Author Topic: BIR Myths..........Seeing the Wood for the Trees  (Read 40376 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Yousef

  • Elite Curry Master
  • Curry Recipes Site Owner
  • Administrator
  • *****
  • Posts: 1263
    • View Profile
BIR Myths..........Seeing the Wood for the Trees
« on: December 02, 2008, 08:28 PM »
This Post Has Been put together By JerryM and I have posted this on behalf of him for all to read as it has important content.  Orignal post here

1. Secret Ingredient
An ingredient is used in BIR?s which delivers the unique taste. Without this ingredient the taste cannot be obtained. The use of this ingredient is kept secret within the BIR trade.

Keeping such a secret over a long period of time and across many people in the trade would be very difficult to maintain. There are many areas of weakness in protecting such a secret and someone would be bound to spill the beans.
Very unlikely that one single ingredient would deliver enough of a difference in taste suggesting more than one ingredient would be needed making the secret even more sceptical
Despite best efforts by site members trying all sorts of ingredients non have been found individually or collectively to deliver the taste

Conclusion: TRUE Myth (a secret ingredient does not exist)

2. Special Base Ingredients
Some specific ?special? ingredient(s) is need in a base to deliver BIR tasting curries.

The overwhelming characteristic of BIR is that nothing out flavours anything else whilst maintaining a depth of spice that together create the unique taste and carving for curry which results. The use of any ingredient should therefore do no harm providing a balance is maintained. Logically the more ingredients the better. Where an out of balance does exist there is high likelihood of inferior result in the final curry.
Making a very simple base is a real eye opener (essentially onion only). It produces a very good curry not that far short of BIR given the small qty of ingredients. This suggests a contradiction to using many ingredients.
Side by side comparison of bases from this site demonstrates how similar they are. Slight difference in taste yes but not a million miles apart.
Side by side comparison of a simple curry sauce made from these bases shows starkly how little these ?specialities? in the base impart on the final taste of the dish. The recipe of the final dish and technique having far greater impact.
The thought that, ?a base is merely a method of adding water and bulk to a curry? is something that becomes more and more harder to discount each time a new base is tried.

Typical special ingredients: cabbage, celery, chicken stock, coconut cream, coriander stalk, ghee, mooli, red & green pepper

Conclusion: TRUE Myth (a special base ingredient does not exist)

3. Special Recipe Ingredients
Some special ingredient(s) is ?essential? to delivering BIR tasting curries

There is a vast array of ingredients suggested as essential to BIR. The short answer is that in general they most probably are needed ? it?s just that probably only half of the message has got through ie the when is missing and often taken as always or in the wrong place
The ingredients are best dealt with individually as there is no general answer.

Conclusion: FALSE Myth (special ingredients are needed to make BIR)

4. Typical candidates:

a)Asafoetida - No widespread claims. Malik's use it in the base.

b)Almond Powder  - A niece tasting extra albeit relatively expensive c/w alternatives and so unlikely to be used much in BIR eg Malik?s use coconut flour in their korma

c)Coconut Cream & Flour ? Both being definite BIR ingredients. For some recipes essential for others not required. Malik?s suggest the block (cream) in the base and flour in the dish.

d)Chilli Powder ? A definite BIR essential ingredient. For plain chilli powder then there is unlikely to be that much difference between branded c/w supermarket own brand. At the up market end ie kashmiri mirch, deggi mirch then fine for specific requirements. Deggie for example adds much more redness without heat (eg good for tikka).

e)Garlic/Ginger - A definite BIR essential ingredient. Normally added as a paste (typ 3:1 or 2:1). Finely chopped garlic also used.

f)Methi ? A definite BIR ingredient. Adds a very different taste to a curry. Has a lower taste effect if fried with the spices c/w with adding after the base unless being used in small qty?s ie pinch. It?s a take it or leave it ingredient.

g)Mix powder (spice mix) - A definite BIR ingredient. Has significant impact on the taste of the finished curry

h)Tomato Puree - A definite BIR essential ingredient. The branded (tpy white tower) are superior for sure c/w supermarket own brand (much sweater taste). There is no discernable difference in the finished curry.

i)Onion Paste ?Bunjarra? - A definite BIR essential ingredient. Has significant impact on the taste of the finished curry

4. Specialist Powders
Specific brands of powder are essential to delivering BIR taste. Typically curry powder, garam masala, tandoori masala and individual spices.

