The Waitrose Cookery School at Salisbury sits within a large branch of the supermarket. The fishbowl nature of the space – with large windows facing into the store’s in-house cafe and out to the car park outside – is a little discombobulating at first but we quickly learn to ignore the curious shoppers who peer in to watch what we are doing during the day.
Following on from the success of their North London location, Waitrose’s second location offers a similar range of day, half-day and evening courses covering ingredients, techniques and cuisines. From knife skills and simple suppers to making pasta and baking bread to learning how to cook Chinese, Greek and Spanish, there are choices for beginners and more advanced cooks alike.
I’ve chosen the World of Curries course, with a recipe list that reminds us that curry isn’t just limited to India, but deeply rooted across the cuisines of Asia. To my surprise, all my classmates are men and for several, this is the first cookery class they’ve ever attended, though by the end of the day, all are keen to book more.
Following the typical format for the school’s full day classes, the longer morning session is hands-on – each dish is demonstrated first and then we return to our workstations to make it ourselves. First up is beef rendang, a spiced coconut curry traditionally slow cooked to tenderise the meat and allow most of the liquid to evaporate. Our first task is to create a fabulously fragrant fresh paste featuring whole spices, chillies, ginger, galangal and garlic blitzed together with onion and just enough water to moisten. Unlike the Indian curries I’ve made before we neither fry the paste nor brown the meat to start; instead we tip paste, beef, coconut milk and a little tamarind water straight into a large pan, bring the lot to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Over the next two hours, the colour darkens considerably and the sauce thickens and clings to the meat.
It’s not just a case of learning individual recipes; our tutors are keen to share as many general skills as possible – how to remove the skin from a piece of pork belly, the easiest way to de-seed chillies and cucumbers, the advantage of firming fish up by salting shortly before trimming and cooking and a tip not to shake the pan when browning meat because we want it to catch a little, to add colour and taste.
Our next two dishes are a Burmese pork and pineapple curry and a Goan fish curry, both good examples of how a similar set of core ingredients can create very different flavours and styles of curry.
Three curries completed, we quickly pull together a refreshing cucumber sambal to accompany the rendang. By the time we clear our workstations, a central table has been set up for lunch with a large dish of saffron and cardamom pilao rice to share and wines, beers and soft drinks provided. We dish up our own curries to eat.
After lunch, the pace relaxes. We pull up chairs around the front counter to watch our tutors make Thai green chicken curry, Indian pork vindaloo and a tomato, mustard seed and cumin chutney. Ingredients are passed around for us to smell and taste, and with a morning of cooking together and a jovial lunch break under our belts, we open fire with a barrage of questions, scribbling notes about the difference between regular and clarified butter, how best to store spice pastes and chutneys and the varied heat and flavour profiles of the chillies we’ve used during the day.
With plenty of curry leftover we each have several pots to take home; I can attest to the popular adage that a good curry is even better the day after its made.
Kavey Eats attended the World of Curries class as guests of Waitrose Cookery School.