I wanted to make curry, and this was indeed a more creative way to do it! I came across this way of serving curry in a 1952 cookbook called Shrimp Cookery by Helen Worth. this book has intrigued me since I sort of stole/borrowed it from my friend Tom’s enormous library of cookbooks. It is a slim volume, unadorned by any pictures whatsoever. The cover is a plain green, and the name of the book only appears on the spine (the dust jacket is missing so it probably had the name on the front also). Over the past 60 years cookbooks are being marketed in a whole different way, and, unless it was jazzed up significantly with pictures, and the writer was manufactured into a celebrity of sorts, I’m afraid this little book wouldn’t make the cut. Such a shame, as it is filled with all sorts of great recipes, tons of information about shrimp that I never knew, and all written in a cleverly humorous hand.
I had been leafing through it for months and only yesterday came across the dish Rijsttafel. The fact that I couldn’t pronounce the word piqued my curiosity. I found out it was a traditional dish of colonial Indonesia adapted by the Dutch. It literally means Rice Table and consists of a whole array of little dishes to accompany rice and curry sauce. The more accompaniments, the grander the feast.
The whole thing intrigued me so much that I decided to cook my own version of Rice Table from what I could scrounge up from my kitchen. It turns out, it is a wonderful way to use up the tail-end of foods and, is a great way to satisfy every palate around the same table!
I had a whole chicken so I started by cooking it, and then taking all the meat off the bone. I cooked the last of my eggs, green peppers, shrimp and chopped a couple of really hot peppers from my garden for the brave ones in the family.
It really did turn into a feast and I loved the taste of all the individually cooked ingredients. There was also something so freeing about making a simple curry sauce that one could simple spoon over everything. I made my own sauce by sautéing onions, and just following the rules (more or less) for a white sauce, except that I added some stock from the cooked chicken and a hefty spoon of vindaloo curry powder. Ms. worth made her sauce using milk combined with coconut milk, which is probably more traditional, but I didn’t have any on hand, and went ahead with just milk. It was still fabulous.
I think it would make a great Christmas Eve Feast or Birthday Dinner. It would also be fun to invite friends for a big party and tell them they had to bring 1 intense accompaniment for rice, and see what you end up with! I am in love with Rijsttafel!
For this dish you will need to cook up a big pot of rice (enough for 6 people is 3 1/3 cups raw using stove-top method, and 4 cups using rice-cooker measure and rice cooker).
The only other thing that is required is to make the Curry Sauce.
You will need: 1 medium sweet onion, small dice, 3 tbs unsalted butter, 1 tbs strong aromatic curry powder, (of course you can use a mild powder for a gentler flavor), 3 tbs all-purpose flour, 2 cups chicken stock, 2 cups milk (any %), OR 1 cup coconut milk, 1 cup milk, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
1 – Melt 2 tbs of the butter on medium heat and add the diced onions. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Turn heat down to low, cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2 – Take lid off and add the last tablespoon of butter. When it has melted, add the curry powder and sir until incorporated. Add the flour and repeat process. Turn heat up to medium. Next add the liquids 1 cup at a time while mixing with a whisk.
3 – Cook sauce (stirring all the while) until thickened and flour and spices have cooked into the liquid, (about 10 minutes or so). Taste and adjust for salt and pepper according to your likeness. Cover and set aside.
*If you feel your sauce could be thinner, add more stock or milk until the desired consistency is reached.
After that, cook as many accompaniments as you like. The following are the foods that I cooked to put on our rice. I placed everything in bowls and plates and everyone got to custom-make their own dish. Feel free to make an array of food that you know everyone will like at least 5 of.
To cook the chicken: Preheat oven to 350*. Put 2 cups water in pot along with fresh herbs (I used sage & 6 sprigs of thyme), a sliced garlic clove, and 1 diced onion.
Put chicken on top and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with heavy lid, and cook in oven for 1 1/2 hours. When chicken cools, take meat off of the bone and keep warm. Pour the stock through a strainer and discard the seasonings. Reserve the stock and reserve for curry sauce or another use.
* You can use leftover chicken or indeed buy a cooked chicken if you are in a hurry
For the peppers: chop whatever peppers you like (or have) into large dice, slices or stripes and saute on medium heat. Keep warm
For the Shrimp: Shell and de-vein 1 lb shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Fry on high heat in 2 tbs of extra-virgin olive oil or combination of oil and butter. Cook for 4 minutes. Keep warm.
For the Eggs: Put as many eggs as you want to use in a pot and cover with cold water. When it come to a boil, time for 5 minutes. turn heat off and let eggs sit in water for 5 more minutes. Remove from water and let them cool before shelling and slicing.
For the hot peppers: Simply slice peppers very thinly. I used hot cayenne peppers and sprinkled them on top of my dish.
To serve: Arrange all your various components in serving dishes and let everyone help themselves.