Asian shops are full of branded spices typ East End, Rajah, TRS. It?s unlikely that these suppliers produce them solely for the public. The business market being far bigger and probably more lucrative (based on sales volume)
Where a mixture of spices exist ie curry powder then it?s highly unlikely that a western equivalent will be anywhere like and consequently unable to get anywhere close to BIR taste
Where individual spice is concerned then the variation cannot be great ie turmeric
One area where any brand of single spice might be questionable is chilli powder. This due to the vast spectrum of ingredients ie chillies, mixes and heat. However a specific brand is unlikely to have a discernable effect on the overall taste of the dish.

Conclusion: FALSE Myth (Asian branded powders are needed to deliver BIR - in the main)

5. Hot Frying Spices
High output burners are required at frying stage of cooking a curry. This is needed to impart the ?hint? of smokey flavour present in BIR?s and also to fully release the depth of spices flavour.

This promotes a ?hot? cooking method typically: high heat, add oil, when smoking fry garlic/ginger to release rawness (typ 30secs), add tomato puree, add dry spices and fry until ?toffee? smell is released (typ 30secs).

In a nutshell, ?it?s is all about keeping the heat sufficiently high to fry rather than braise the ingredients?
Get this technique just slightly out and burning?s a certainty. Get it exactly right and it delivers top notch results. For home cooking it gives rise to much inconsistency in the result.
Malik?s webcam confirms the ?hot? method
An alternative ?slow boat? technique equally delivers the target ?emulsification? with consistent results for home cooking. Excess water (ie making the tomato puree into a paste) is added during the frying stage which protects the ingredients from burning whilst allowing the spices to fry out fully.
Neither method appears to deliver the ?hint? of smokey flavour in the home environment even pushing both methods to their limit ie burning the ingredients. These observations are based on a 2.5kw LPG stove. Whether a larger output would deliver is dubious given the ease of burning and the likelihood therefore low. The trial of an industrial burner in the home environment has not been conclusive so far in delivering the desired ?hint? of smokiness.
There is significance in the use of a real flame and pan with good heat transfer ie the ability to get the heat to the ingredients. Electric hobs and thick cast iron pans are not the equipment of BIR?s and not for the serious home cook either.
BIR?s use aluminium pans and appear to be able to apply high heat without burning leaving the matter unresolved to a certain extent.
The flaming pan scenario is a red hearing. It?s actually quite rare. In fact it seems to scare the BeJesus out of them when it happens most times.
The heat output of the cooker remains a significant difference between BIR and domestic cookers and cannot be discounted. The only question that remains is what is the minimum heat output required.
The size of the flames (in that their ability to lap up the sides of the pan) is also significant. They give rise to the BIR smell which comes from little bubbles of curry (coming from the pan) igniting in the big flames going up the side of the pan.
The use of the large handled ?chef ? spoon is also significant. The stirring and scraping action plays a part in the total process.

6. Conclusion: TRUE Myth

Nb - high output burners are not required but a minimum set of requirements does exist and crucial to achieve BIR result:

1.Large spread of flame that covers the whole pan
2.Aluminium pan (or any pan that has very good heat conductivity)
3.Never letting the sauce burn or catch on the sides of the pan (hence the circular motion with the chef's spoon around the sides of the pan)
4.Reduction of the curry to a finished consistency by 3, 4 or 5 minutes of high heat
5.The minimum kw rating of the burner has not been widely established. A minimum 5kw burner is the best information available.

7. Onion Sweetness
A specific variety of onion or cooking method is needed to deliver ?onion sweetness? and this is needed to deliver BIR.

