Cooking an onion or some chicken or any other of the plethora of ingredients that make up an indian dish in a western home is probably a lot easier than preparing that same meal in the back streets of Mumbai, and even easier than in the village of a fishing village of Tamil Nadu or the more remote parts of the Indian Kush!
The western kitchen offers many pots and pans that fit nicely onto our state of the art cooking appliances and those pots and pans are designed for ease of use and practicality for the Western dishes and foods that we eat. I am however a believer in tradition and with Indian cooking I would say that one of the vital ingredients required to achieve the level of success you should aspire to is the right cooking pot. In Chinese cookery the Wok, in Africa the Potjie and in India the Karahi, which may be quite familiar as nowadays, a smaller version is used to serve Balti dishes in UK restaurants. Typically a heavy based steel pot that has two large ringlets traditionally used for suspending it over an open fire, and surprise surprise it fits just as nicely into the wok burner slot as the wok does…..
It however is not like your average saucepan in that a little work is required to get it fit for purpose, and is a close relative to the Chinese wok in that it is also made traditionally from steel or iron, and like the traditional wok requires some preparation before use. The kitchen industry is now offering the non stick wok, God help us all can no one be bothered anymore…… the same does not apply to its Indian cousin at the moment, it comes in raw untreated steel, and only in raw untreated steel I hope!
So you get your Karahi home and now you must undertake a process known as seasoning, for it to work at its best. This is not rocket science but a little care and preparation is required to get the best results.
Firstly place the karahi on the heat, and heat to a fairly high temperature, until the entire surface is hot…..
On the first time you do this you will see some of the black surface peel away don’t be worried by this it is perfectly natural, as this is a protective layer added by the manufacturer and is meant to burn off during this tempering process……
Now with a clean cloth wipe on a thin layer of oil turn up the heat and allow it to burn off, then allow the pan to cool.
Remember that sometimes less is more and it is important that you do not allow the oil to pool in the bottom of the Karahi, as a thick gel can form in the bottom of the pan, repeat this process about six times until you have built up half a dozen or so thin layers, just remember to burn off each layer before applying the next, so open the windows put the extractor fan on and burn it in!.
This takes time so don’t rush it and the end result will be a seasoned pan that is fit for purpose and ready to cook in with a rustic iron look and if that’s how yours looks you have tempered the pan correctly( See photo)
Now you have put all that effort into getting it like that you do need to take care of that finish especially when you are cleaning it and it should be remembered that soapy water is a big NO, NO here, this will remove your seasoning and mean that you will have a pan that can rust and will need seasoning again, if you do need to remove stuck on food you should scrub with a non metallic scrubber or Wok brush, always dry the karahi with paper towels, and finish off by “Burning” over a high flame which sterilise the pan until the next time you use it…
A very well seasoned pan can of course build up a layer of carbon in the bottom and this is not something that you need worry about quite the opposite in fact as it shows a well used and cared for piece of cookware, and will also prevent it from going rusty….
finally if you don’t use it everyday a light rubbing over with cooking oil before returning to the cupboard will keep the rust at bay and should you find some rust then simply scour the whole pan and re-season as above … easy really!
Hopefully all being well you will never have to do that… just follow the guidelines! above and all should be well, and you will have a cook-pot that will give you years of use getting better every time you use it…