March 2, 2005
Sharwood v. Patak: the Indian War of the Tastebuds

REVIEW.JPGOn my recent trip to the little India area of Paris it occurred to me that it would be fun to host a taste test and decide for once and for all which of the various Indian ready-made sauces and chutneys are the best. In the early days of knowing my husband, I used to rely rather heavily on these jars of korma, tandoori, jalfrezi, vindaloo and balti. These days I tend to make my own curries but I still use the store-bought varieties of chutney. What I buy has always been rather random, though. "Now which was the one I bought last time that was very good/not so good/really weird?" I would wonder as I stared at the selection. And so I bore this in mind when I went shopping, determined to try them all and set the record straight. Unfortunately, Paris is not the best place for this kind of a competition as it very quickly became apparent that Sharwood and Patak were the only main contenders for Parisian tastebuds. (In the Good Old Days, we Parisians also had Marks and Spensers to fulfill our curry needs.) Never mind, I bought a few jars and sent out invitations to our friends to Be The Jury.

The problem with combining business and pleasure is that a good host hates to intrude upon the Pleasure with the Business. So the notes from the Great Curry Tasting are somewhat...short and pithy. I am obliged to flesh out them out with my memory of what people said and my own impressions. We compared three different items on the day: tandoori paste, lime pickle and spicy mango pickle. Below are the results.

Mango chutney
In this category, we compared Sharwood's with Patak's variety. In appearance, the two were very dissimilar: Sharwood's was mellow looking, with smooth jam and regular sized pieces of mango. The Patak's chutney was more violent in color and appearance, with an oily rather than creamy texture. And the taste? As one juror put it, the Pataks seemed to compete with, rather than compliment, the flavor of the samosas we used to taste them. The Sharwoods was missing a bit of bite, but complimented the samosa much better.

Lime Pickle
I wasn't able to find a Sharwood lime pickle, so instead this was a comparison between the Patak's and Kings Lime pickle. The Kings pickle had a smoother texture and a sharp lime and coriander scent. Patak's was again of an oilier consistency. The jury was divided on this category. One juror thought that again the Patak's was fighting with the flavours it was meant to compliment but another noted simply "Patak Hot Lime Pickle: EXCELLENT". So for this category, it depends on your priorities: the Patak's pickle was spicier, but the Kings let the flavour of the limes come through better. My personal preference was for the Kings, but I'm happy with both.

Tandoori Chicken
I had intended to use a curry sauce for the third category but when I arrived home I found that the seal on the Patak's sauce was broken and so, sadly, had to throw away one of the jars. Luckily my local grocery store had a Tandoori paste I could compare with the one I bought at the Indian store. In both cases, I followed the instructions on the side of the jar exactly.

PATAK.JPGThe Patak's instructions were very simple: mix 4 Tbs of the paste with 1 Tbs of vegetable oil and 2 Tbs of plain yogurt. Marinate the chicken in the mixture for several hours and bake in the oven. The color of the marinade was not what I expect from a tandoori dish: almost purple, instead of the usual pink turning to orange. The result? It was still a little purple when cooked and the spices had the texture of a dry curry. It wasn't very spicy and the texture of the meat was a little mealy.

sharwoods.jpgThe Sharwood instructions did not include the oil used above, but did advice cutting slits in the meat to allow the marinade to penetrate. This paste was the expected pinky-orange color and came out of the oven a beautiful deeper version of the same. Allowing the marinade to penetrate somehow simulaneously kept the meat moist and yet did not prevent the outside from forming a crust. This was the clear winner in the tandoori category, with a full flavor and good texture to the chicken. However, again, it wasn't overly spicy.

So there you have it: the results of our first tasting test. In general, we found that Patak's products were saltier and spicier than the competition, but that sometimes this overpowered the food it was meant to compliment. However, if you like violent flavours they were the better choice. (We also all agreed that Sharwood's doesn't sound very Indian at all!)

