An Independent review of Inside the Factory

14 April 2018

An Independent review of Inside the Factory

Fancy a curry? Thought so. In which case, maybe we can share my learnings from Inside the Factory’s comprehensive coverage of this hot topic over a nice chicken tikka masala, prepared with Sharwoods cook-in sauce, with a little lime pickle on the side, seeing as that, plus various curry auxiliaries, was the subject of this week’s show.

Poppadoms? Good. Did you know (I didn’t, I confess, with shame) that they’re made from chickpea flour and many of those available commercially are, even in this day and age, handrolled and sundried out in India before making their way over here to be processed and packed, ready for your delectation. Crunchy facts, there.

Starter? Samosas all round? Yes, indeed, and you’ll be pleased to be reminded that this popular little menu item has its origins in the south of India, with a veggie filling. There’s a factory in Leicester which churns out 2,000 a day, sticking to a third-generation family recipe of spuds, carrots, peas and a secret spice blend (secret spice blends seem to turn up a lot in Indian cuisine). Enjoy.

Next. Well, there’s curry itself. I was surprised, but then again not, to learn that the chicken tikka masala sauce that Sharwoods knock out is quality controlled so that it confirms to Pantone colour 152C (among other codes). So, the thought occurs to me, you could have your lounge or kitchen redecorated in the exact same shade as a jar of Sharwoods chicken tikka masala. Which would add another talking point for dinner parties. The orangeyness, by the way, derives from a good dose of paprika in there. Premier Foods, owners of the brand, manufacture some 250,000 jars of Sharwoods curry sauce each day at the factory in Worksop, Nottinghamshire. Pardon me.

Alternatively, we could, as they did in Inside the Factory, recreate the first published “English” recipe, from 1747, by the early foodie Hannah Glasse: “How to make a curry the India way”, which required some 30 peppercorns and a couple of rabbits or chickens. As with every curry since, it had only an attenuated connection to its Indian origins. Just remember that the word “curry” is truly English – a corruption of the Tamil word kari, and wrongly applied to all sorts of Indian subcontinental cuisine. On the other hand that means that calling “curry”, and specifically chicken tikka masala, a British national dish is actually quite accurate. How’s your supper?

As legend has it, and forgive me if you’ve heard this before, chicken tikka masala has its origins in a restaurant in Glasgow in the 1970s. A customer complained about his (relatively authentic) chicken tikka dinner being a bit dry, so the chef decided to add some moistness – by adding a can of tomato soup. Can you imagine a French or Italian national dish having such, well, improvised origins? 

There again, we might opt for the 1971 Vesta powdered version, which was the first watery encounter most of the British had with exotic cookery (this punter included). Or you could go for the 1981 Marks & Spencer first-generation freeze-dried ready meals. Or, indeed, a Sharwoods cook-in sauce.  

Extra chillies? Be sure to avoid the membraney thing in fresh chillies, which is where the hot “capsaicin” resides, rather than the seeds, unfairly demonised. The capsaicin, you see, attacks the TRPV1 receptors in your gob, sending out a false signal of heat. To cool down, you need milk, more effective at diluting the oily chilli than beer or water (because watery things don’t mix so well with oily things, as you surely remember from school). But no, I don’t know why chilly and chilli are amusing homophones. 

As for rice, I am indebted to the show for revealing a (promised) foolproof method of cooking basmati rice, which has defeated so many of us. This one has the benefit of simplicity, and some, from Manisha, chef at the VT basmati rice factory in Kent. Here, then, are the four cardinal rules of rice preparation:

* First, you should have your ingredients in a strict ratio of one measure of rice to two measures of water;

* Second, rinse your rice through to drain off excess starch;

* Third, use a heavy bottomed saucepan with a tight-fitting lid;

* Last, boil the rice (lid off), then (lid on) simmer for 10 minutes. No peeking. Cook for 10 minutes and then leave to stand for five minutes more. And eat.

Guests for the fantasy curry dinner party? I would highly recommend the Inside the Factory team. There’s lead saucy comic Gregg Wallace, co-presenter Cherry Healey, fresh back from pressing red hot chillies in her bare feet, and food/social historian Ruth Goodman, who makes the past come alive like proper fresh spices will a proper curry, but doesn’t get the same billing as the others, which seems wrong to me. Plus the directors, camera crew, researchers, producers and so on.

Perhaps when you’ve had a few Kingfishers, you could tell them that Inside the Factory is an inspired series where the various ingredients are starting to come together in very effective and flavoursome ways. My compliments, so to speak, to the chef and the entire kitchen staff at Voltage TV.   

Meeting one of his charges preparing for the fasting season of Ramadam, the imam at HM Prison Edinburgh told him the truth, namely that if he likes home cooking he shouldn’t have ended up in jail. No nice chicken tikka masala for him.

One of six religious advisers – is that the right collective term? – Imam Mohammed’s work, and attitudes, were surprisingly close to the other, Christian, ministers, attending to the spiritual needs of those who have lost their way in life, to put it mildly. The job description was encapsulated by a representative of the Church of Scotland: “We need to be as harmless as doves and as wise as serpents.”

You could see that some of the inmates in Faith Behind Bars had indeed suffered terrible traumas in their life, events that can never excuse their crimes, still less exonerate them, but do provide some context, such as the woman who had lost her parents and stepdaughter in quick succession, and was seeking some solace from the Roman Catholic padre. I guess it proved, without pushing the point too hard, that faith, for all concerned, isn’t just for the pious. 


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