Originally Posted by ChrisBristol
When you make a curry or something like that how long should you cook the spices out for? When I make a basic curry sauce I generally cook the spices out for quite a while. Should you cook them out for a long time or should it just be a quick thing?
Ow by the way when I say cook out I mean fry them in the pan with some onions before I add the rest of the ingredients
Indian curries and Western cuisine clearly use spices and aromatics vastly different.
For Indian curries specifically there is no definite answer as to how long a ground spice is cooked out. Spices may be ground and fried in ghee, used whole and simply simmered in the cooking liquid, toasted dry or any other way you can think of. The nuances of a curry develop from the way the chef utilizes their spices and what effect they are looking for. Every single spice has different characteristics and how they are cooked brings out different qualities. For example, a whole cinnamon stick can be lightly fried for 5 minutes or so in a fat and give no burnt sensation but ground cinnamon can only be dry toasted for about a minute before it takes on undesirable burnt taste. A whole cinnamon stick should be simmered in the cooking liquid throughout the entire cooking process to fully release its potential. Some spices like green cardamom are used for a nice aroma and ground powder can be sprinkled on at the last minute of simmering to give a dish it's full essence without any cooking out to mellow it's effect. Green cardamom pods can also be lightly crushed and fried in ghee at the beginning of cooking to mute it's effect somewhat if you don't want it to be at the fore front of the flavor of the curry. A bay leaf tastes much different simply simmered in a liquid as it does when it is crushed up and fried in oil. As you can see there are an infinite number of ways spices can be cooked and prepared to give the effect you are going for. Want a really spicy curry? Dry toast chile powder and add it towards the end of cooking. Want a less spicy curry? Slit a fresh chile and deseed it, let it simmer throughout the cooking process. The best advice as to how to use certain spices is to experiment, taste and research because there are so many different ways a spice is used in a curry that there is no way to master it quickly.
For Western style cuisine the use of spice is much more limited. Again, the desired effect determines how the spice is used. For a Greek lamb stifado dried orange peel will be simmered in the cooking liquid but in Italian cuisine a gremolata might be made with fresh, raw orange zest sprinkled over braised lamb. Of course classic French cuisine utilizes spices very sparingly prefering to use fresh herbs instead. I don't need to go into sachet or bouquet garni since everyone knows how to use them.
Hope this helps in any way!