While home cooked authentic Indian food is nutritious, simple and healthy, the general perception of Indian food is that its very oily and greasy.
It is a very common problem that we face with Indian food i.e. the curry is too oily.
It is more so in restaurant food than what is home-cooked. I have been cooking Indian food for more than 15 years now and am no stranger to oily curries.
Some can be so bad that you look at them see a layer of oil floating on top of it.
The first thing that comes to my mind when I look at a curry with all that oil floating on it is, how will its consumption affect my body and metabolism.
While there is no way to cook a curry without oil as the oil acts as the main flavor carrier and infuser, its quantity should definitely be controlled and watched.
It’s common knowledge that too much oil can cause all sorts of problems in our body and should be avoided.
In my experience over the years with oily curries, I have learnt a trick or two on how to fix your curry if it turns out oily.
I have also shared tips on how to stop the curry from becoming oily the next time you make one.
- Why are curries so oily?
- Oil is used as the main cooking medium-
- Hot oil is needed to make sure the spices flavors and aroma get infused well-
- Food cooks much faster when cooked in hot oil-
- Oil is also added in the end as tadka/baghar
- To imitate a well cooked curry
- Acts as a preservative
- Oil cooks food evenly and helps in browning
- Use of dairy products and dry fruits
- How to get rid of excess oil present in the curry?
- How to make sure that the curry does not turn out oily the next time you make it?
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Why are curries so oily?
Not all curries are oily esp. the home-cooked ones but the ones cooked in restaurants are notoriously oily. Most of them look greasy and some also have a layer of oil floating on top.
Curries are oily because oil is used as the main cooking medium and flavor carrier for them. When cooked in hot oil the food cooks much faster and evenly. The oil layer also acts as a preservative for the curries.
Here is more information on why Indian curries are cooked in oil and sometimes excess oil, making them look greasy and soaking in fat-
Oil is used as the main cooking medium-
Usually, the first thing we add to the pan when making curry is oil. It’s always step number 1. There are very few curries that can be cooked without oil.
We always add the oil first because it is used as a cooking medium.
When it is hot and at the right temperature to cook, then we add all the aromatics.
The hot oil helps in cooking all the aromatics like ginger, onion and garlic. It ensures that they are well cooked without drying and burning.
Hot oil is needed to make sure the spices flavors and aroma get infused well-
Along with the aromatics, we also add all the whole spices like cinnamon, bay leaf, cardamom in hot oil because the flavors, aroma and essential oils present in these dried spices get dissolved in the hot oil.
These spices release all their flavors and aroma when added to hot oil and make the curry base even more delicious.
So it’s no surprise that more oil means more flavors infused into it and thus the curry. The restaurants know this and thus use excess oil for more flavors.
Food cooks much faster when cooked in hot oil-
This is the main reason why all the restaurant curries are so oily they use a lot of hot oil to keep the cooking temperature high. This high temperature makes sure that the food is cooked much faster and it tastes much more delicious than curries that have less oil in them.
In the restaurant industry where speed and flavors are the main parameters for a good curry, chefs do not shy away from using a lot of oil to make the curries delicious and quick.
Its common industry practice in Indian restaurants to add a copious amount of oil and to cook curries in them without using much water. In comparison, the home-cooked food is cooked with lesser oil, and water is added for moisture and cooking.
While this is good for our taste buds, it’s definitely not for our health and if you are stuck with oily curry then try to use the methods listed later in the post to get rid of all the excess oil in it.
Oil is also added in the end as tadka/baghar
In a lot of Indian dishes like dal, chole, or chickpeas at the end, we add an infused oil which is used to add more flavors to the dish.
The tadka or baghar is a tempering which is added at the end. We take hot oil and then add spices to it to infuse the oil with its flavors. This hot oil is poured on top of the dish. If you see some tempering on top of the curry then it does not mean that the curry is oily.
Make sure you stir it well so the flavors of the tempering seep into the curry.
After stirring it in, wait for some time and let the curry settle in. If there is excess oil present in the curry then it will slowly pool or collect on the top.
Depending on how much oil is in excess you will see oil pockets at the top or a layer of oil
To imitate a well cooked curry
A curry is cooked consistently on low heat and stirred around until the oil separates. If the aromatics are not well cooked then they will not release the oil. This in turn means that the curry flavors will not be good and as expected.
In restaurants, they are pressed for time and need to make delicious food quick. The chefs do not have the luxury to cook the ingredients the traditional way as it’s slower. They instead rely on shortcuts where they cook everything in a lot of oil and then once cooked they also add more oil on top of the curry to imitate the effect of oil separating.
While it does not impact but rather enhances the flavors, it also makes the curry go overboard with too much being used.
In this faster cooking method, oil is used not only as cooking medium but also flavor carrier.
