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The Devil, The Spice Trade and Mr Scoville

Posted by denise on Thursday, May 20, 2010 Under: Festive Cooking


QUICKIE CHALLENGE UPDATE :  I'm pleased to announce that we've now received  6  very interesting entries! Thank you very much. Keep them coming guys and remember to send them in by June 7 2010  - we're looking forward to shouting out the winner and showcasing a fantastic line up of entries on June 8 2010  !! What's your motivation? Not one, but TWO fabulous prizes - a gorgeous cookbook (take a detailed peek here) and a guest blogger spot on the fabulous blog Lazaro Cooks! And now on to today's post...

my chosen breakfast, lunch, tea, snack, dinner, supper, on any day ... hot, black coffee and raw shredded fresh ginger to intensify the bite

I've been asked time and again to feature this dish, the holy grail of Singaporean and Malaysian Portuguese-Eurasian cooking, and, I've resisted time and again as it's a very involved recipe, the kind you do once a year for Christmas or a birthday, and if I did, well then, I'd have to change my blog name just to accomodate a recipe that takes about 4 hours to prepare, if you're quick ;) The name in Portuguese is Curry Debal which supposedly means curry of leftovers. We named it after the Devil because I have seen people snivel and tear after eating it. They douse their flaming oesophagi with frigidly cold beer...than come back for more pain, er, I mean, curry. It's that good, so help me!

I've been told that the food I blog about is so global, so borderless and indistinct as to be almost faceless and even... soul-less. OUCH!! You want soul? I'll give you soul - my burning, impatient, usually frenzied soul, in a bowl. This dish is the best instance of fusion cooking I can think of. Not the namby-pamby, overdone and twee "fusion" cooking of overpriced restaurants and overly self indulgent chefs. This is the real thing, born of the need to make the best use of odds and ends that today, would probably be thrown away, but that back in the day, meant the difference between a fed and a hungry family. Forget the history textbooks; if they were all gathered and turned into a huge bonfire, I, with that bowl in my hands and anyone I taught to cook this, would remain an undying and indelible testament to the infamous Spice Trade, it's perpetrators, and everything it left in it's wake, in this part of the world.

anyone who thinks Brits eat boring food, should take a snort of this .... pure, edible gunpowder

I found out a few days ago, when I had to prepare something fast and leave my kids with baby sitters (aka grandparents) and lunch on the stove, that it was actually possible to cook this in about an hour and still have it taste practically indistinguishable from the 2-day long, 20-ingredient, complicated version my grandma taught mum, and mum in turn, taught me.The recipe's short but I think you would enjoy this more if you knew a little about its genesis, hence the longer than usual introduction.

The exact origin of this "curry" itself is fraught with uncertainty but it's said to be inspired by the past Portuguese presence in this region, and Goan Vindaloo with which, it shares ingredients like pork, vinegar, chilli and mustard. It also contains ginger and pepper, which along with mustard and vinegar, are all popular condiments used in the British method of "devilling" food. Oh wait, the Brits were here too, and only left not so very long ago. To fog things up even more, it contains very un-Asian ingredients like sausages, bacon and ham and is most often eaten with "French" bread (baguette) or rather our local approximation of it .... the curry in the pot thickens with confusion. I cannot for the life of me though, imagine any modern day Portuguese or Brit actually wanting to eat anything this alarmingly (to the uninitiated) hot but delicious (to those with leather tongues and cast iron stomachs).

my favourite red pepper flakes from the Maldives might owe it's character to a few dried and ground up Scotch Bonnets

I do know for a fact that this curry was devised to use up leftover roast meats (chicken and pork mostly with odds and ends of glazed or smoked ham, sausages and bacon for more affluent Eurasian households of the past) from the Christmas table. So, traditionally, this was served on Boxing Day (26 December) following a round up of all the meaty leftovers. The extremely pungent and assertive spices may have been needed in days before refrigeration became common, to disguise the less than fresh flavours of leftover, picked at, meats. I'm just saying. These days we don't wait for roast leftovers. We roast or fry meat specifically to cook this. I told you...it's THAT good!!! I just bought a rotisserie chicken because, hey, I've got kids to feed, root canal appointments to keep and my grandmother led a very different life from mine!

This is HOT. I do not exaggerate. I do not understate.If you've ever bitten into a jalapeno and thought it was hot - this may not be for you. If you pop Thai bird's eye chillies into your mouth and crunch down, intrepid and unruffled, read on. To those who thought my shrimp and chilli pasta dish was hot, this might just have you weeping with pain, though joy will follow, if you persevere. Why so much chili, why make it so evilly hot? I do not know. This is one reason I have such a hard time with authenticity and tradition. In this case, I obediently follow as it is delicious, not merely an exercise in subjugating the following generation, without the benefit of explanations, as the preceeding generation is so wont to do.

a Maldivian national treasure......disrobed and working it for the camera *ooooh...er...blush*

You will probably find this a walk in the park, if you are Maldivian, Bangladeshi, Caribbean, Korean, Kristang (that's me... well half of me, anyway), or generally enjoy pain. Everyone else, tread with caution and a big tub of cold, full fat yoghurt beside you. If I had to rate the heat of this curry, using Mr Wilbur Scoville's system, I'd say it's nestled comfortably between a Jalapeno and a Scotch Bonnet pepper. Hot damn!!

Prep 20 mins      Cook 35       Serves 4 - 6


12 large fresh red chillies, remove seeds (the blender doesn't crush them)
15 red bird's eye chillies, remove stalks,leave seeds in
3 level Tbsp red hot pepper flakes (I used Maldivian red pepper flakes)
4 medium red onions, peel
4 medium sized knobs of ginger (each 7 cm or 2 1/2 in long) peel
4 large potatoes, peel and cut each into 6
3 level tsps Colman's Mustard powder (or finely ground black mustard seeds)
500 g (about 1 lb) smoked cocktail sausages
2 cups water                                                               
1 medium store bought rotisserie chicken (ready roasted) cut into 10 or 12 even pieces
2 1/2 Tbsp white vinegar (no wine/cider/balsamic please)
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 - 1 level tsp sugar


Combine the large chillies, bird'e eye chillies, 2 1/2 of the onions (cut into chunks) and 3 of the ginger knobs (thickly sliced) into a blender and process to a smooth paste with as little water as possible.

Thinly slice remaining 1 1/2 onions and cut remaining ginger knob into fine julienne.

Heat 1/2 cup light vegetable oil and when moderately hot, add the sliced onions and ginger. Cook stirring, until golden and fragrant. Add the ground spice mixture to the pan and stir continuously until fragrant and spices and oil separate. You should be coughing or sneezing by now. If you're not, they're not sufficiently cooked.

Add the potatoes and stir for another minute or two. Sprinkle over the mustard powder and stir well. Add the sausages, stir until coated in spices and pour in the water. Bring to the boil then cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are almost tender, about 20 minutes.

Add the chicken pieces, stir to ensure they are coated in the gravy and simmer for another 5 - 8 minutes. Add the vinegar, salt and sugar to taste. There should be a perceptible but not overpowering or unpleasant vinegary bite. Please don't be tempted to add more sugar in an attempt to tame the vicious bite of the chilli. This is meant to be hot.

Serve immediately with white rice, baguette or your favourite flatbread. Cold, cold beer is fantastic if things get overheated. ;)  Apple cider is pretty good too.

In : Festive Cooking 

Tags: "ethnic cooking"  "festive cooking"  "eurasian christmas recipes"  chilli  chicken  "fusion cuisine"   
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