Here's a curry recipe. It's dedicated to my mother. She's 95 today. Not that she's once in those 95 years eaten curry. And not that she knows it's her birthday.

The carers in the nursing home will have told her - jeez I dislike the word carer; as if the rest of us didn't - and they'll make a fuss of her and she'll get the idea but it won't stick.

Later tonight I'll Skype with her but that won't stick either.

She'll forget within minutes and her birthday will descend into yet another day of bewilderment, and vague, uncomprehending discontent. This is her reward for looking after herself, for doing things in moderation, for obeying the longevity edicts.

The dog gets the skin and one cube raw. He knows that's his lot.
The dog gets the skin and one cube raw. He knows that's his lot.

No one ever said the world was fair, but this particular form of unfairness needs to be spelt out. The prize for obedience can be worse than the punishment for disobedience. We should all do what we want.

But anyway, curry. When my mother was born, India was British. Callow young men were sent out to India to govern it. They rarely discovered how callow they were, but they did discover curry. They brought the spices home with them.

But curry didn't reach the lower orders until the Indians themselves opened restaurants in the west. Then drunk young men flocked to them after the pubs had shut.

They treated the waiters as inferiors and the curry as a virility test. They boasted of having tamed an off-the-menu vindaloo, or a chicken madras that weakened cutlery.

A street in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets well known to locals for its curry restaurants.
A street in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets well known to locals for its curry restaurants.

The restaurateurs absorbed the insults, sold them overpriced beer and grew rich.

I went along with these young men, and was every bit as drunk as they, but I did not compete. I'd start to sweat as we stepped through the restaurant door.

This was food I could see no point or pleasure in. But time passes and tastes change and today I cook a curry or two a week. And here's the best of them. Cook it and know pleasure.

Use basmati rice. And cook it in a rice cooker. They're simple, cheap, infallible. I bought mine 10 years ago for $30 and it's still getting better. Two cups of basmati, four cups of cold water, turn the thing on and that's that. Half an hour later the stuff is as fluffy as thistledown.


Take chicken breasts, two slabs of pinkly gelid flesh. Don't dwell on the bird's life. Or its death. Be grateful that it lived for just six weeks and in that time grew breast enough to feed four of us apes.

Cube the breast. I use a cleaver. The dog gets the skin and one cube raw. He knows that's his lot and returns to his chair.

If you want to be precious you can dry and grind and mix your spices. But it'll taste no better. I put the cubes in a plastic bag and add masala powder. If you like your curry mild add a spoonful per breast. If nuclear, add three.

Let the chicken stew a while in the bag if you wish, but I'm never convinced that waiting improves things.

A little oil in the pan, a lot of butter. The Indians use ghee which is clarified butter. I doubt it makes a difference. Butter is good in all states except rancid.

Tip the meat in, the cubed and spiced meat. Let the butter froth and embrace it. As it cooks prepare the ginger. I doubt my mother ever used fresh ginger, but her 60-year-old son is never without it. The recipes all say a thumb size piece. They also say to peel it. I don't. I just cut it tiny with my all-purpose cleaver.

Fetch the cooked meat out and lay it aside. Rebutter the pan and into the sizzle toss the ginger and of course garlic. To smell ginger and garlic frying is to feel that life has heft.

Chop onions. Onions in a curry are like Lord Lucan: they disappear but they leave a rich legacy. If you need more butter add more butter. It won't kill you. But if it did how could you die better?

Return the meat to the pan when you think it's right. Add a piled spoon of turmeric. It's as yellow as clay and it tastes of the earth. Turmeric adds hum.

Tomato paste now. I use the Italian stuff that comes in the metal tubes. It feels richer. Finally cream, as much as you need. The sauce should be the colour of a grass-fed egg yolk, of a Van Gogh cornfield.

When it bubbles you're done. Spoon curry on to rice for those you love. Eat and drink and laugh. Pray never to be 95.