Acts as a preservative
If the water content is high in a curry or dish then it will go bad soon. So most restaurants try to elongate the life of the food cooked by using more oil than water.
The excess oil floating on top will stop the bad bacterias from getting in and spoiling the food compared to a curry which has been cooked in water.
Curry cooked in less oil and more water will spoil much sooner than an oily curry and thus is a great selling point for all the food businesses.
However, the home cooked authentic Indian food does not use so much oil. It is less greasy and much healthier.
Oil cooks food evenly and helps in browning
Oil has a unique property in that it can be cooked at higher than 100 degrees. It covers all the ingredients well and its high temperature ensures that they are all well cooked from all the sides.
The high cooking temperature also means that when cooking in oil all the moisture starts evaporating from the aromatics and the ingredients. This slow release of moisture ensures that the food is browned, cooked, and infused with the flavors rather than boiled.
The browning effect is what extracts flavors and infuses the flavors from the spices used.
It helps the aromatics and spices talk to each other and infuse their flavors into each other.
The cooking oil is responsible for the browning and thus is indispensable to the Indian cooking process.
Use of dairy products and dry fruits
Indian cooking uses lot of ingredients that are high in fat content like dry fruits or nut butters, ghee, butter, yogurt, cream.
When all the high fat ingredients are added to Indian curries they make them rich and creamy. Many Indian curries rely on high-fat content ingredients for their flavors like the Makhni curry which translates to butter and is called ‘Makhan’ in Hindi.
When these fats are cooked at a high temperatures they release the oil and make our curries oily.
How to get rid of excess oil present in the curry?
The fastest and easiest way to remove excess oil from the curry is to scoop out all the oil that you see floating on the top. Before scooping out you need to let the curry settle so the oil floats on top, slowly skim the top layer of oil with the spoon.
This is the best way because it does not affect the flavors of the curry, does not require a lot of time, and is the easiest and most effective.
If you have too much oil in your curry and it’s floating on top then skimming it with a spoon is always my go-to method to get rid of it.
Sometimes even though the curry has excess oil, it does not float on the top but you can see oil pockets in the curry.
The oil is well mixed and it’s not that easy to simply scoop it out. In thicker curries that do not have a lot of oil floating on top but look greasy, there are a few other ways to get rid of excess oil.
Cool it in the fridge
We all know that fat solidifies at cooler temperatures and it forms a layer on top of the curry.
Many times you will see that when you take out the leftover curry from the fridge, there is a translucent layer on top of it. This translucent layer is nothing but fat deposits on top of the curry. Your best bet is to scoop them out as soon as you can, as they might start disintegrating at room temperature.
Once you have scooped out all the whitish stuff floating on top, you have gotten rid of the excess oil in the curry and your curry should look a lot less oily.
Use ice cube
The ice cube method is when we run the ice cube slowly on top of the curry.
Make sure that the curry is well settled. Do not mix it or swirl around the contents.
This gives a chance to all the excess oil to accumulate and form oil pockets on top of the curry.
Let the curry settle, once you can see some oil on top of the curry, take an ice cube. Slowly move the ice cube on top of the curry so that it can touch the oil pockets formed on top.
When the ice cube comes in contact with the greasy curry top it will make the fat cool down and stick to its surface. When you remove the ice cube you can see excess oil stuck around it.
You can discard the ice cube and if you want you can do a few more runs with different ice cubes until your curry looks better.
Use Paper Towels
We are all well aware of the absorption capacity of our good old kitchen paper towels. While we use them all the time to absorb messes, they can also be used to get rid of excess oil in the curries.
Before we use the paper towels, let the curry settle down so that the oil can slowly collect and rise to the top.
Once you can see these oil pockets, simply dab them with the good old paper towels. The paper towels will absorb all the excess oil floating in the oil pockets and get rid of them.
The advantage of this method is that it can be done in a restaurant as well. When you are eating out, it can be hard at times to find an ice cube compared to paper towels.
Paper towels are easily available and accessible and can be used to make the curry less oily.
Use fat separator
If the curry is very watery then you can also use a fat separator.
The fat separator will first separate the curry bits and then collect the curry water and oil in the lower half of the container.
Let the curry settle for a bit and then you can tilt the fat separator and take out all the non oily curry base.
Only the excess oil would be left behind. Now you can combine the drained curry and oil-free curry base and mix them like before.
Add boiled mashed potatoes
Potatoes also have oil absorption qualities, you can add boiled potato to the curry. It will bind with the oil present in the curry and stop it from making oil pockets in your curry.
The potatoes will also increase the volume of curry and you might need to add more spices and salt to it. Do not add a lot of potatoes and add a little bit at a time.
The starch present in the potatoes binds the oil in the curry and stops it from floating to the top or forming oil pockets in it.
If your curry is watery then you can also mash these potatoes so that it will also thicken the curry base.
