Taking spice dishes to another level

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University years spent in the city of Birmingham, not only equipped me with a degree, but also turned me into a self-confessed curry-aholic.

Northampton may admittedly not boast the row upon row of balti houses seen in good old Brum, but it certainly has its fair share of spicy food venues.

One of the best-known curry locations in Northampton is Saffron, in Castilian Street, which is the workplace of Bodrul Islam, the Bangladeshi-born winner of last year’s Spice Chef of the Year title, in the Carlsberg UK Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards.

As the awards organisers are currently asking for the public to nominate contenders for this year, I decided to revisit last year’s winner to find out more about his career and glean some top tips on cooking with spices.

Bodrul said: “I was delighted and surprised to win last year. Even from a young age when I came to this country, this was my only ambition, to work in a restaurant; previously I was in Dubai working for the Sheraton Hotel.”

After leaving Dubai, Bodrul worked at a restaurant in Essex before joining Saffron five years ago. Encouraged to invent his own dishes for the menu, he created Chicken Hariyo Kursani; a meal he went on to prepare successfully for judges at last year’s awards.

Equipped with a chef’s jacket, I followed Bodrul into the Saffron kitchen where he demonstrated how to put the dish together.

Three cloves of garlic are quickly chopped and fried in vegetable ghee, then in go three large, dried chillies and a tablespoon of chopped onion, which is fried with the other ingredients.

Next comes half a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of chilli powder and the same amount of curry powder. Bodrul then adds a bay leaf, a pinch of fresh coriander, a tablespoon of tomato puree, three cherry tomatoes and two chopped breasts of chicken, which had been marinated in natural yoghurt and a little salt and pre-cooked in the tandoor.

Then in goes some masala sauce, made out of yoghurt and spices, and some onion gravy which has already been prepared by cooking onions, green peppers, ginger and plum tomatoes together.

With everything ready, the whole dish takes minutes to put together, but one thing is clear... a lot of preparation goes into making a good spice dish.

Restaurant owner Naz Islam said he encourages Saffron chefs to come up with new ideas. He said: “I’m always looking to improve my menu and restaurant. It does have an impact on the restaurant when you win something like this. Many restaurants are struggling, but we are fully booked most weekends.

“Restaurants are trying to take it to a different level now. We improve on the mistakes of our parents who first came and first opened their restaurants. It wasn’t as upmarket 15 or 20 years ago, but now Indian restaurants are competing with French and Italian restaurants.”

Anyone who thinks their local restaurant or takeaway serves the best spicy food in the county can nominate them for this year’s Spice Chef of the Year competition. Call 01933 664437 or email rachel@rachelmallows.com

To find out more about Saffron’s Indian cookery classes, contact 01604 630800.