September 2019. I’ve taken myself to a local pub to work – this may seem overly testing behaviour for a recovering alcoholic, but I like to sit in the corner and drink lime cordial and write. At home, I find things to do, I am restless, I am obsessively folding tea towels and making messes just to clear them up again. Working from home is a relentless irony; never quite fully working, never really feeling at home, and so I have a roster of local establishments that I frequent, plugging in my laptop and sitting still and quietly in a way that I cannot when I am alone. Curious eyes flicker towards me from time to time, but I don’t meet them. I have things to do.
Peckish, I rove through the menu. It’s Thursday, so it’s Curry Night. I contemplate ordering the chicken vindaloo. I don’t know why. Even now, I don’t know why. I’m setting myself a test that I can’t possibly excel in. It arrives, with a fresh pint of lime cordial, plenty of ice. I dip a tentative fork in the sauce, gauging it for its viciousness. It’s ... fine. I have some more. And then some more. And then suddenly my eyes are streaming, and the tears I have longed for for days are falling down my reddening face. This is the catharsis that I needed. My mouth is on fire. I demolish my garlic naan almost whole, an ineffectual fire blanket for my burning lips and tongue. My nose is running, I wipe it on my napkin. I finger the ice from my cordial and suck on it slowly, silently mourning its disappearance as it all too swiftly vanishes, the temporary trail of relief quickly gone. I mix the remaining vindaloo with the rice to temper it, and slowly, painfully, finish the lot. Three forkfuls of vindaloo and rice, one ice cube. A nose blow. A silent sob into my notebook. And repeat, and repeat, and repeat, until spent.
You may wish to replace the chicken with a vegetable to make a vegetarian version. I can recommend thinly sliced aubergine or mushroom for a hearty texture.
Some notes: room-temperature vindaloo is a lot less of an assault on your senses than a piping-hot one. And drinking a fizzy drink alongside a hell-hot curry is a very bad idea. If you don’t fancy sobbing openly over your dinner or feeling like you may actually combust, you can tone down the chilli and enjoy the flavour base notes without the impending sense of flammable doom. And make enough to freeze, in portions, for those moments where you feel yourself needing a good cry but can’t quite make it happen. It’s cheaper than therapy, at any rate. Finally, eating a sliced fridge-cold apple immediately after this curry is a sensation so beatific I can barely find the words for it. Like a thousand kisses from sweet, honeyed angels for your burned and shrieking skin. Better yet, apple and vanilla ice cream.
First peel your onion and slice it as finely as you can. Toss it into a large nonstick pan. Peel and mince or very finely slice your garlic and add that too. Add the fat (butter, ghee or cooking oil) and grate in the ginger, then cook together on a low heat for a minute. Add all of the spices and stir well to evenly distribute.
Dice your chicken breast into roughly 3cm chunks and add to the pan. Turn the heat up to medium and cook for 6–8 minutes, turning intermittently to seal on all sides.
When the chicken is sealed, pour over the passata or tomatoes, then add the mustard, sugar, lemon juice and vinegar. Continue to cook, stirring well so it doesn’t catch and burn, for another 6–8 minutes, before turning the heat down to low and cooking for 20 minutes more. This allows the flavours to develop and the onion and garlic to soften and sweeten. If you want to cook it for even longer, it will only improve – but I’m acutely aware that not all of us have the time, nor disposable funds, to fritter away on hours over the stove, so 20 minutes will suffice if that’s all you have.
This is one of those dishes that gets better for a cooling-off period, so cook it in advance if you are able, and allow it to cool completely, before gently reheating to serve.
Will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for 3 days, or in the freezer for 3 months. Defrost completely overnight in the fridge and reheat to piping hot before serving.
© Jack Monroe, 2020