Friday, December 21, 2012

curry devil

It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas, everywhere I sniff. In the oven, sugee bakes, on the counter, yellow stained, achar sits and soaks, as tangier it gets! It's beginning to sound a lot like Christmas, blenders all a-whirr! Smoky sausages in the pot, or curry devil, call it not! Boxing Day, hurry PLEASE!!!

And, THAT is why I write recipes and cookbooks, instead of Christmas jingles.

But, it really is basically what used to go round and round inside my head, each year, when I was either bending over backwards or falling all over myself, trying to get the Christmas feast ready in time.

Does your Christmas checklist look anything like this? Ice cubes. Check. Glasses. Check. Mixers. Check. Booze. Check. Roast sirloin/turkey. Check. Roast potatoes. Check. Buttered vegetables. Check. Curry devil. Check. Cookies and cream Christmas log. Check. Ten fingers. Check. Two eyebrows. Check. I swear to you, one year, I actually singed my left sideburn..... and that's all you're getting from me about it.

Oh yeah. Christmas can be STRESSSSSSSSSSFUL. These days, I keep things simple and only strive to have the essentials on the table, one of which is of course, curry devil, the grand dame of any Kristang Christmas table. A simple but perfect roast beef with potatoes and gravy, a bit of achar for those who like some bite and pucker *yeeeowww*, sugee cake to nibble with sherry, moscato or coffee afterwards, in the soft glow of the twinkling tree and, as far as I'm concerned, everything else is icing.

So, here, is my beloved, never fail, event making curry devil recipe, from my grandmother, to my mother, to me, to you! It will make rockets fly, strip paint off cars, make you sweat, possibly weep, and if you live, it will split your face into the biggest smile you've ever seen on yourself. This is the baseline recipe, and other possible additions are potatoes, seeded cucumber wedges, peeled onion quarters, whole chillies, chunks of crisp roast belly pork and smoky bacon bones. Bacon bones are a fantastic addition, but the rest I can do without. If using them, cut into large bite sized chunks and add to the pot with the mustard and proceed according to the recipe. The roast pork belly is better I think, served separately, alongside the curry, instead of being added to the pot, where it just gets soggier and rubberier by the minute. I just like to add cabbage, sausages and luncheon meat as these improve the flavour of the gravy, without watering it down, thickening it up or generally mucking it up.

I could go on and on and tell you how curry devil really has only 5 main ingredients in the rempah and that lemongrass, garlic, galangal or belacan, or any other additions are smears on the pure and perfect balance and beauty of the simple but sublime 5 ingredient rempah wonder, but, it's a time for joy, presents, goodwill and positivity, so I, er.... won't? ;) Instead, I'll share a bit about curry devil for those of you who may still be somewhat in the dark about it and don't know that it  :

a. is named after the devil because it is infernally hot and eating it makes you swear as if the devil himself has possessed your tongue.

b. is called "devil" a corruption of the Portuguese "debal" which means "leftovers"  - this one, I can't vouch much for at all, as I don't speak modern Portuguese and google translator has failed me miserably. I just included it here because I found it floating out there in cyberland and thought it would make good filler, I mean, copy *oops* If you're reading this, and you're Portuguese, please let me know in the comments, if "debal" is or ever was a Portuguese word. Thank you.

c. was created to use up the meaty leftovers from the Kristang/Eurasian Christmas table ie, ham, bacon, sausage, roast pork, roast chicken, hence is traditionally meant to be cooked on Boxing Day (26 Dec) instead of Christmas Day itself. In modern practice, we prepare it on Christmas Eve, because it's so gosh darned delicious, no one wants to wait for the leftovers of the Christmas Day feast, so leftovers are simulated by marinating and precooking meat before adding it to the pot of curry devil spices. Having cooked it both ways ie, with fresh, seasoned and pre-fried meat as in the recipe below, as well as with legitimate leftovers, I should tell you that it tastes leagues better made as in the recipe below. When leftover cuts of roast meat are added to the pot and simmered long enough to impregnate them with curry devil flavour, the meat turns either  dry or mushy. On the other hand, if they are simmered briefly so they don't dry out or disintegrate, the spices have no chance of penetrating the meat and infusing them with their fiery essence.

d. may be Portuguese, Goan or British in origin, or a combination of all three. Possible prototypes or progenitors are the Portuguese Carne de Vinha d'Alhos, the Goan Vindaloo (which is itself almost certainly a derivation of the Portuguese Carne de Vinha d'Alhos) or British devilled meats.

e. must be as lividly red as a danger sign and as hot as molten lava, which is what your insides will feel like, the morning after, if you eat this, but, that's another story, and one best not shared within the perimeter of a food blog.

f. should be prepared at least a day ahead of serving. Once cooked, it should be cooled, covered and refrigerated overnight. When you reheat it the next day, your kitchen will be engulfed with the most diabolically delicious aroma that you will swear was not there yesterday, when you were sneezing, coughing, weeping and almost gagging from the chilli fumes. A taste of the reheated curry will reveal newly present dimensions, planes and nuances of flavour that defy all explanations, except one; kitchen alchemy. You will wonder if someone snuck out of bed while you were sleeping, and added fairy dust to the pot in the fridge....