There are ?many many? words on this topic ranging from adding special ingredients ie sodium bicarbonate to pre frying the onion in oil
There are some variations in base cooking method including pre frying and timing of spice addition
Malik?s webcam shows boiling
There are some key factors in base cooking: stages (stage 1 pre blending, stage 2 post blending), time, oil, heat
A good starting method: add all ingredients, 2 hr stage 1 boil with lid on using 10% oil and 20% water (of initial chopped onion volume), 1 hr stage 2 simmer with lid off adding water to maintain the stage 1 blended volume
The stage 2 has a significant effect on the taste of the base. There is a suggestion the longer the better
Adding water at the end of cooking to thin the base to allow evaporation at the curry cooking stage is a key requirement. A good starting point is around 3:2 ie 300ml of base to produce 200ml finished curry
Any preference for extra sweetness can be fixed by a small amount of jaggery (palm sugar) or probably even standard sugar.

8. Conclusion: TRUE Myth (no discernable difference in sweetness across variations)

Re Claimed Oil
There is no discernable difference in curries cooked in fresh oil c/w reclaimed oil and no advantage of recycling curry base oil into the next base

Malik?s webcam shows oil being taken off the top of the base to cook the curry dishes. It also shows base oil starting the next batch
The oil from the base has significantly greater taste than fresh oil and it?s intensity increases as it's recycled through batches of base
The practise does for some raise hygiene questions and the practise may not be widespread across BIR?s.
It delivers a step change in the curry taste

Conclusion: FALSE Myth (reclaimed oil is significant)

9. Matched Base & Recipe
Recipes must be made from the specified ?matched? base

BIR?s in the main make only 1 base and use it to make all their dishes. Malik?s webcam and observations at BIR TA?s support this.
Using the same recipe across different bases will obvious give different results due to the variation of ingredients in bases ie a base with no or very little tomato/puree would be expected to need more in the final curry. In practise this connection is not as clear with the exception of chilli.
Once a base has reached a certain threshold then it?s impact on the final dish is limited. The cooking technique and dish recipe (in totality) then have a far greater impact.
Clearly a base and recipe which are matched stand the best chance of delivering optimum taste. This optimum taste however has been set by the originator and may not suit everyone?s personal preference.
As long as this potential need for ?matching? is appreciated then there is no need for a rule insisting that a recipe must be made from a specific base

Conclusion: TRUE Myth (just observe the potential need for small adjustment)
10. Wok Hey
Used in Chinese for sure. By seasoning and then using the wok/pan a surface film builds which imparts a special flavour/taste to the cooking

The coating lends itself to steel pans which need protecting from rust. A smear of oil after use is sufficient to prevent rusting though
BIR?s mainly use aluminium pans which don?t take to wok hey
Adding water to a wok hey pan during cooking causes the coating to breakdown big style

Conclusion: TRUE Myth (wok hey not needed for BIR)

11. Healthy Curries
The amount of salt, oil, sugar can be reduced to produce a healthy curry without loosing the BIR taste.

The high use of oil is clear to see on the surface of the BIR curry
The high use of salt is equally present due to the thirst for water some time afterward eating. The raging thirst associated with Chinese is infrequent suggesting MSG is not widespread.
Salt does seem to have a key influence in moving towards BIR taste. Simply comparing 2 otherwise identical curries is stark in terms of taste when salt is the only variable.
Whether as much oil and salt is needed to get? as near as dam it? result is quite likely to be true. Some of the best curries in restaurants have very little oil sitting on top of the curry. By removing the surplus oil from the top has no effect on the BIR curry taste
Malik?s webcam shows high amounts of sugar being used in some curries. The Asian community have a very sweet tooth.
?Everything in moderation? suggests offsetting the BIR affects through other eating habits ie not eating too much too often. This would be difficult for the curryolic

Conclusion: TRUE Myth (relatively ?high? oil, salt, sugar are needed)

12. Pre 90?s Curry

Curries in day?s past (before circa 1990) are different (better) to day?s present curries.

