What I Liked About This Recipe
The original recipe appeared in “Miss Parloa’s Kitchen Companion, A Guide for All Who Would Be Good Housekeepers”, which was published in 1887. I was a bit surprised to find a Honolulu curry recipe in a vintage cookbook and I was immediately curious as to how it would turn out.
The recipe contained strong aromatics to infuse the milk with flavor. A long cook ensured that the flavor would find its way deeply into the milk. The end result was a serviceable vintage Honolulu curry that tasted yummy when paired with the pork and plain boiled rice. At the end of the article I included my video on how to easily crack a coconut, in case you are as clueless as I was on how to properly execute that task.
The Vintage Honolulu Curry Recipe
For the sauce for this curry there will be needed a small coconut, a quarter of an onion, one clove of garlic, an inch piece of root ginger, two large tablespoonfuls of curry powder, a quart of milk, four tablespoonfuls of butter, four of flour, and salt and pepper to suit the taste.
Grate the onion, garlic, ginger, and coconut into the double-boiler, and add the curry powder and milk. Cook slowly for an hour. Beat the butter to a cream; then add the flour, and beat the mixture until it is smooth and light. Strain upon it the curry mixture, gradually, so that it shall not be lumpy. The meat or fish which is to be served with this sauce should now be added, and the dish should be cooked in the double-boiler until boiling hot, about a quarter of an hour.
The quantity of sauce made by following the directions will be sufficient for two cans of shrimp, the meat of two lobsters that together weigh about six pounds, or two good size chickens. If the latter be used, they should be fried, broiled, or roasted and cut into handsome pieces and the meat should be hot when it is added to the sauce. Serve with plain boiled rice.
A Modern Method
For executing this recipe, I followed Ms. Parloa’s recipe exactly. A modern method for a proper curry would have required a dramatic rewrite of the recipe.
4 cups milk
4 tablespoons curry powder
1 small coconut
1 inch piece of ginger
A quarter of an onion
1 clove of garlic
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons butter
Grate coconut, ginger, garlic, and onion into the milk. Add curry powder. Place in double boiler and cook for 1 hour stirring occasionally. Combine flour and butter until well mixed. Slowly add strained milk mixture to the flour butter mixture while stirring to prevent lumps. Place entire mixture back on double boiler and add meat of choice cook for 15 minutes or until boiling hot to thicken and cook out the flour taste. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve over plain boiled rice.
What I learned
This recipe was an interesting stab at curry. In 1887 America, they didn’t have Indian restaurants dotting the landscapes in any given town. As a result, they had recipes like this one that offered an exotic flavor to spice up a weeknight meal.
My problem with the recipe was that it was just like the curry I made in my college days. I’d make a white sauce and dump in curry powder. The execution was perfect, as directed. However, the flavors didn’t match my high expectations. There was definitely a punch of curry, but I wanted more support from the aromatics.
I also did a makeshift double boiler by using a glass bowl over a boiling pot of water, and I ran into issues of getting the mixture hot enough to thicken at the end. In future recipes that use a double boiler, I will be sure to use the proper equipment.
In 1887, they were really good at making sauces thickened with butter and flour. When it came to vintage Honolulu curry, they followed that same trajectory. By taking a white sauce and adding curry powder and other aromatics, I was left with a curry that had good flavor, but lacked in overall mouth feel. It lacked the complexity and richness I have grown to love from the local Indian joint. However, for 1887 I’m sure it was an amazing and fun recipe that offered a glimpse of big exotic flavors from an unknown part of the world.