Hey folks, it’s the last weekend of the month and, as always, that means that it’s recipe time. For july, though, I felt like going quite a bit hotter than usual and making something with trinidad scorpion.
Why? I’m honestly not sure.
Perhaps being cooped up indoors has got me craving some excitement in my life. Perhaps I’m in the mood for some fiery, acidic flavour. Or perhaps it was simply the desire to see a new number on my recipe page.
Whatever the case may be, I felt like half-arsing a phaal, this month. Making a simple, flavourful and at least semi-faithful recreation of a superhot, british curry, without all the effort involved in the real dish.
One which utilised my old shakshuka recipe as a starting point, in order to do away with the need for fresh ingredients and use only store cupboard essentials.
Well, so long as you, like me, consider indian spices and dried superhot chillies essential…
Before we get to work on my new fusion dish, though, I’d like to quickly talk about what the phaal curry is. Because it isn’t a traditional indian curry.
It is a bangladeshi word and, from what my research tells me, even a bangladeshi dish. But that dish is sauceless spiced meat skewers. Not even necessarily spicy.
It’s a long way from what we, here in the UK, know by that name.
Our phaal is fake indian food. A meal fabricated by the bangladeshi communities in london and bradford, designed to cater to drunken brits on their way home from the pub.
As a result, it’s wildly variable. Its heat ranges from just above a supermarket vindaloo to on par with actual challenge foods and its flavour can be either a wonderfully dry blend of herbs and spices or a woefully under-seasoned, hot tomato purée. Yet, despite its inconsistency, it does have at least a few defining features.
It’s a tomato-based curry, without fail, and every good incarnation of it that I’ve tried has had a similarly fenugreek-forward taste. One which reminds me of 💀Miah’s Kitchen‘s slightly more authentic naga dish and Shahnaz Food Products’ Mr. Naga pickle.
The best of the best then also use a blend of powerful red chillies – Each one stronger than the standard indian bird’s eye – in order to get the most all over heat that they can manage. But that’s a tad too much for me today.
I want to capture the true flavour of the dish, yes, but I also want my recipe to be recreatable at home without you having to track down half a dozen specialist peppers. So I settled on just the scorpion.
Here’s the full set of ingredients:
1 tin of tomatoes
3 teaspoons of fenugreek leaf
2 teaspoons of coriander seeds
2 teaspoons of hot paprika
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon of garlic powder (or 1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped)
1 dried trinidad scorpion pepper (or a teaspoon of high-purity sauce)
And, since this dish is also a shakshuka, 2 eggs.
Plus, you’ll need a medium-sized pan with a lid to cook it in.
To get started on doing so, heat a tablespoon of oil in that very pan – Ideally olive but vegetable and rapeseed will both work – over a low to medium flame. Add in the coriander seeds and your garlic, if you’re not using powder, and stir gently with a wooden spoon or spatula for two to three minutes, in order to brown them.
Then, since we’re skipping right over any fresh peppers, this time, and using dried chilli and paprika to replace them, we can go straight to the adding of our tinned tomatoes. Again, chopping them up with either a knife or your stirring utensil, if they were tinned whole.
At which point we can simply stir everything together, up the heat to a high medium and leave it to start bubbling, whilst we get to chopping the chilli.
Now, whether you leave the seeds in or not is up to you but you do want to mince your scorpion pepper as finely as possible, since it’s not going to spend a tonne of time infusing into the dish. And you might want to wear disposable gloves when you cut it, too, since it may be dried but it’s still absolutely full of capsaicin.
Then, once your chilli is thoroughly diced and your tomatoes are simmering away, turn the heat right down to keep them there and chuck in all the spices. Chilli, paprika, leaves, powders – The lot. They all want to be stirred through and then left to do their thing.
And, at this point, you might be wondering why I gave you the option of using real garlic but not real onion. Well, simply put, it’s for the flavour.
Dried garlic tastes like regular garlic, minus a little of its depth and pungent aroma. It’s like fresh but just a little more convenient, at the cost of being a little less flavourful.
Onions, however, lose almost all of their pungency when fried and fresh ones never take on the same dry, aromatic, slightly spicy taste that you’ll find in powder. Onion powder is a unique flavour that, while not usually preferred over the fresh bulb, really works for things like chip spice and phaal curry.
Now, let’s get back to our cooking.
As things stand, your pan should be bubbling away gently and starting to fill the air with the glorious aroma of all of those spices. Which is exactly what it should be doing. You don’t need to do a thing right now but you do need to keep an eye on it.
You see, this stage can take a very different length of time, depending on what brand of tomatoes you use. Thick, pre-cooked ones may take as little as ten minutes, while a juicier, more liquid variety could take upwards of twenty. So I can’t really advise you on when to move on, other than to say that you should be looking for this:
The ability to make wells in your sauce that won’t immediately close back up.
Those wells are where we’re going to place our eggs for the last part. Just crack them in whole, turn the heat right down and pop that lid on the pan. Though you could add a touch of white pepper first, if that’s your thing.
From there, let the eggs poach gently in the strongly spiced sauce and steam, leaving them for around seven minutes or however long it takes the whites to cook. Again, a glass lid will help immensely here if you have one.
Even if you don’t, though, just keep a close eye on them around that seven minute mark and you should be fine. I just cracked mine badly this time:
And yes, that’s it. Once the eggs are ready, it’s time to garnish up with your choice of coriander and/or fenugreek leaves and serve. Tucking in immediately for the best gooey yolk experience. Though the spices in this one make it rather more satisfying than a regular shakshuka would be if you do accidentally overdo the eggs.
Just be sure to blow on each bite because, once again, it’s going to be quite physically hot. As well as hot enough, spice-wise, that you’ll want to eat it with naan bread or toasted pitas.
With that bread there to keep it in check, though, the
that creeps in in my throat between bites is surprisingly manageable. As though the short cooking time hasn’t managed to pull all the heat from the pepper.
Its flavour is there, without doubt, bringing together the rich tomato and paprika base with its dry, herby, almost slightly mapley array of spices. Yet the burn falls short of what I was expecting and even of the low
So, if you want the full phaal experience, maybe using such a pre-cooked scorpion product is the way to go but, if you just want something sensibly hot with the flavour of something super, the dried pods will do that well. The choice is yours.
And who knows, I might even make a more extreme, less shakshuka-based version later in the season, if people are interested.