (peeled weight)
- 80g Ginger/Garlic Paste
- 1½ tsp Salt
INGREDIENTS (Stage 2)
- 2 TBSP Mix Powder
- 1 tsp Turmeric
- 1 tsp Garam Masala
- 160g Tomato Purée (good quality, not diluted)
- 40g Coconut Block, or 80ml Coconut Milk
- 1 tsp Jaggery or Brown Sugar (optional)
- 2 Litres Water
- 40g fresh Coriander Stalks, chopped (optional)
Watch the Video
METHOD (Stage 1)
- Add the oil to a large pan (minimum 5 litres capacity) and turn heat to medium.
- Add the onions, carrot, green pepper, potato, ginger/garlic paste and salt.
- Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Cover, turn down heat to very low, to achieve a gentle simmer.
- Cook for one hour, or until the onions soften fully, taking on a melted appearance and soft, sweet, delicious smell. Stir occasionally.
METHOD (Stage 2)
- Turn the heat up to medium and add the mix powder, turmeric and garam masala. Cook for 1 minute whilst stirring.
- Add the tomato purée, coconut, jaggery (optional), and water. Stir well.
- Bring to the boil, then cover, turn the heat down to low, and gently simmer for 1 hour, stirring very occasionally.
- Optional: add the coriander stalks a few minutes before the end of the hour.
- Turn heat off and allow the gravy to cool a little.
METHOD (Stage 3)
- Blend until very smooth. I prefer to use a stick blender.
- Bring back up to boil, and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes.
- Turn off the heat, and allow to cool. Stir together and blend again if you see any lumps.
- The base gravy will be quite thick when you have finished making it. It’s unlikely you will be using it all at once, so it’s best to refrigerate or freeze what you aren’t using. I freeze mine in its thickened state in plastic food containers and defrost when needed.
PRESSURE COOKING BASE GRAVY
You can shave about an hour from the total cooking time by using a pressure cooker. The process I use is almost identical to making base gravy in a conventional pot.
In Stage 1, once the vegetables have been fried for 5 minutes (step 3), seal the lid onto the pressure cooker and bring to pressure on highest heat. Once pressurised turn the heat to low and leave for about 15 minutes. Then release the pressure and uncover ready for the next stage.
For Stage 2, when you’ve stirred in the step 2 ingredients, seal the lid again and perform the same actions as Stage 1. If you are adding the coriander stalks do so once the pressure has been released, and simmer for 5 minutes.
Stage 3 remains unchanged.
- The base gravy should be quite thin when cooking a BIR curry. Dilute it with an equal amount of water to get a consistency of semi-skimmed milk, and always heat it up before using it to avoid slowing the curry cooking process. When making curry I always have a saucepan with the hot diluted base gravy simmering away.
- You can make smaller or larger amounts of base gravy by simply scaling this recipe down or up.
- All spoon measurements are level, i.e. 1 tsp=5 ml, 1 TBSP=15ml.