Add more ingredients
You can add more boiled/cooked ingredients in the curry without adding any more oil. The addition of ingredients will balance out the excess oil and make the curry less oily.
Make sure that you taste as you go because when you add more ingredients there might be a need for some more spices and salt to balance the flavors.
You can add them and simmer the curry for a bit but as you do that, make sure that you don’t add more oil to it.
Sprinkle flour blends
Most flours like rice flour, wheat flour, and gram flour have oil binding capabilities. The starch present in these flours binds with the oil molecules and makes the curry less oily.
Different studies have confirmed this affinity of flour starch molecules with oil.
Sprinkling flour like rice flour, wheat flour, or gram flour absorbs the oil present in the curry and makes the curry less oily.
When using this solution make sure that you add as you go. Do not add a lot of flour as it can alter the texture and flavors of the curry.
Sprinkle a little bit and then let it cook for 5-10 mins so that the flour and oil have time to cook and bind together.
The porus and absorbing nature of the bread along with the starch present in it, makes it a good absorbent for oil.
Whenever you have oil floating on top of your curry, you can run a regular piece of bread on top of it. The bread piece will absorb all the excess oil and make the curry palatable.
However, this method is slightly wasteful as we end up throwing food i.e. the bread. I would much rather prefer running a paper towel instead.
But when in a pinch you can use bread as well.
How to make sure that the curry does not turn out oily the next time you make it?
You can rescue and reduce the oil present in the curry using the methods listed above. However, its much easier to cook it right from the beginning than to remove oil later.
So if you are looking at ways to avoid this problem the next time then here are some ways-
Always measure the oil and add less to begin with
It’s always tricky to figure out the right oil proportion with Indian food and esp curry. If you add too much oil then you can see it floating on top and it will also spoil the curry taste.
If you add too little then the aromatics like onion, garlic, ginger will not cook well and release their flavors. This can lead to a flavor less curry.
So my advice would be to follow the recipe to the tee and when in doubt always add less and then add more if you need it.
If you add too much then you can use the methods listed above to remove the excess from the dish. But it’s much harder and less effective, it’s much more efficient to be cognizant of it while you are adding it.
Use non stick pans
When making curry base, if we do not add enough oil then the ingredients tend to stick to the bottom. But when cooking in non-stick pans, they do not let the food sticking happen that easily. You can cook the same food in much less oil, compared to any other cooking utensil like a steel or iron one.
So, if you want to cut down on the oil usage without compromising on the flavors then my advice would be to use non-stick pans for your cooking.
Do not deep fry
Sometimes we come across recipes where chefs fry the ingredients separately and then cook them together in the curry. While this frying definitely makes the curry more delicious, it definitely increases the oil content of the dish.
All the ingredients fried hold oil in them and then when cooked, they release all the oil absorbed and make the curry oily.
If a recipe calls for frying the ingredients first then you can always skip the step if trying to use less oil. It will reduce the flavors but will make the food much healthier.
Scoop out the animal fat
When making a non vegetarian curry, cook the meat in its own fat and then when its been well cooked then you can scoop it out.
If you add the meat along with the fat present in it in the curry, it will make the curry oily. The animal fat will get added to the oil fat already present in the curry.
Always get rid of the animal fat so that when you add meat to the curry it does not make the curry oily.
Use pressure cooker
Pressure cooker is a cleaner way of cooking in which cooking takes place at high temperature and pressure. It cooks the food much faster and in less oil.
It does have a learning curve to it but once you start using it, you will notice that cooking takes place in more water and less oil. Even though less oil is used, the flavors of the dish are still intact and do not get affected.
If you haven’t tried pressure cooking before, you can definitely learn more and see if its the right fit.
Pressure cooking is one of the healthiest ways to cook where water is the main cooking medium instead of oil.
Use less dairy products
As explained earlier, there are a lot of curries that use dairy products to make them rich and creamier. These dairy products get their richness in flavors from the fats present in them. The fats present in the dairy products can also make the curry oily.
Try to use less dairy products when making curry next time. As for all you know the cream you are adding at the end is disintegrating in heat and floating on top as fat and oil.
Avoid tadka or baghar
The tadka added at the end is oil or ghee infused with the spices and its flavors.
If you do not like seeing the tadka or infused oil floating on top of your dish then skip the tempering step the next time you are making an Indian recipe.
This will also reduce the oil content of the recipe.
Keep an eye on the nuts used
Lot of curries also use nuts in them like cashews and almonds. These nuts are filled with fat which they release at high temperatures. This fat makes the curry oily, not just curry I have also seen this happen with sweet dishes like kheer.
Many times the nuts release their fat in heat and make the curry oily.
Hope you have learned a thing or two on how to reduce the oil content of your curry. My favorite method is always to scoop it out and then to dab the rest of the oil pockets with paper towels.
Do let me know what did or did not work for you. 🙂