CHOICE membership

Join the conversation

Ask a question. Share tips. Help others.

Make yourself heard

Join our forum and be part of Australia’s biggest consumer movement.

  • Post your questions and tips
  • Share your advice and help others
  • Drive positive change on key issues

Chef's Tips On Cooking Curries

An interesting article regarding a chef’s tips on cooking curries.


An unusual article in that it is about food and by somebody who really knows what they are talking about. The suggestions are not just applicable to the UK. Not only does he have good ideas but gives pretty good reasons why.

The point about using freshly ground spices is very important for freshness, depth of flavour and variety. Using curry powder is like putting tomato sauce on everything, everything tastes the same.

But I have some nits to pick (of course).

I think the benefits of ‘sealing in the flavour’ are grossly exaggerated especially when it comes to long slow cooking. You are using time to allow the flavours of the meat and bones to come out into the sauce and the flavours of the spices etc in the sauce to go into the meat, this is called exchange cooking. So what is the point of trying to separate them? Browning of meat and bones does however have a place as the flavours produced by the Maillard reactions add to the depth and complexity of the dish. So I am disputing the chemistry behind it not the practice.

On when to add dry spices he is right but the explanation is a little confusing. It is traditional for some curries to add light and aromatic spices near the end of cooking for the reason given, if cooked for a long time some of the aromatic oils will be lost. This does not mean all dry spices should be added near the end. As he says, some are fried in oil at the start, you might also fry whole spices like mustard or fenugreek then. In that operation you are doing some chemistry that alters the flavours with heat $$$ but also doing solvent extraction getting the fat-soluble aromatics into the oil which starts the sauce.

For those who make think introducing chemistry into cooking is somehow improper, it is possible to do the right thing not knowing why but it is easier to remember what to do and to innovate if you do know.

$$$ In some styles, like Sri Lankan curry, whole spices are dry-roasted, and then ground, before any liquid is added, this gives you a darker curry that has quite a different flavour compared to the same spices roasted at a lower temperature in oil.


Sealing of the meat is done to keep in the juices and therefore keep the meat tender.
If you slow-cook meat from the start you’ll end up with ‘ tough as boots’ meat.
No length of cooking time will reverse that process.
A sealed meat when slow-cooked will still do the ‘Exchange of flavours ‘ but it will still be tender.


This does not accord with my experience nor can I think of any reason why it would work. You will find plenty of discussion on the web but I think this is an old furphy that has been passed around so long it is immortal.

Harold McGee the author of the classic volume on the history and science of food and cooking “On Food and Cooking” has this to say:

The Searing Question
The best known explanation of a cooking method is probably this catchy phrase ‘Sear the meat to seal in the juices’ The eminent German chemist Justus Von Liebig came up with this idea about 1850. It was disproved a few decades later. Yet this myth lives on even among professional cooks.

This was supported by no less than the great Escoffier but (as McGee explains) it can be and has been readily shown to be wrong. I would scan the whole section for you but due to house painting my scanner is unconnected until chaos is done.

No worries about posting the whole section from the McGee book, I believe you, and my apologies for taking your attention away from more pressing things.

Every time I cook any type of meat,
the right way to cook it is proven to me.

Anyone else is, of course, free to cook the way they think best.


1 Like

Do take my attention away from my roller and brush - please. I like yellow but not being yellow.

Of course you are. I am not telling you the way you cook is wrong, I am just trying to show that there is more information available about how cooking works today than my grandma knew about and probably yours too. In this case science is not there to replace art or tradition but to augment them.

Forgive me, ‘How cooking works today’?

How can cooking meat today be different from cooking meat yeasterday?

1 Like

My mistake, I meant to say more information today about how cooking works.

No worries :wink:

There are a few self evident facts in cooking meat, I believe, irrespective
of time (Century?)

For example, salt should not be added to meat until after it has finished cooking: the blood would leave the meat, leaving it dry and tough.

And keeping the blood inside the cooking meat is achieved by the method of searing, it is not an opinion, it can be very easily seen by just looking at what you are cooking while it slowly gives out all its moisture if it is not at first cooked at a high temperature for just a few minutes. After that you can cook it anyway you like.
I’m sure science can teach us how to do new things all the time, but in this case, I believe that the opinion of one man, McGee, does not make that much of a difference on the matter.
And I say this with all respect for what you might believe in, @syncretic :blush:

1 Like

I wonder about all those cooking methods that do not ask for the meat to be sealed first.
The ‘crockpot’ (slow cooker) comes to mind,
The pressure cooker,
Many classic roasts.

Perhaps these work in other ways?