Coming tomorrow: the easy-peasy tasty samosas that served as a base for the chutney test!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at March 2, 2005 6:00 AM | TrackBack Print-friendly version

God, I have really learned to fear these things. I pretty much go to a restaurant, cook things from scratch or don't eat them at all. I've never been crazy about Indian pickle though, so I don't lose much on that count.

Posted by paul on March 2, 2005 at 11:07 AM

Paul, I used to rely on the pre-made sauces when I first met my (English) husband and was less confident with Indian cooking. I would usually use one as a base and then jazz it up with fresh spices of my own. The Marks & Spensers ones were not that bad. These days I still occasionally use the tandoori paste, simply because I think it makes a great (and easy) barbecue sauce. And I love the pickles and chutneys. One of these days I'll try making some myself, but I suspect they won't taste "authentic" to me because even the Indian restaurants I know use bottled stuff!

Posted by Meg in Paris on March 2, 2005 at 11:54 AM

I forgot to mention that in fairness to my guests I also prepared from scratch samosas, a fish curry, potatoes in cumin and peas in cheese, as well as a really tasty pulau rice dish. I wasn't too hopefully about the quality of the store-bought curry either!

Posted by Meg in Paris on March 2, 2005 at 11:57 AM

I really like the Patak's Chile Relish - it's addictive. I posted about it on my blog a couple months ago. Thanks for the taste test! Fun!

Posted by jen on March 2, 2005 at 1:15 PM

I have always loved Mr. Patak's hot lime pickle and hot mango pickle. And I went through a phase of not being able to get enough of Mr. Patak's garlic pickle - sweet but not that hot. We usually have them when we are eating rice, dahl, and a vegetable or with what I consider to be the ultimate comfort food: kitcheree (basically rice/dahl/potatoes/onions porridge).

Like yours, our curries are homemade and in those cases, pickle is generally not really appropriate. But with the milder Indian dishes, I guess we're into more violent flavours.

Of all the various commercial pickles I've tasted, Mr. Patak's is really the best. I'm not sure that I've ever seen Sharwood's here in Toronto. But it would be interesting to taste!

Thanks for sharing your taste tests! I'm really looking forward to seeing your samosa recipe!

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Posted by ejm on March 2, 2005 at 5:09 PM

Hi, I'm looking for places to buy Sharwood's Green Label Mango Chutney in Toronto, Ontario. Would anyone know where I would be able to find it? Thanks

Posted by Lynn on March 15, 2006 at 2:13 PM

A friend of mine from New Delhi whom I consider a gourmet cook told me years ago to use Sharwood's Tandoori Mix. It's not the liquid jar of Sharwood's Tandoori paste I see in the photo and their other line of cooking sauces in a jar I've spied in mainline groceries here. I'm going to visit an Indian grocery store for their dry tandoori spice mix because I thought its use with the recipe on its label and her personal recommendation as a good substitute for using the individual spices told me to try it. She also told me most tandoori chicken served in restaurants (at least in Dallas, where there is a substantial Indian population) isn't the real deal because they don't take the time to marinate the chicken or meat overnight, or at least a few hours. I have a gut feeling Sharwood's tandoor sauce in a jar may have replaced the spice mix. The spice mix version is just a tad larger than the dry spices in glass or plastic containers sold in groceries, e.g. McCormick's/Schelling brands. Because North Americans are so into faster preparation at often the expense of better taste, I assume the new Sharwood's sauces may have a lot of preservatives or added sweetening from corn-based stuff. Anyway, that's about the only Indian dish I know how to make very well. I need to get out the new cookbook she gave to me!
* she said her Indian husband is even better in the kitchen and does most of the food preparation, including Latin American and European cuisines

Posted by Greg in Seattle on July 29, 2006 at 1:58 AM

Does anyone know where I might purchase Sharwoods HOT mango Chutney? I think it is the best of all the chutneys.

Posted by Patty on August 21, 2006 at 2:23 PM
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