Things go wrong, I know. Nobody’s perfect are they? But it’s annoying when things go wrong that actually, you could usually do blindfolded.
I’m talking cooking. I completely take it for granted now after 30 odd years of cooking that I don’t need to think twice about whipping up a sponge, a pavlova, a casserole, a roast, a wicked crumble, a unique bread and butter pud, and, recently, reasonably yummy cheesecake.
I get a little nervy thinking about doing best end of lamb, I’m not totally confident with my scallops – although the trick is hot pan and quick flip for max sweet succulence – and steaks, well, my story is that they really do depend on the quality of meat.
Where there are shortcomings, I have developed coping strategies. Lumpy, sticky rice? Rice cooker. Heavy, doughy bread? Panasonic breadmaker. Less than golden crispy chips revealing hot fluffy interior? Never cook them. Buttery King Edwards mashed yes, champ, yes, crispy golden roast potatoes, fine, creamy rich Lyonnaise potatoes perhaps – but never, ever chips.
I also disagree in principle with the act of peeling a grape, stuffing a mushroom (thanks Shirley Conran – you said what we all felt) or carving a beetroot into a waterlily.
So when I invited my brother and his fiancee over for a curry evening, I was utterly blasé and relaxed. I had an excellent recipe which I’d used a couple of times before and produced a lovely fragrant authentic curry. Brother is very keen on cooking curries himself so the bar was set quite high. Everything was fine. I even had all the ingredients in stock, which was a bit of a surprise because I usually have to improvise somewhere along the line.
So I was adding a tsp of this and a tbsp of that, plus grated ginger, chopped chillies, garam masala and it was all sizzling nicely, but there was something odd. There was none of the usual pungent fragrance that sandpapers the inside of your nostrils. It was..well….lacking.
I checked I’d included everything, gave it a stir and flung in extra spices for good luck. Still nothing. Ah, well, I thought, it’ll all come together in the end with some nice fresh coriander…
But as the minutes ticked by and the cooking continued, that familiar scent of cooking curry that I’m so keen to get rid of the next day was sadly lacking. There was a fragrance but not the usual one. It just smelled a bit weird. Hard to put your finger on exactly how it smelled but the closest thing was cooking Kashmiri-style dog food. Yes, precisely. You see now how I had a bad feeling about it all.
I had a low-grade panic and phoned DT man.
“Hey. Can you call by the supermarket on the way home? We need four Tesco’s jalfrezi curries.”
“But you’re making one aren’t you?”
“Bit of a cock-up on the curry front. Need emergency backup, pronto.”
Tasting the curry after I’d threatened it and given it extra time for full development of flavour, revealed he horrible truth – it was no curry. It was a chickeny, garam-masala-flavoured, hot thing with next-to-no fragrance.
I snatched the pots of spices and examined them closely, the cumin, the ground coriander, the turmeric (although I could hardly blame the turmeric). Oh jeez. Use before March 2009 – AND, ahem, they’d already been partly used. No wonder the fragrance was lacking.
If I could have kicked myself, I would have but my sprained ligaments wouldn’t allow it. I would have had Basil Fawlty flagellate me with half a tree had he been available. What a complete fool! I looked at some of the other pots stacked two high in the “exotic spices” shelves. Not so fecking exotic after sitting there for two years past their use-by dates!
Whatever. One black bin-bag of clanky spice jars later, DT man came to the rescue bearing six cartons of Tesco jalfrezi.
“The woman at the checkout looked at me a bit oddly and said ‘You really like curry, don’t you?’ I told her you cocked up. She laughed.’”
I served it all up at the appointed time and tried to steer the assembled party towards the ready-made jalfrezi on the grounds that my own offering was an unmitigated failure.
The choice wasn’t difficult. The Tesco jalfrezi was bright red and vibrant and smelled properly like curry. My curry was pale green and lumpy with chicken and almonds. It looked to me like it had been scraped from the surface of a stagnant distillery. This was truly the last of the home-made curries.
“Mind if I get some more of the green one? It’s really good,” said bro.
I told him it was a total disaster. The only thing I didn’t do wrong was to burn a couple of T towels.
“You don’t have to eat it at all. Have some lovely Tesco jalfrezi. Every little helps, you know.”
When we talk about it now, he still claims to have loved it. I’m still convinced he was humouring me.
Anyway I’ve made it up to him since with another dinner so good that he had two portions and a third to eat cold the following day. It was the least I could do because I’ll never, ever cook a curry again.