The menu has expanded significantly since BIR?s first appeared. Many recipes of today if they did exist were not on the menu.
The bread and butter recipes remain ie plain curry, bhuna, rogan josh, Biryani
Certainly in the last few years the glitz and Michelin star approach (buy chips on the way home) has gain a foothold. Offering much finer ambiance and up market dishes at up market prices. Some must clearly appreciate them as they continue to trade.
Surprisingly the pole has been lowered or raised (which ever way you look at it). In the past the range between the really good and the good was small. There were no duffers. Today the range has grown large with many duffers, a lot of good and less of the really good. The really good of old have most probably become the Michelins chasing spondoolies.
There has been a massive switch and increase in the period towards TA with most customers in the past eating in.
It?s certain that on the job R&D has taken place in the better establishments having achieved consistent quality across the menu. They do however remain critically dependent upon the chef and management.
Looking back in time to make a judgement?s is very difficult as the memory distorts the picture by blotting out bad and bolstering good. ?Never go back? holds good for holidays and many other experiences. Curry?s are no different. The good news is that some establishments of the past continue to trade (one example known to have opened in 1972). In these the chicken madras is the same as it?s always been. The only difficulty is in finding them.

Conclusion: TRUE Myth (curry of the past can still be had, just harder to find)

13. The last 5%
Having followed the site?s instructions and practised the cooking technique, results although very good don?t quite match BIR. Either

1)this is in the mind (peg on nose while cooking for example)
2)it?s down to matter ie the recipe?s not complete or accurate enough
3)it?s circumstantial ie something down to BIR workings not obvious at home

Surprisingly BIR?s freely allow their customers to taste their base. The BIR base is very close to those on the site differing in having minimal spicing and being very thin yet not diluted. It?s a million miles from finished curry being closer to soup although soup is not a good comparison but the closest there is.
Cooking technique is certainly a key part. Emulsification of the spice and the evaporation of the base being key components
Malik?s webcam confirms ingredients no different than would have been expected. The mix powder (spice mix) and ingredient exact proportions being the major unknowns. They don?t even taste relying solely on sight
Malik?s appear to be able to leave the pans cooking the curry on high burners for much longer than home cooks are able ? burning is not an issue to them
Circumstantial appears the closest explanation for the gap. The ?gap? being down to the way in which a BIR operates and which the home cook would not stumble upon naturally
The possibility of the ?mind? being deceived is not strong based on carrying out side by side comparison with a BIR TA
Matter ie exactness of recipe makes a ?big big? difference in general cooking. This would concur with why several of the site recipes do hit BIR whilst others don?t.
Conclusion: TRUE Myth (mind), FALSE Myth (circumstance, matter)

14. Can We Be Sure of Anything
Can be sure we know what we're talking about. Until such time as anyone can produce a true "100%" curry time after time and know what's gone into it, and how it's done, how on earth can we rule anything in or out?.


I guess the simple answer is No ? we can?t be sure and we need to be really vigilant in trying things out before deciding there no good. There no room for prejudice only proven fact brought about by consensus.
There is also a lot of slight variation across BIR?s themselves confusing the picture even more.

Conclusion: False Myth (keep an open mind)

15. Our senses kidding us
It?s suggested that we can never really taste nor smell our own efforts in real terms due to our nostrils and taste buds adjusting as we cook. We therefore believe incorrectly that our efforts are inferior to BIR.


Putting a peg over your nose during cooking and then removing before eating does have an effect on the person?s sense of smell. Clearly the cooking process does nullify the smell senses.
The question comes given this is whether it can affect it to the extent that the differential can no longer be detected ie our perception of how good our own work is lower than it would otherwise be
Several tests can be devised. Try this out if you?re still not convinced: Cook a couple of curries and made sure to inhale as much lovely spicy essence as possible. Meanwhile, ordered a curry from the local BIR. When the BIR delivery arrives, open the door and no mistake smell that BIR aroma.
Taste is the other key sense and it is difficult to believe this can be affected by the cooking. Try this out if you?re still not convinced: Make a curry one night and order a takeaway the following night and reheat the made curry.
Does the peg go part way to explaining our severe objectivity in evaluating our own work ? of coarse it does

Conclusion: True Myth (our nose and taste buds are not failing us in detecting BIR)

