Andrew’s sister Lauren is never one to run out and spend a fortune on food. So it came as a surprise to me when she extolled the virtues of a $9.00 tin of Curry Powder. Of course, it was not just any curry powder. It was Vadouvan French Curry Blend. It would be easy to describe Vadouvan as the French equivalent of good old British Curry Powder known in our house as Madras Curry Powder. That doesn’t really do it justice. The French, it turns out, had a Colony in India called Pondicherry. It’s located in the very southern part of India on the Coromandel Coast of the Indian Ocean. The French were there a very long time. They arrived in 1674 and it wasn’t until 1954 that the territory was finally made part of the Union of India. Pondicherry has a reputation as being quite a beautiful place, undoubtedly more so because the French left behind some wonderful French Colonial buildings.
French chefs in the settlement used a local spice blend called ‘vadagam’. Traditionally this masala (which means mixture) was dried in the sun, then crushed, mixed with castor oil (as preservative), rolled into balls which then again were dried a few days. Only then was it used to flavor foods. The French, of course, never met an ingredient they didn’t want to fiddle with. And in the case of vadagam, they inserted all kinds of ingredients– like pounded onion and shallots, garlic, cumin and mustard seeds and fenugreek. The idea was to take something Indian and adapt it to the French palate. It’s worth noting that the French have no fondness for very spicy food. Vadouvan is far more subtle than British takes on Indian cooking. There’s no searing heat here: just a mellow sweetness with a mild smoky flavor. You can still note the cumin and funugreek but the big difference between Madras Curry Powder is the shallots, onion and garlic that make Vadouvan a completely unique take on ‘curry powder’
Chef Ludo Lefebvre, well-known for his many food television appearances, is attributed with bringing Vadouvan to American audiences. He introduced it at his Los Angeles restaurant “Trois Mec” (718 N. Highland Ave, LA CA 90038 Tel: (323)484-8588). He baked his Vadouvan into Naan bread. But ever since Andrew and I got back from St. Barth in March, I’ve been experimenting with shrimp curries. We’d hoped to capture the wonderful creamy version we’d eaten at one of our favorite island restaurants. I’ve come fairly close. But what would more appropriate than to use a French Curry Blend to make a French West Indian version of Shrimp Curry? Poking around, I hit the jackpot. Oprah, of all people, provided a recipe for Vadouvan Curry Shrimp that even included the recipe for Vadouvan itself. I am publishing it so you have it. But if you can order a tin like I did, you’re going to love how easy this is to make.
On a weeknight, you have to hand it to shrimp for being one of the fastest ways out of the kitchen. This recipe is lightning fast. You just toss some butter in the skillet, add your vadouvan to the butter until your kitchen smells like curry. Then you reduce some orange or mango or orange mango juice by half, add the shrimp for all of five minutes and toss in the snap peas which you’ve steamed at the same time as the shrimp. I served it over Jasmine rice. Here are the recipes.
If making your own Vadouvan, Oprah’s complete recipe comes first. If you have Vadouvan on hand, use the second recipe.
Vadouvan Curry Shrimp from Oprah Magazine
Curried Shrimp with a French accent. An aromatic dish that's both exciting and easy.
- 1/4 Tbsp. ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp. ground mustard
- 1/3 tsp. turmeric
- 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 tsp. thinly sliced fresh curry leaves (optional)
- 1/2 tsp. ground fenugreek (optional)
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 4 large shallots (1/2 pound), thinly sliced lengthwise
- 6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced lengthwise
- 3/4 tsp. kosher salt, divided
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 24 large shrimp (about 1 1/4 pounds), shelled and deveined
- 2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp. yellow mustard seeds, toasted, for garnish (optional)
- Lime wedges, for serving
- Step 1 In a small bowl, combine cumin, cardamom, ground mustard, turmeric, and red pepper flakes. Add curry leaves and fenugreek, if using.
- Step 2 In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften, about 2 minutes. Add 2 Tbsp. water, cover, and reduce heat to low, stirring a few times, until golden brown and very soft, about 10 minutes more. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 tsp. spice mixture and cook over medium heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Scrape mixture into a medium bowl. Return skillet to stove.
- Step 3 Add butter to skillet and cook over medium heat until starting to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add shrimp in an even layer and season with 1/4 tsp. salt. Cook over medium heat until shrimp start to curl, about 1 minute per side. Sprinkle with 2 tsp. spice mixture and continue to cook, stirring, until fragrant and shrimp are almost cooked through, about 2 minutes more. Stir in shallot-garlic mixture and lime juice and simmer until heated through, about 1 minute more. Season with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt.
- Step 4 Spoon shallot-garlic mixture onto 6 small plates. Add 4 shrimp to each plate and scatter on top scallions and mustard seeds, if using. Serve with lime wedges.
If making your recipe with pre-made Vadouvan French Curry Blend:
Curried Shrimp with Snap Peas and Vadouvan French Curry Blend
The fastest and easiest way to enjoy this wonderfully aromatic and refined shrimp curry with crisp snow peas
- 4 tablespoons butter, unsalted
- 3-4 tablespoons vadouvan
- 2/3 cup orange or mango juice
- 1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- Step 1 Melt the butter in a saute pan until golden.
- Step 2 Add the vadouvan and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Step 3 Add the juice, and increase the heat to a boil. Reduce the liquid by about half, until syrupy, about 3-4 minutes.
- Step 4 Add the shrimp, and saute until cooked, about 5 minutes. Serve over rice.