Master Recipe: Curry Sauce for (Leftover) Meat

I’m not sure this problem ever came up in Sri Lanka, but we eat Western food about half the time, and I like lots of it, really I do, but then sometimes I go to the fridge to eat some leftovers and there is no curry to be found and I am sad.  Over the years I’ve learned that it’s actually easy to take a standard plain-cooked meat, chicken, or fish, and turn it into an acceptable curried version.  When a girl is desperate for curry, she does what she needs to do — she makes a curry sauce, adds some cut-up leftover cooked meat, simmers it for a little bit, and eats happy.

3 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 T ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. mustard seed
1 t. cumin seed
1 dozen curry leaves
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1 2-inch piece cinnamon
1-2 T chili powder
1 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
1 t. salt
1/4 c. ketchup
1-2 T Worcestershire sauce
1/2 – 1 c. (or more, if you like) coconut milk
2-3 lbs. leftover cooked meat, cubed (may also be left on the bone)

3 russet potatoes, cubed (optional)

1.  Sauté onions in oil or ghee on medium-high, stirring as needed, with ginger, garlic, mustard seed, cumin seed, curry leaves, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, until golden-translucent, about ten minutes.

2.  Add chili powder, Sri Lankan curry powder, and salt, stirring for a few minutes more.

 

3.   Add ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and coconut milk, stirring each ingredient in.  You now have a basic curry sauce, suitable for meat, chicken, or fish.  (It also works with seitan or young jackfruit, for vegetarian options.)

 

4.  Add leftover cooked meat, stirring until well combined.  Turn down to a simmer, cover, and let cook ten minutes or so; the meat will impart some flavor to the sauce, and vice versa.  Add water if necessary to prevent burning.

5.  Add potatoes (and probably more water) if using, bring to boiling, then turn back down and simmer until potatoes are cooked through.  (You can speed this part up by par-cooking them in water in the microwave earlier, perhaps while your onions are sautéing.)  Cook sauce down until it has a thick consistency, like gravy.

 

Serve hot, with rice or bread.

 

Chinese Rolls

Chinese Rolls
(3 hours, makes 50)

Chinese rolls (whether made with meat, chicken, or vegetarian) are an essential Sri Lankan party food. People look forward to them with anticipation, and greets their arrival with glee. They’re also a sign of love—in college and after, whenever I visited home, my mother or one of my aunts would make sure that when I left again, it was with a bag of freshly-fried rolls. It was sometimes a little challenging managing the still-steaming bag on the airplane, but it was the sort of gift that was impossible to turn down—made with love and labor, and eventually consumed with delight.

I believe they’re called Chinese rolls because they look a little like Chinese egg rolls; during colonial times, Chinese laborers were brought to Sri Lanka and settled there in a small but significant minority community; I assume this dish was invented then. They taste nothing like egg rolls, though.

Growing up, my sisters and I would often be pressed into service for the various stages of roll-making, all sitting around the dining table and working. My mother and aunts made them in a group as well. Especially if doing a larger batch, I highly encourage cooking this dish as a group activity (perhaps inviting a few select friends to come a few hours before your party), which will speed things up by as much as an hour. The final step is best done right before serving.

Portion and serving suggestion:
For a cocktail or other large-ish party, I’d aim for two rolls per guest. It’s a filling, rich treat. The recipes scales up or down easily—my mother would generally make 200 at a time, or more, for the Sri Lankan-American parties of my childhood, when immigrant families would gather, hungry for a taste of home. The dish is complex and labor-intensive enough that I woudn’t normally make rolls for a small dinner party, but you certainly could serve them as an appetizer, allowing two per person. Simply divide the recipe as needed.

Note: There are several points in the process where you can pause, refrigerate or freeze, and pick up again later. This is tremendously helpful when prepping for a party—you can do the bulk of the work days, weeks, or even months in advance, as long as you plan appropriately.

For the filling:
6 medium onions, chopped fine
1/4 cup vegetable oil + 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 tsp black mustard seed
1/4 tsp cumin seed
1-2 TBL red chili powder
1 TBL Sri Lankan curry powder
2 lbs ground beef (or goat, or chicken)
1/3 cup ketchup
3 TBL Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp salt + 1 tsp salt
3 medium russet potatoes, diced in roughly 1/2-inch cubes

(Note: for a vegetarian filling, see the cutlets recipe.)

For the crepes:
4 cups cold water
2 cups milk
2 tsp salt
2 eggs
4 cups of all-purpose flour

For frying:
2 eggs
2 cups breadcrumbs
4 cups vegetable oil

1. In a large frying pan, sauté onions in 1/4 cup oil on medium-high with mustard seed and cumin seeds until onions are golden/translucent (not brown). Add chili powder and cook 1 minute. Immediately add curry powder, ground beef, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and 1 tsp salt. Sauté until cooked through. Drain any excess oil, transfer to a large bowl, and let cool. (You can refrigerate for a few days or freeze for up to six months here.)

