Turn back the clocks ten years and the dish that held the title of Britain’s favourite curry was the controversial chicken tikka masala. The controversy that surrounds this popular recipe is due to the theory that chicken tikka masala is not actually an Indian dish at all, and in fact originated right here in the UK. One claim states that it was the owner of the Shish Mahal restaurant in Glasgow who invented the dish, concocting a sauce out of yoghurt, cream and a variety of Indian spices. Well, at least the inspiration of the dish is Indian!
The Telegraph reported that in 1997, chicken tikka masala was the order of choice for 11 million diners in Britain – almost a quarter of the population. Although curry statistics are relatively few and far between, the turning point appears to have come in 2011 when Chaat! Magazine conducted a survey into the new favourite Indian foods held dear in the hearts of the UK. Turns out that our tastes have turned to the spicier side and it was revealed that jalfrezi had overtaken chicken tikka masala to become Britain’s favourite curry.
What is a Jalfrezi?
The jalfrezi is a spicy curry and a dark, red colour. The main bulk of the dish consists of marinated chunks of meat, fish or vegetables enveloped in a thick, dry sauce – ideal for scooping up with a warm chunk of Indian flatbread. The spice comes from the addition of chopped, green chillies whilst bell peppers and tomatoes provide the deep, rich and warming colour. Although the spice factor of jalfrezi can vary, it tends to produce a slow burn on the taste-buds and is very much suited to a dash of cream or cooling yoghurt.
It is believed that the jalfrezi first came to the attention of the British Raj in Calcutta, back in colonial times, as an excellent method of utilising leftovers – often the result of large, roast dinners that reminded the Brits of their homeland. Instead of going to waste, leftover food could be stir-fried with onions, tomatoes and flavoured with spices, hence the name of the dish – jal meaning ‘spicy’ and frezi meaning ‘stir fry’. The servants of the British elite would slave away cooking these British roast dinners, but when given free reign to cook up the leftovers however they wished, the inventive Indian flavours came through.
Why Jalfrezi is King
Perhaps Britain’s new favourite curry has changed as a result of the increasing sense of adventure us Brits seem to now have about Indian food. Just take a peek at the menus in some of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants and marvel at the innovation and sophistication of some of the dishes on offer.
Another reason could be that people are becoming more aware of the nutritional benefit of the food we consume. Although Indian food options do include those laden with rich creams, heavy ghee and plentiful calories – chicken tikka masala served with rice and a naan can clock up well over 1000 calories in just one sitting – there are also a wide range of lower calorie dishes such as tandoori and jalfrezi that demonstrate we can choose correctly for our waistlines without necessarily compromising on flavour.