Burmese Curries

Burmese Curries

The ingredients basic to all Burmese curries never vary - onion, garlic, ginger, chili and turmeric. The chili can be used in powder form, or whole dried chilies can be ground with the other ingredients, but chili is used sparingly and may be omitted if a hot curry is not desired. There will still be lots of flavor.

The more onions used, the thicker the 'gravy'. To make a curry for four people using 750g (1 1/2 lb) of meat, fish or poultry, here is a well-balanced mixture : one large onion, two or three cloves of garlic, one teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger, half a teaspoon ground turmeric and quarter teaspoon chili powder, and two or three tablespoons oil for frying. Animal fat of any sort is never used. Light sesame oil is best for capturing the true Burmese flavor. If corn, peanut, sunflower or other vegetable oil is used, add a small amount of Chinese-style dark sesame oil for flavor in the proportions of a teaspoon of sesame oil to a tablespoon of vegetable oil.

Preparation of basic ingredients

There is only one way to cook these basic ingredients in order to achieve a mellow flavor in which no single ingredient predominates.

Grind to a puree the onion, garlic and ginger. In the absence of the Asian grinding stone, this is best done in an electric blender, first chopping the ingredients roughly. it will be necessary to stop the motor frequently and scrape down the sides of the blender container. Or, if using the smaller blender jars provided with many machines, lift off and shake the jar to redistribute the contents. When pureed smoothly, mix in the turmeric and chili powder.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a saucepan until smocking hot. Be careful when putting in the ground ingredients, for the hot oil splutters violently. Reduce heat and stir well to mix ingredients with the oil. Cover pan and simmer the mixture, lifting lid frequently to stir and scrape the base of pan with a wooden spoon. This mixture fries too rapidly and begins to stick before the smell has mellowed and the onions become transparent, add a small quantity of water from time to time and stir well. When the water content of the onions has evaporated and the ingredients turned to a rich red-brown color with oil showing around the edge of the mass, the first stage of cooking, and the most important one, is completed.

There is a Burmese term to describe this - 'see byan', meaning 'oil returned', that is, with the water completely evaporated and the oil returned to just oil. The basic ingredients will not have the required flavor unless this procedure is followed. The meat, fish or vegetables added will release their own juices while cooking slowly in the pan with the lid on. A roasting chicken will sufficiently cooked by the time its own juices have evaporated. Boiling fowls, duck, some cuts of beef and pork may need a little water added from time to time as cooking continues until they are tender. Fish and shrimps cook very quickly but some types may need a little more liquid added - fish stock, water or coconut milk. Vegetables seldom require any added liquid, but if a wetter result is preferred, add water or coconut milk.

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