Indian restaurant bhuna curry is a recipe that shows up all on menus all over the place. It’s typically a thick, well spiced, medium hot dish. There’s no real guideline other than that. That’s why it’s so different from restaurant to restaurant. Kind of like balti in the UK.
I think bhuna varies so much in restaurants because technically it’s not a dish. It’s a way of cooking. By definition spices are gently fried and then meat is added. The whole thing is left to stew in it’s own juices. At the end, you wind up really big flavours and not a lot of sauce. Super concentrated curry.
I’ve looked at quite a few definitions of bhuna and it seems to come down to a curry with onions, garlic, tomatoes, chilies and spices. That’s what this Indian restaurant bhuna curry recipe is all about. I hope the curry police don’t come and take me away for misleading people with this post. Or worse yet, take away my spices and condemn me to cooking curry with pre-fab curry powder for the rest of my life.
This is a master Indian restaurant bhuna curry recipe. You can make it with pre-cooked chicken, lamb, beef or use tofu, pre-cooked potatoes or eggplant for vegan options.
Before you start do your prep. That’s important. Make your curry base and have some heated and ready to go. Pre-cook your meat. Measure out your ingredients. Have everything ready. Put on an apron – a bit of splatter is part of the fun.
If you have not yet read the guide to Indian restaurant technique yet, do it now. It has pictures to help you understand the recipe. There’s also a guide to Indian ingredients in that post.
- 2 tsp indian restaurant spice mix or curry powder
- 1 tsp kashmiri chili powder or ¼ tsp cayenne mixed with ¾ tsp paprika
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp kasoor methi
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 3 Tbsp oil
- ½ onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 green chilies, seeded and diced (or thinly sliced if you want a bit of extra heat from the ribs)
- 1 Tbsp cilantro stems, minced
- 1 Tbsp garlic/ginger paste
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste with enough water to dilute to the consistency of pasatta
- 15 oz curry base
- 10-12 oz pre-cooked chicken or lamb
- 1 Tbsp tamarind sauce (I use Maggi brand)
- Make the spice mix.
- Dilute the tomato paste with enough water to get to the consistency of passata.
- Heat your frying pan (don't use non-stick) briefly over medium heat. Add the oil.
- When the oil starts to shimmer add the onions and stir constantly until the edges of the onions start to brown. This takes about a minute.
- Next comes the garlic ginger paste. Add it into the pan and cook it, stirring constantly, until it stops sputtering.
- Add the green chilies and cilantro stems. Cook about 15-20 seconds.
- Turn down the heat and add the spice mix. This is the critical step. Stir it constantly for 30 seconds. If it starts to darken lift the pan off the heat. You want the spice mix to cook in the oil but not burn.
- Turn the heat up to medium high. Add the diluted tomato paste and stir until bubbles form (the oil will likely separate). This takes around 30 seconds to one minute depending on the heat.
- Add 3 oz of curry base. Stir until bubbles form (little craters really), around 30 seconds. Watch the edges of the pan. The curry can stick here.
- Now add 6 oz of curry base and stir briefly. Let it cook until the bubbles form again. This takes 1-2 minutes.
- Add the rest of the curry base and let cook until the bubbles form. Add the tamarind sauce. Turn the heat down to low and add the pre-cooked lamb, beef, chicken, tofu or vegetables.
- Let the curry simmer for about 5 minutes. If it gets too thick add a bit more curry base. Don't add water.
- Garnish with a bit of chopped fresh cilantro and serve.
Have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go.
If you are making multiple curries, have your curry base warming in a pot on the stove. If you are just making one, microwave it to warm it up right before you start cooking.
Indian restaurants pre-cook their meat so it's ready for service. This recipe assumes the same. To pre-cook chicken, simply simmer it with a bit of curry powder and salt in chicken stock for about 10-15 minutes - until it's barely cooked.
To pre-cook lamb or beef, do the same but plan for 1 to ½ hours for lamb and 2 hours or more for beef. You are making stew meat so you are braising until tender. You will need to keep an eye on the level of the stock. For beef use beef stock.