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When we went to India, we had a whole list of foods to eat. Some because we had never had them before, others, because we couldn’t get them anywhere else. Naan, butter chicken, paneer in all varieties we could get, Gol gappa and, of course, samosas, the famous street food. Towards the end of the trip, we had eaten almost everything from that list, except for, the samosas. We had ordered samosas several times before, after seeing them on the menu. However, in every case they had run out of them or didn’t happen to sell them that day.
Luckily though, on one of our last days in India, we were rewarded for our waiting. When visiting the Palika bazaar in Delhi, there was a place, upstairs, that did sell samosas that day. Even better, they were probably the best we ever had! Especially that great crunchy crust on them was great.
Back from our trip we tried replicating this samosa. Even though we never really managed to make as good a quality samosa as that one, we did get close and learned a lot about samosas (& their science) along the way.
What is a samosa?
Defining what a samosa is, is surprisingly difficult. As soon as most of us see a samosa we’ll know it’s one, but there isn’t a nice and short definition for samosas!
Generally speaking, samosas refer to an Indian snack which is deep fried or baked. It has a pastry outside, made of wheat flour and has a spiced (not necessarily spicy) filling. A lot of different combinations are possible, but one of the more common ones is potato with peas. They can be round-ish, but triangular is probably most common. They can be thick or thin, be large enough to be a whole meal, or small enough to snack on.
Outside of India there exist a lot of similar, but slightly different dishes. They can vary based on their fillings, spices or shapes.
Two types of samosa doughs
Within that enormous realm of Indian style samosas there seem to be two main styles of samosa dough. You can either use filo pastry or a dough that is surprisingly similar to a short crust pastry. Making it with filo pastry, which is very thin, gives a very delicate but light crunchy outside. The latter gives a sturdier outside, but if baked and prepared well, is super crunchy with a good bite.
That delicious samosa we ate in Delhi, was made with the latter, so we’ll focus on that variety here. You will often find that this samosa type, filling with potato and peas, is also referred to as a Punjabi samosa. Whether it is really solely from Punjabi
When it comes to samosa science, there is some of it in each of the main steps of making a samosa:
- Making the dough
- Making the filling (and preparing the spices!)
- Frying the samosas
- Storing the samosas
Making samosa dough
The dough we’re discussing here is a dough that shows some similarities to that for a short crust pie pastry. You start this pastry by rubbing fat into the flour, a technique used for scones as well. You then add the water to knead it gently into a smooth dough. The resulting dough is pretty sturdy and easy to stretch and handle, which is ideal when filling samosas.
That rubbing in of the fat into the flour ensures that the fat is well distributed throughout the flour. It prevents big clumps of it. Simultaneously, those small pockets of fat also help the crust to flake ever so slightly. The fat melts in the oven, leaving a slight open pocket within the pastry. It is not as pronounced as it is for a puff pastry, but it is definitely there.
Making a samosa filling
Samosas aren’t just about the dough though. Samosas are great because of the combination of the crispy outside, which forms during frying, and the flavourful filling on the inside. There are a lot of different samosa fillings out there and really, you can make whatever you like. However, there are a few guidelines to stick to to make sure your samosa works out well.
First of all, the filling should be more solid than liquid. When making fillings you will fold the filling inside the dough. If it is very runny it will just come out again. It’s one of the reasons you will often find potatoes inside. The potatoes thicken the filling and hold on to extra moisture that might come from the other ingredients (thanks to the potato starch).
Also, the filling should be cooked or almost cooked when it goes in. Your samosas won’t be in the oil for long, so apart from heating up the filling, there won’t be enough time for fully cooking the center.
Spice it up!
A good Indian samosa has a ton of flavour in the filling and most of that flavour comes from the proper use of plenty of spices.In order for those spices (e.g. coriander, cumin, mustard seeds, cardamon) to come out best you want to develop their flavour before they go into the samosa. A good way to do this is to fry the spices in some oil.
By frying the spices you bring out the aroma’s that would otherwise be caught inside. Also, some spices take part in the Maillard reaction, resulting in the formation of a whole range of new aroma’s. Just lean over your pan while frying the spices, you will smell the difference quite easily.
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Once the filling is wrapped inside the dough, the samosas are ready for frying. As with any other fried food, the main factor of importance is the temperature of the oil you fry in.
When frying samosas your main goal is to cook the crust and make it nice and crispy. You won’t have time to fully cook the center, frying just goes too fast for that. A good temperature for frying is 180C (350F). At this temperature your crust cooks up quite quickly whereas the heat has enough time to travel to the center of the samosa before the outside burns.
Storing samosas – A travel food
Like so many other foods in a variety of cuisines, samosas are a great ‘travel food’. The encasing around the filling protects it from spoilage and makes them easier to carry around. They are a great snack to take along if you wouldn’t have any fresh food for a while.
Whether you’re planning a trip, or just feel like some great food, have a go at these samosas.