The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stale-turkey biryani, anyone'
- Upscale British supermarket gives recipe for leftover stuff

London, Dec. 24: Top Calcutta chef Andy Varma, purveyor of delicacies to the stars of Bollywood during their frequent shoots in Britain, laughed loud and long on being told that a major UK supermarket chain had suggested that turkey left over from Christmas festivities could be transformed into “Turkey Biryani” with “Veeraswamy Hot Madras Curry Paste”.

Turkey Biryani is the recommended recipe from Waitrose, Britain’s most upmarket supermarket, and takes Indian cuisine into hitherto uncharted and slightly dangerous territory.

In supermarkets throughout Britain, shelf space normally reserved for chicken, beef and lamb has been cleared for pre-Christmas sales of turkey, still the favoured bird for the dining table on December 25.

For most people still, Christmas isn’t Christmas without “turkey with all the trimmings”. Even Hindus, always looking for an excuse for festivities, go in for turkey in a big way, and Muslim parents, pestered by their children, have long since given up the battle and queue up for “halal turkey”.

So far so good, but the problem is what to do with the leftovers, which can be substantial because the turkey is a hefty bird. According to the Food Standards Agency, “the average weight of a Christmas turkey is 12lb (5.5 kg), enough to feed 16-18 people”.

In recent years, some adventurous Indian restaurants have started experimenting with “tandoori turkey” or “turkey tikka”.

The presence in the UK of over 2.2 million people of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin is certainly changing British taste, in every sense of the word and, alas, not always for the best.

According to Varma, that a major supermarket “is even thinking of Turkey Biryani is fabulous for Indian cuisine”.

Waitrose’s recipe begins: “Add 2 tbsp sunflower oil to a large flameproof casserole dish and set it over medium heat. Add 4 (diced) carrots and 2 red (sliced) onions, and cook for 5-6 mins until the onions are softened.”

It goes on: “Add 600 gm Basmati rice, pour over 1.2 litres hot chicken stock, then add 400 gm cooked, skinless, diced turkey. Stir in 2 tbsp curry paste and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, then cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes, until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed.”

Finally: “Stir in 20 gm fresh coriander, roughly chopped, then divide between serving bowls. Serve with poppadoms and Waitrose Spicy Peach Chutney.”

Indians probably will have to be extremely hungry or excessively tolerant to relish this recipe, which is unlikely to be on the menu, even in these days of globalisation.

The way things are going in Britain, it may one day become traditional to have “a curry for Christmas”.

The actor, Dalip Tahil, passing through London in between various shoots, told The Telegraph: “It would be wonderful to have tandoori chicken for Christmas.”

This scene might well be depicted in the next Bollywood film set among British NRIs.

For the moment, though, Varma, who runs a popular restaurant called Vama on King’s Road, Chelsea, has been pondering how he would Indianise the British turkey.

“I wouldn’t use a spicy sauce for a start, I’d go for a light korma,” he said.

But he wouldn’t attempt a biryani in the first place. “We Indians have traditionally shied away from the turkey. I would stuff the bird with pistachio and saffron and herbs and do a beautiful roast with quail eggs on the side. I would make it English traditional with an Indian twist.”

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