16. BIR Cook Books
That you can buy a book and produce BIR results.

They just don't exist. The Curry Secret comes close but still way of the mark. Wherever the recipe calls for garam masala, use some rajah mild madras instead in the same quantity. This produces a much better result, but of course, is still a little way off the BIR ideal.
Some of the better books do however give an invaluable insight or pieces of the jigsaw. If they are considered on an ?insight? basis then there?re not that bad

Conclusion: True Myth (BIR will not be found in a book)

Offline JerryM

  • Genius Curry Master
  • **********
  • Posts: 4585
    • View Profile
Re: BIR Myths..........Seeing the Wood for the Trees
« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2009, 05:40 PM »

section 5 Hot Frying Spices - High output burners are required at frying stage of cooking a curry  - this was initially concluded to be a true myth.

i have now upgraded my stove from 2.5kw to around 8kw. i've not mastered the art completely but i'm satisfied enough that this is a actually a false myth. a kw rating in the region of 7kw is needed to deliver the smokey flavour.

apologies to CA in particular who was unhappy with the initial conclusion.

further details burner, method

Offline Wickerman

  • Head Chef
  • ***
  • Posts: 121
    • View Profile
Re: BIR Myths..........Seeing the Wood for the Trees
« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2011, 03:51 AM »
There's certainly no easy answer,but an open mind is always helpful.
An excellent post.
Thank you.

Offline loveitspicy

  • Elite Curry Master
  • *******
  • Posts: 1165
    • View Profile
Re: BIR Myths..........Seeing the Wood for the Trees
« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2011, 11:20 AM »
Good read - thanks

best, Rich

Online curryhell

  • Jedi Curry Master
  • *********
  • Posts: 3222
    • View Profile
Re: BIR Myths..........Seeing the Wood for the Trees
« Reply #4 on: September 15, 2011, 10:38 PM »
Jerry, now that is what i call dedication to the cause mate.  Well done.  There are definitely  a few learnings in there for many of us because of your hard work and tenacity.  Thanks ;D  Definitely a thread to reference.

Offline JerryM

  • Genius Curry Master
  • **********
  • Posts: 4585
    • View Profile
Re: BIR Myths..........Seeing the Wood for the Trees
« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2011, 08:11 AM »
well pleased it's of help.

it all still sits well with me and would change nothing.

the only changes i've made being:

1) higher amount of salt in base - 0.5 tsp per portion leaving 0.25 tsp to add at frying if needed.
2) pre cooking onions - 2 off types (water for chopped, fry for sliced)
3) g/g paste and garlic only - depending on dish (generally no ginger in "cream" dishes)
4) garage/shed cooking - for hot frying

recipe refinement is where gaps remain.

Offline jimmy2x

  • Head Chef
  • ***
  • Posts: 246
    • View Profile
Re: BIR Myths..........Seeing the Wood for the Trees
« Reply #6 on: September 18, 2011, 04:08 PM »
thanks for this jerry.

its nice to see the thoughts and tribulations of many of us put down and looked at. We are getting close now im sure of that. one day were gonna look back on all this and laugh.

Offline ifindforu

  • Indian Master Chef
  • ****
  • Posts: 310
    • View Profile
Re: BIR Myths..........Seeing the Wood for the Trees
« Reply #7 on: January 03, 2013, 09:43 PM »
Jerry how darn right you are about the amount of oil used and salt.Ive worked at the local t/a for 2 years and have dipped my finger in the gurabi many a time to aquire the correct taste when I cook gurabi at home,I learn eveytime.I seen him do the gurabi all the time,but was suprised to find on my last dip into thr onions which he told me to cook for a minimum of 2 hours,I found it was all oil with the water boiled away,but he uses ghee as well /salt but not table salt its got to be cooking salt.Then thin out with water addin some more oil along the way,no wonder people get fat eating so much curry There is no secret ingedient as he has never hidden nothing from me.I will say i was supprised the other night to see chips in with the onions instead of potsI spoke to the tandoori chef the other night as i was helping with the popadums what happens with the oil in which the pops are cooked ans the onion barghees,he told me it goes in with the gurabiYes little mix powder maybe just half chef spoon to large sauspanYou have shed light on things Jerry but I do create my t/a curry without a 7 kw cooker remember we spoke about the singe and quench method a singe i efficient enough to burn the spices 7 kw does cook faster.By the way korma is just gurabi which already has ginger/garlic in it.... no spice in the dish only what is in the gurabi. coconut milk powder, sugar, and st ivels cream added to it .I aggree.Very good post and hope to hear off you again ifindforu
« Last Edit: January 04, 2013, 10:21 AM by ifindforu »

