Yesterday I made a "classic curry sauce" from that same Indian Vegetarian book I wrote about a bit ago, and it was not what I was expecting. I've made a quite a few Thai curries, and a few Indian curries, but this one really reminded me of the process of making a really dark roux, like for a Cajun or Creole dish. Interesting.
In this curry, you make the usual ginger/garlic/onion paste, and then you brown it in a heavy pan. (The book asks for a non-stick pan. I don't own one, so the cast iron skillet is it, baby.) Then you brown it more, and more, and more, until it is dark brown. It kind of goes gray, first, then slowly browns as you chase/scrape the thick mulch around the pan in circles. This goes on until it is dry. Quite dry. Like grade school paste, but not white. Not even a pretty mahogany, but damn-that's-brown brown. It looks like a mistake, really.
Then you toss in some mulched tomato and cilantro, and the acid and liquid magically deglazes the pan. Repeat the stir, brown, scrape routine until the mass is dark and dry again. Until it looks like an error again, really. Then add some spices, I think. Then add a bunch of liquid and hydrate the dried out stuff to a thin soup. Then reduce again, but just to a thick goo. Now you have the classic curry sauce.
It is dark, my friends, much darker and a little more bitter than what I've had in a friend's house or a restaurant. But it is very interesting and different from the rich-creamy-sweet crap on buffet tables. I like it. I steamed some broccoli and had just a few tablespoons on top last night, and it was complex and curious. A very nice change. You could add some agave, if you like, and I did try that on one side of the dish, but I think I'll have a squeeze of lime next time. But still, a thoughtful sauce...