I grew up in a meat-and-rice household. We didn’t do the potatoes much because my mother doesn’t like potatoes, but there were a lot of roasts and chops, a few ribs, and a lot of chicken breasts (when they didn’t sell them without the bones).
My mother is an excellent cook, but she is not particularly adventurous (which she blames on my father, who grew up in a four-boy household where meat and potatoes ruled). Spicy was definitely not done, and garlic was late in coming. Onions (of the dried, minced variety) were the preferred seasoning, and paprika was the choice to add color to “white food.”
My tastes were always more adventurous, and I often ordered the most exotic thing I could find on the menu on those rare occasions we went out in my early years (well, and I did like chicken fingers and nuggets, too).
One holiday, my Great Aunt Mary, a trained biologist, a Catholic Sister of St. Joseph, and for many years a missionary in Peru, was visiting at my grandmother’s when our family went to visit. She offered to cook dinner, and the thing she made was, to my palate at the time, the most amazing dish I’d ever eaten.
It was a fairly mild chicken curry–I remember carrots and there were probably potatoes too, in this gravy-like sauce richly seasoned with exotic things like turmeric, cumin and cinnamon (which was exotic, at least, for a dinner rather than a dessert).
The grownups praised the dish sparingly–it being a little off the wall for their experience–but I gave praise in eating as much as I could possibly hold, and then a bit more. I had never before had a curry in my life, and I didn’t know such flavorful wonders could exist.
Last night I roasted a whole chicken that I rubbed generously with a pretty standard grocery store curry powder (maybe even a bit too much–I have a lovely Penzey’s Balti mix I’m dying to use once that’s gone), butter, garlic powder, and a little dried orange peel.
I brought the chicken and a little gravy I whipped up from the drippings over to join a feast with H, two of his daughters, his granddaughter (who is not eating such things as yet) and everyone’s partners.
After the dinner (which included a wonderful fresh-tasting tomato-vegetable soup S had made), I packed up my little chicken carcass and brought it home, dumped it in the stockpot, scraped the rest of the curry-infused drippings out of the pan, and proceeded to make stock.
Dinner tonight is a necessarily curry-flavored chicken stew (as the carcass and drippings are all flavored from the rubbing) with one large red potato, diced, chunks of several carrots, an onion, the last (!!!) clove of elephant garlic, and a few other niceties.
What inspired this post is that, as I stirred the stock into the hot vegetables and started stripping the last nubbins of chicken off the bones, the aroma wafting off the pan transported me to that wide-eyed time when I caught my first whiff of curry as the tureen was placed on my grandmother’s table–its lid lifted, and my gustatory world forever transformed.