In Indian cooking, its very important that the aromatics i.e. ginger, garlic, onion and tomato are well cooked.
Once these aromatics loose moisture then along with spices they form a paste. When this paste is cooked for 15-20 more minutes specks of oil start releasing. You should see them on the sides of your utensil and curry.
The process of cooking aromatics and spices in hot fat so that they lose all the moisture, form a paste and release oil is called “cook until oil separates”. This released oil then forms a layer on top of curry base indicating that the curry base is ready.
If you have used less oil then you might not see much oil separating but a shiny coating of oil is formed on top of the masala mix.
This takes a long time to make and takes patience.
- How long does it take for the oil to separate?
- What is right ratio of onion and tomatoes?
- What factors affect the time taken for oil to separate?
- Why does the oil separate?
- Why is it important that you cook until oil separates?
- How to make sure that masala does not burn while trying to separate the oil from it?
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How long does it take for the oil to separate?
It takes 15-20 minutes for the oil to separate.
Here are step by step details on how to cook the aromatics and spices together.
Step 1 : Add oil
Add 2 tbsp. oil to a saucepan and let it heat. Then add cumin and let it crackle.
Step 2 : Add onion
Your oil should be hot enough that when you add a piece of onion, it should sizzle. Now, you can add ½ cup onions to it.
Step 3 : Add ginger and garlic
Add an inch of chopped ginger and 3-4 cloves of crushed garlic. Cook it for 5 mins or so
Step 4: Add tomatoes and spices
Add in 1 cup tomatoes and spices that you want to add. I usually add 1 spoon turmeric, 2 tsp coriander powder. Let them cook for 15 mins, keep stirring.
Step 5: Add Salt
You can also add some salt to make the onion and tomatoes sweat faster.
After 15 mins or so you will see them being cooked well and the oil separating. This indicates that the curry base is ready.
What is right ratio of onion and tomatoes?
We usually add onion and tomatoes in 1:2 ratio. If you are looking for a more tangy base then it can be changed to add more tomatoes as well.
What factors affect the time taken for oil to separate?
Juiciness of the tomatoes
If the moisture content of the tomatoes is very high then it will take much longer for them to be well cooked to form a paste.
Chopping size of the onion
If the onion is chopped very small or pureed it will increase the cooking time significantly. Thus, its always better to chop medium size onion, cook them well and then grind them to form a paste.
Amount of oil used
If you have used very less oil then you might not be able to see the oil separating from the masala at all. For the oil to separate there should be enough oil present that some of it can float on top of the masala.
Why does the oil separate?
The separation of oil is like a mini chemical reaction in itself. The curry base aromatics are first cooked in hot fat i.e. oil and the juices released by the vegetables themselves.
As we cook them longer the moisture start to evaporate due to the boiling point of water being much lower than that of the oil.
When all the moisture is gone the aromatics and added spices start cooking in hot oil. This makes them release all their flavor and aroma.
As the heat keeps increasing the boiling point of oil is reached and all it starts bubbling on the sides.
Why is it important that you cook until oil separates?
Oil separation indicates that the curry base ingredients are well cooked and there is no rawness left. It indicates that the aromatics and spices have released their flavors into the hot oil. This is important to form the base for a delicious curry.
Oil separation indicates that your curry sauce base is cooked and ready now for you to add additional vegetables, meat etc.
So, it’s used as an indicator of a well cooked curry base in Indian cooking.
How to make sure that masala does not burn while trying to separate the oil from it?
Make sure that the masala does not turn very dark as you are cooking it. If you feel that it’s getting close to burnt you can add a couple of spoons of water.
Also, cook the masala on low-medium heat as it needs to be well cooked and cooking on high flame will cause burning.
As the moisture reduces, make sure you keep mixing it well so that it does not stick to the base.