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Benefits of Frying Spices; Part 2

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Posted by Don, Dueling Bubbas on July 30, 2014 at 12:17:55:

In Reply to: Benefits of Frying Spices; Part 1 posted by Don, Dueling Bubbas on July 30, 2014 at 12:16:55:

Can I store fried spices?

As we mentioned in the first part of this series, one reason for dry-roasting spices is to drive off moisture and improve their shelf life. Fried spice are quite the opposite. Because of how they're made, fried spices can be thought of as a 'wet masala,' not only due to the liquid oil, but also other moist ingredients like onion and coconut that are often added to the mix. Fried spices, therefore don't generally last long, and are usually intended to be used immediately.

How can I fry spices?

There are three main ways to fry spices:

First, they can be fried in a small quantity of oil, then ground.
Second, they can be slowly fried with onion, a process called bhunooing.
Third, they can be made in what's known as a tadka, in which spices are quickly and aggressively fried in hot oil, then used as a finishing touch on a dish.
All three of these methods require patience and some practice. They aren't difficult to do, but spices are fragile and can burn quickly if you aren't paying close attention to their transformation in the oil.

Let's take a closer look at each of the three methods.

1. Frying in small quantities of oil

In this process, a small amount of vegetable oil is heated, preferably in a cast iron pan. Once it is hot, the larger, tougher spices go in first, like cinnamon, black pepper, and dried red chilies. Seeds go in next in quick succession. It's not uncommon to also add some roughly chopped onion or grated fresh coconut here as well, which help to add flavor and body to the final dish. The onions and coconut also act as a buffer by introducing a small amount of water to the oil and lessening the risk of the smaller seeds and spices burning. Once fried, these spices are then ground to a paste in a spice grinder (whether a traditional stone one or a modern electric one), and used as the base of the dish.

Throughout the frying, great care must be taken not to burn the spices because once even a single spice begins to burn, it will taint the entire batch. The key is to pay close attention, control the heat as needed (or even pull the pan off the heat for a few seconds if it's getting too hot), and keep stirring the spices around as they fry.

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