On 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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
The 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!