Now all you lovely food blog cops out there - I realise you have a job, a noble one at that, and are admirably committed to your calling, a virtue made all the more admirable by the fact that you are not paid for the very important work that you do! Such devotion, makes my eyes prickle. But, let me just say that all the information above, may or may not be gospel foodie truth, so take it or leave it, at your own discretion,  as possible truth at best, or entertaining anecdotes, at worst. Please don't get your knickers in a twist, over something I wrote. Really, life's too short, and today, it may be even shorter than usual *nudge wink*

In case you're wondering, the amounts given are not a gag, though I'll grant that the amount of chillies called for does look alarming. This is exactly how I cook curry devil every year, and it lasts from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day, which is entirely intentional.   If you're stomach lining is already twitching nervously, just reduce the amount of chillies by half, with everything else remaining the same for a tamer version of what the chilli demons in my family eat. My eldest, without exception, always asks for another pot about two days after it's all gone, and some times, I do an encore, but most years, the memory of my hands stinging from the capsaicin (gloves?!?! to cook in?? are you freaking kidding me??) drives me to appease him with extra Christmas pie instead. Ooh! That's one for next year's Christmas post, then, isn't it?

If you'd like to try other Kristang/Eurasian Christmas treats, check out this achar recipe and this good-to-the-last-crumb and very popular sugee cake recipe. Both are pictured above. In any case, I hope you do try this fire cracker of a recipe and have a memorable Christmas feast. A very Merry and Stuffed Christmas to all, or as my grandma would say, "Bong Natal Tudu!!!"

curry devil
Prep 3 1/2 hrs        Cook 50 mins        Serves 10 - 12

2 chickens, each cut into 14 pieces
4 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp sugar

400 g smoky cocktail sausages
1 can luncheon meat, cut into small, thick wedges

6 onions, peeled
3 very large knobs ginger (about 75 g total), peeled
50 dried chilies (about 50 g) soaked until softened then drained
20 fresh chillies (about 200 g) seeded and thickly sliced
30 bird's eye chillies (chilli padi) stems discarded

2 tbsp English dry mustard (powder)
3 tbsp white vinegar (malt vinegar - don't use synthetic vinegar, it's too harsh and tastes vile)
300 ml (1 1/2 cups) water - adjust to achieve desired consistency
1 small white round cabbage, quartered, hard core discarded, separated into leaves
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar

Season chicken pieces with soy sauce, pepper and sugar and mix well. Leave to marinate for about 20 minutes.

Thinly slice 2 of the onions. Set aside.

Finely shred 1 of the ginger knobs. Set aside.

Combine the remaining onions and ginger in a blender and process to a smooth paste with a little water. Set aside.

Combine the dried chillies, fresh chillies and bird's eye chillies in blender and process to a smooth paste with a little water.

Heat about a cup of vegetable oil in a deep pan or pot and when hot, fry the chicken in two or three batches, over high heat until about half cooked and crusty outside, about 5 minutes per batch, turning halfway through cooking. Remove chicken from pan, draining off oil and set aside.

In the same pan, lightly fry the sausages until just starting to brown. Remove and set aside. Fry the luncheon meat wedges until just starting to brown. Remove and set aside.

Remove about half the oil and add the shredded ginger. Stir for about 2 - 3 minutes or until fragrant and beginning to brown. Add the sliced onions and cook, stirring, until fragrant and golden.

Add the ground onion and ginger paste and fry until fragrant and golden before adding the chilli paste. Fry, stirring often until deep red and you start to sneeze and cough.

Stir in the mustard powder then add the chicken along with the juices and stir well until chicken pieces are thoroughly coated with spices. Add vinegar and water, stir and cover. Lower heat and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes then add sausages and luncheon meat. Stir, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. 

Add cabbage leaves, salt and sugar. Stir until cabbage leaves are coated with gravy. Cover and simmer for 3 - 5 minutes more or until leaves are just tender but not mushy. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Turn off heat and dish out.

Serve with rice and sliced crispy roast pork belly (sio bak) or french loaf (baguette) chunks, cold, cold beer or dry apple cider *woot woot*


  1. I'm sure this taste just as good as those you'd cooked for us. Makes me salivate, my dear! Just dropping by to wish u a joyous X'mas! xoxo

    1. Hi Shirley :) You are always so sweet! Thank you for your kind words and warm wishes - I hope you and your family have a lovely Christmas, and a bright and cheerful New Year too!

  2. Excellant post Denise. Funny, informative & mouth watering pictures as usual. Brought back a lot of childhood memories of Christmas eves & Kristang fetes. *Mmmmm the smell of the chilli paste sizzling in the pan, Mummy's piping hot pineapple jam tarts & my aunty's fruit cake every Christmas*
    Anyway you've certainly motivated me to give curry devil a try for my husband's birthday soon. My cousin from S'pore is coming over next month & she'll get me your book :)

    Merry X'mas to you & your loved ones Denise.

    1. Thanks Jean! I'm a real nostalgia junkie myself, and this post brought a rush of childhood memories too! Christmas does make you go all mushy ..

      I miss my grandma's pineapple tarts - we seldom make them since her passing as they are tedious and only she had the patience to hand chop the pineapples and pinch the tarts so beautifully, one by one with her precious brass pastry pincher which no one else was allowed to touch. She never saw a plastic patterned tart stamp/cutter/mould in her lifetime!

      You've inspired me to do a post on them! They are a lot of work, but well worth preserving for posterity's sake, so if you see them on my blog, you're the reason I made them.

      I'm so pleased to know that you are that interested in getting a copy of my book! Thank you for your interest and support and I hope you and your family have a Wonderful and Blessed Christmas too :)

    2. Denise its true making pineapple jam tarts can be tedious especially boiling the pineapples into sticky jam but the lovely smell of the cloves make it bearable. I don't do it every year but I made a big batch of tarts just before X'mas because I felt like it. I keep them in air tight biscuit tins and often have to hide them otherwise the tarts keep vanishing..(me looks at culprit husband)

      Good luck with your pineapple jam tarts project. Thanks for your kind words Denise. As much as we your blog fans motivate inspire us even more :)

  3. Wow...this curry debal looks so fiery! I know it is delicious though. I made it again recently though not as spicy a yours. It's become quite a favorite at our house.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours! ♥

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