2. In a clean frying pan, heat 1/4 cup oil and fry potato cubes with 1 tsp salt on medium-high, stirring, until cooked through. Drain any excess oil and let cool. (You can refrigerate or freeze here—to best preserve potato texture for freezing, spread them out in a flat sheet and freeze, then transfer to large plastic sealable bags.)

3. Combine meat and potato mixture. (You can refrigerate or freeze here.)

4. Make crepes: Combine crepe filling ingredients and mix thoroughly until it forms a thin pancake batter. Heat an 8-inch non-stick frying pan and grease with a little oil between each pancake. Pour a ladle full of batter into the pan and swirl it around gently until it forms a thin pancake. Cook until set without browning; flip and briefly cook other side. Remove and stack on a plate. (If you have a friend with you, you can do steps 4 and 5 together, one making the crepes while the other fills.)

5. Place a cooked pancake on a plate and add about 2 TBL of filling. Proceed to roll the pancake like an egg-roll. Note: Try eating one or two at this stage (not required, but recommended, as there’s something deliciously unctuous about them, and I always used to steal some at this point when rolling for my mom).

7. In a small bowl, beat 2 eggs. Set up a plate piled with bread crumbs. Dip rolls in egg mixture, then roll in breadcrumbs, then remove to a separate plate. (Don’t pile them up, as they’ll squish — use multiple clean plates.) Continue until all rolls are encased in bread crumbs.

8. Heat vegetable oil in a large pan until quite hot, then, using a Chinese spider (recommended) or spatula, fry until golden, removing to separate plates lined with paper towels. (I usually turn the heat down a little after the first batch, which helps avoid burning them.) Serve hot as an appetizer, with a little spicy sauce (MD sauce can be found online, and is a classic choice) as accompaniment if desired.

Chicken Patties

I ran out of canola oil while setting up to deep-fry these; luckily Kat (who lives across the way) had some coconut oil she could send over with a child. So I fried in a combo of the two, which I think was perhaps perfect — the canola gave the characteristic crispiness, and the coconut gave some extra richness. I hadn’t fried in coconut oil before, though, and was really surprised when I put the first patty in — it foamed up dramatically (which may have had something to do with combining the two oils — I’m not sure)! I called Kevin over to make sure I wasn’t doing something wrong. But all was very well, and they were soon devoured. (Pictured below is a double-batch, filling three plates.)
 
Patties (usually Chicken)
(2 hours, makes about 30)
 
These are classic party appetizers (or short-eats, as we call them); patties can also be made with a mix of meats — chicken, beef and pork work well together. The filling may be made in advance and frozen if desired, or you can go all the way to filling the patties and then freeze them in layers, with sheets of parchment paper to separate, before the final frying step. That makes it easier to manage prep for a big party. Allow patties to thaw completely before frying.
 
Patty pastry:
2 cups plain flour
1/2 rounded tsp salt
3 TBL butter
1/4 cup thick coconut milk
2 egg yolks, beaten
peanut oil for frying
 
Filling:
2 1/2 lbs boneless chicken thighs
2 TBL ghee or oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
8 curry leaves, on the stalk if possible
2 rounded tsp Sri Lankan curry powder
1 rounded tsp ground turmeric
1/4 rounded tsp ground cloves
1/4 rounded tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 rounded tsp ground black pepper
2 rounded tsp salt
2 strips lemon rind (or roughly that amount of lemongrass)
1/2 cup thick coconut milk
1-2 lightly-beaten egg whites for sealing pastry
 
1. Make filling. Put chicken into a saucepan with just enough water to cover, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Cool chicken, remove from pot (reserving stock), and mince. (In a food processor is fine.)
 
2. Heat ghee in a saucepan and fry the onion and curry leaves until onion is soft and starts to brown. (Leaving curry leaves on the stalk will make it easier to remove them at the end.) Add the curry powder, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, and salt and stir well. Add about 1 1/2 cups of the leftover stock. Add lemongrass and the minced chicken. Mix well and simmer gently until chicken is tender and liquid almost evaporated.
 
3. Add coconut milk, stir, and cook uncovered until coconut milk is absorbed.
 
4. Remove from heat. When cool, pick out the lemon rind or lemongrass and the curry leaves.
 
5. Make pastry: Sift flour and salt into a bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips. Add the coconut milk and egg yolks mixed together and knead lightly to a smooth dough. If necessary, add a little extra milk or flour.
 
6. Wrap dough in parchment paper and chill for 30 minutes.
 
7. Take one quarter of the dough at a time and roll out very thinly on lightly floured board. Cut into circles using a large cookie cutter about 3 inches in diameter.
 
8. Put a teaspoonful of the filling on the pastry rounds. Wet the edges of the pastry with egg white, fold over to make half circle and press edges firmly together to seal. Ornament the edge by pressing with a key or the tines of a fork.
 
9. When all the patties are made, fry a few at a time in deep hot oil. Drain on layers of paper towels and serve warm. Can be made ahead and refrigerated (or frozen)—reheat in a 350 degree oven.