Carri poulé – the secret to a great curry
For adventurous amateur chefs with a global repertoire, the days of putting up with substitute or sub-standard ingredients are long gone. These days it’s all about authenticity, and we’ll go to great lengths to achieve it - whether that’s stocking up on freshly-made pastes and pickles on our trips abroad, or heading halfway across town for a single specialist chili at the local Asian supermarket.
In Mauritian cooking, the key to that authenticity comes in the form of the carri poulé leaf, an essential ingredient which adds a fundamental flavour not only to local Indian cuisine but also to fricassees, fish soups and our spicy, homegrown tomato-based Creole Rougaille.
A common species in the Mascarene Islands (Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues), the carri poulé – or curry tree – is a bushy, shrub-like plant originating from Sri Lanka and India which grows abundantly across the country.
The leaves are also known for their medicinal properties. They’re said to aid digestion and are prized in Ayurvedic medicine for treating nausea and other gastro issues. They’re also believed to help balance cholesterol levels, soothe irritation from insect bites and minor burns when crushed. When mixed with coconut oil they can contribute to hair growth and help to retain the colour of black hair.
But it’s our famed Mauritian curries which make the most enthusiastic use of this glossy dark green leaf – the potency of which is unlocked in various ways.
For a subtle infusion of flavour that’s not too overpowering, add some towards the end of cooking and remove before serving. For a bolder, nuttier, more pungent taste, stir-fry together with other herbs and condiments in very hot oil, preferably vegetable or coconut.
Or just like our grandmothers before us, make a masala paste by crushing the leaves on a roche carri (a flat stone on which to grind spices and seeds) with dried chili, coriander seeds, garlic, saffron and ginger. When mixed with meat or fish during cooking, the paste releases an incredible bouquet of fragrant aromas, or add to a chutney to compliment a pulse-based dish.