I love to cook, but am the first to admit that Indo-Pak cuisine is probably not my forte. For some reason, I’ve never been able to get the proportion of ingredients quite right. Even after so many years of being married to a Pakistani, my efforts at creating authentic cuisine somehow winds up tasting like an Indian version of Italian food.
After numerous failed efforts at making homemade chicken korma from scratch, I broke down and went to a higher authority for some culinary advice. At the behest of my mother-in-law and other well-intentioned relatives, I caved in and finally started buying Shan’s pre-packaged spice mix. Undoubtedly, opening a package of perfectly blended spice and dumping it into a pot of chicken and tomatoes was significantly easier than trying to recreate an authentic masala (spice mix) from scratch. That incident was about ten years ago. Since then, I’ve also tried my hand at dahl (lentil dish), chicken biryani (similar to a spicy rice pilaf) and even curried lamb. What’s so great about Shan Spice Mix is that they have a premixed blend of dried spices for each of these dishes, in addition to a mind-boggling array of pre-packaged blends for cuisine from all parts of India and Pakistan.
While Shan is the undisputed king of Indian cooking products, there are some other brands that come in a close second. I’ve tried a number of different sauces, but in my opinion, Patak’s brand has the richest flavor. Unlike Shan, Patak’s Simmer Sauce comes in a jar in pre-cooked form. When it comes to convenience and fast cooking, you really can’t beat Patak’s label. Whereas there may be some extra slicing and dicing with Shan, Patak’s Simmer Sauce is a completely self-contained product. All you really need to do is open the jar and add the meat of your choice.
It’s interesting to note the contrary reaction that I’ve received to Patak’s Simmer Sauce from friends and family of Indo-Pak origin. While most agree that the product ranges from edible to reasonably tasty, none have described it as authentic. According to my mother-in-law, who is a wonderful cook and makes everything from scratch, the taste of Patak’s Simmer Sauce is distinctly Americanized. There is something about the blend of the sauce that is muted and not quite genuine. In the same way that most dishes served in Chinese restaurants are translated for an American audience, Patak’s brand seems to pander to an American clientele. However, this is not to say that the product is not flavorful, but simply that it does not completely reflect the true palate of Indian cuisine. (It certainly is less spicy!)
Of course, some might argue that a pre-mixed bag of spices is hardly an appropriate tool for an aspiring Indian chef. Any die hard gourmand will tout the virtues of freshly prepared ingredients over ingredients that are pre-packaged. However, the benefit to using Shan Spice Mix is that it can be utilized as an addition to your base dish. You can add layers of flavor to your recipe, make your dish more or less robust or add an element of spice-all by adjusting the amount of seasoning used. With a pre-made product like Patak’s Simmer Sauce, it’s more difficult to alter the taste to your preference, since the ingredients are already mixed.
Patak’s Simmer Sauce suits my hodge-podge style of Indian cooking. Whenever I want to inject an element of flavor from the Indian subcontinent, I will use this product. It’s a great marinade for fish and chicken and works equally well with vegetables, rice and even pasta. When I’m feeling more adventurous and apt to try my hand at something a little more authentic, I’ll use Shan Spice Mix. Even though it’s still pre-packaged, it’s still a few steps closer to homemade than opening a jar.
Since Indo-Pak food is my adopted cuisine by virtue of marriage, I’ve had some significant catching up to do in the cooking department. I’m not above using a helping hand in the kitchen, although the elitist in me says that I should be grinding my own masala and rolling my own naan (bread). I figure I’ve got at least another twenty years to get to my mother-in-law’s level of skill and proficiency. Until then, Patak’s Simmer Sauce and Shan Spice Mix suits me just fine.