On salt,
Should I first salt the pork crackling or not?
When rubbing salt on raw meat, how does the salt dissolve and draw into the meat. Are there two different techniques available, with one the purpose of drawing moisture out and the other of infusing flavours or salts before cooking?

I tend to just follow the recipe. A good one includes every detail with the how and what to do, just short of instructions on opening the milk or cracking an egg.

Alternately a recipe that simply asks for six eggs is close to useless unless they are scrambled. What size eggs should I use, and is an Australian standard egg the same weight as a Spanish one?

Does anyone know the right answer to how old red meat should be (fresh chilled or aged) for the best flavour and tenderness? And should your beef be tortured first (stretched before sale)?

1 Like

Valid questions @mark_m, wish my father and his chefs friends were still around for me to ask questions!

Pork crackling: it’s the rind of the roast,
prevents the salt from being absorbed
by the meat.

Roast: the hot temperature of the oven
acts as ‘searing’.

Pressure cooker: recipes suggest browning of meat and sauté of veggies
before adding liquids and closing lid.
(Unless your making broth).

Aging of meat: a chef in the top Melbourne’s restaurants, used to oil the piece of meat, wrap it in a linen cloth, and place it in the fridge for a few days.
As it ages the meat becomes more tender.


For years, most cooking shows have stated to never salt the meat before cooking.

Now they all say to salt the meat well before cooking.

We always brush our meat with olive oil and salt & pepper it before roasting,or grilling.


I chose McGee because he isn’t a self-appointed internet food guru but because he is a scientist who has a career of peer reviewed journal articles, writing and teaching at well regarded universities built on answering this kind of question. The book I quoted from is a text used in food science courses at various universities. I could think of no one person more qualified to speak.

I am not arguing that you should not brown meat but drawing distinctions about why it is a good idea.
Chefs are expert on how to cook but unless they have done extra study not the chemistry behind cooking.

I could add more voices and more reasons to this but as we are getting around to epistemology and belief versus facts the best idea is if we leave it there.

Some recipes for such do say to brown the meat first but it creates colour and flavour, not texture. This is why microwave roasting is so unsatisfying, no colour (we eat with our eyes) and no maillard reaction flavours and smells.


[quote=“syncretic, post:13, topic:18827”]
am not arguing that you should not brown meat but drawing distinctions about why it is a good idea

I’m certainly not qualified to argue about ‘ the chemistry behind cooking’
and am going to leave it there for my part. But I appreciate your challenging
thoughts. :blush:

Edit: sorry about the clumsy quote.
Also, ever since the problem getting into Community I’m having trouble writing in the space provided which hides into the
keyboard and I can’t see what I’m writing. Hopefully the problem will go away.

1 Like

That happens to me sometimes on the iPad. Assume you have hidden the preview as needed. Sometimes hiding the touch keyboard and then taping back in the edit pane moves things around enough to keep the last lines visible. For some I rely on rechecking and editing after hitting reply, as you get to see the whole of the response in context. There is supposedly a time delay between hitting reply and the post being visible which provides a window for correction.


Thank you @mark_m.

I’m now using my iPhone which has no
‘preview’ available, like my iPad has.
Cannot use iPad for the Community:
Safari is still finding the connection ‘Not
secure ‘.
Will try your suggestion on how to speed things along, thank you :blush:


From what I remember from my father, in recipes, the standard weight of an egg is 50g.
In baking the exact weight is necessary,
and he would weight unshelled raw eggs
to achieve that.
Also, he didn’t have recipes with a list of ingredients but he would know (by
heart) the proportion of ingredients for all kinds of baking.
Example: equal quantities of sugar and butter to double quantity of flour.

Professional baking is very different to what we do at home: all I wanted from him was a simple recipe for baking a cake!


This website has a good explanation of what makes meat tough when cooking it…

It also explains the role of collagen in the meat fibres and how it breaks down with slow, moist type cooking (i.e. slow cooker type appliances).

We often use very tough cuts when cooking as they can have more flavour than common, tenderer cuts. We use slow, moist heat as a general rule of thumb.

There is one exception and applies to stirfries or very quickly cooked meat.,…if the meat is cut very thin (say 1-2mm in thickness) across the grain (this can be achieved using a very sharp knife when the meat is semi frozen) and cooked quickly, a usually tough meat can be surprisingly tender as the fibres are short and not allowed to cook for too long (just a flash in the pan).


That may be for a modern Australian cook book. Although it is not a standard grading weight for Australia.

It looks like your advice for critical baking, to weigh the contents of the egg is well founded.

And it appears internationally no one agrees. Any older recipe book might sensibly indicate the assumed egg weight, or not?