Offline JerryM

  • Genius Curry Master
  • **********
  • Posts: 4585
    • View Profile
Re: BIR Myths..........Seeing the Wood for the Trees
« Reply #8 on: January 05, 2013, 09:22 AM »

i add 300ml of water per 800g of onion (works out 20 percent of the chopped onion volume). i used to add ~500ml of oil per 800g aiming to reclaim ~400ml after the 2 hrs. i'm now using double the oil as i freeze half the batch to start the next base. the ghee is important too (ashoka base). i use 30g per 800g onion as a happy medium on the health front. you could easily use more.

the salt i use is cooking salt too.

i too am convinced on no secrete ingredient. i'm just not certain we know (or use) all the right ingredients for the right moment. i've got the mogul, jaipuri, kashmiri, CTM as good as i want. recipe refinement on ~10 off other mains will keep me going for a few years.

my mind is at rest on the singe and quench (many thanks). i realise my heat singes without me trying. i'd also say that i don't like the word singe or burn. it describes the same process as the original word "toffee". i can't think of a better word to describe though. in short as long as you focus on the need "to cook out the spices" you won't go wrong but anyone will quickly come to that conclusion themselves (easy to detect a burnt curry). the more singed the more darker the curry too (which for me i don't like).

i'm still cooking in the garage using my hot burner (a real eye opener). it's a right phaff carrying trays but well worth it. i've never been able to get anywhere close on my 3kw domestic gas hob.

mix powder was something i'd overlooked and very pleased you push me on the subject and well happy with your ebay supplies. as you would expect i'm still intrigued on mix formulae but a long way down the pecking order of my to-do list.

very best wishes

Offline ELW

  • Spice Master Chef
  • *****
  • Posts: 790
    • View Profile
Re: BIR Myths..........Seeing the Wood for the Trees
« Reply #9 on: January 05, 2013, 04:10 PM »
Hi jerrym, this was/is a great quick reference to cooking at home. I also see the discrepancies between cookbook recipe's, instructional videos & the resulting food produced at home when compared to the restaurant. The use of onion gravy for the bulk of a curry is clearly the largest factor, but i know for sure that blindly following a recipe on here or elsewhere, will unlikely produce the bir flavour at home. I notice how many people new to making curries with base gravy, frequently report "better than their local" results, after only a few attempts, while grizzled curry veterans disagree. ???. Something wrong there. I agree there is something missing to complete the picture, ingredients/technique, I've no idea. I've also no idea why my efforts can be hit & miss using exactly the same ingredients, including base. I can measure every element accurately except technique. I can produce bir tasting curries at home, but like you say it's not as simple as following the recipe. I try & copy the techniques from the bir footage

Any recipe i've come across for say lamb karahi, will never produce anything like the one i ordered last night.Some kind of half pureed onion & possibly garlic(banjarra like) in there.I didn't want to examine it too much in front of everyone, been seen doing that before!.  Interestingly, all my best curries have had banjarra paste added.  There was also Huge tins of heinz condensed tomato soup & loads of maggi sauces on view in their kitchen, yet i've never saw soup in any recipe(tikka masala) yet. A huge plastic tub of what looked like cracked black pepper, which they must be using plenty of. I don't really get the opportunity to talk to many chefs or owners, but one did say they use "scented oil" for their pakoras, bhajis not really being a Glasgow thing. Vegetable ghee is something I've yet to resolve

Keep up the good work
« Last Edit: January 05, 2013, 04:21 PM by ELW »


  ©2024 Curry Recipes