About Poppadoms – What They Are and How To Cook Them to Perfection
There are many ways of spelling poppadoms – papadum, papadom, poppadam, and even papad to name just a few.
However, almost all are made with black gram flour, but they can also be made from flour made from lentils, chickpeas, tapioca, rice or potatoes. The black gram is a type of black bean grown predominantly in the Indian subcontinent and known as urad in Hindi.
Salt and peanut or sunflower oil are added to the flour to make a dough resulting in plain poppadoms, but different flavours can be achieved by adding cracked black pepper, cumin, sesame seeds, garlic, and chilli. Often a raising agent, such as bicarbonate of soda, is added.
The poppadum is shaped into a thin, round disk and then dried in the sun.
They are great served before a curry, with mango chutney, lemon or lime pickle, or an emerald Indian sauce. Or with the curry, on the side.
A good, hot, crisp poppadom is a thing of beauty and a joy forever (well, at least for as long as you are eating it). A bad one is horrid. There are a number of simple things you can do – or not do – to achieve the optimum.
Things NOT to do:
- Don’t buy ready-cooked ones
- Don’t try and cook them any other way except for frying (see below and video clip). Yes, I know people say you can roast and microwave them, but really, they are nowhere near as good.
- Don’t try and cook them ahead
- Obviously don’t use olive oil – it doesn’t reach a high enough temperature
Things to do:
- Buy really good quality poppadums, if possible from an Indian shop. I used to get mine at an Indian grocery in the Gloucester Road until it closed. Then I was reduced to Sharwoods. Now, in the depths of the countryside, Amazon is the Answer: Lijjat and TRS are both reliable brands. They offer various different types, and, personally I like the black pepper variety.
- Fry at the last minute
- Use an oil which can achieve a high temperature such as sunflower oil, or use ghee (clarified butter). From a taste point of view, groundnut oil produces very good poppadums.
- On one occasion our Aga failed, and we had to use our electric hob which gets much hotter. The poppadums were thinner and crispier – if you like them that way, use the hottest hob you have.
How to cook them:
- Heat some vegetable oil in a frying pan with a slightly bigger diameter than the poppadoms – a couple of inches (5cm) deep (you need to be able to submerge the poppadum) and get it hot and smoking. You can tell when the oil is hot enough because if you break off a little bit of the poppadum and drop it into the oil it should expand and crisp up immediately.
- Get a good fish slice and some metal tongs to hand. And also a deep roasting tin lined with kitchen paper. Read the instructions on the packet – some poppadoms need a second’s frying on the reverse side, others should be fried on one side only. Know what you are doing before you start frying.
- Fry one (or two) poppadoms for two or three seconds at most, turn over, if instructed, using the tongs, for literally just a second, remove vertically and joggle briefly so that the oil drains back into the frying pan, stack vertically in your deep roasting tin, and keep warm.
- I rather like the way they curl wavily, but if you are of a more regimented turn of mind, you can fry two poppadoms together, and you can also press down with the fish slice to keep the poppadum submerged and flatter.
How long do they keep?
Last night we had some poppadums which were forty years old! Yes, really. Not in prime condition admittedly, but perfectly good, nonetheless!
Some music to get you in the mood
From the soundtrack of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel