Ham with Noodles and Curry is a quick and easy weeknight pasta for an old-school palate. As you might surmise from the titular pork product, this is not a traditional Indian dish. The recipe comes originally from Presenting Boston…, a 1964 Junior League Cookbook. The recipe probably originated much earlier. In my pre-WW II cookbooks it’s common to see curry powder sprinkled on eggs or stirred into a white sauce. Curry powder is used like one might use seasoning salt or lemon pepper. This presumably reflects British culinary habits more than Indian. Given the Junior League’s patrician sensibilities, this should not be surprising.
Twenty-first century cooks will be familiar with dozens of wildly different curries. A traditional Indian curry looks little like a Japanese or Thai curry. Each variety uses a different curry powder or paste as its base. For vintage recipes ‘curry’ invariably implies a Madras-style curry powder. This style of curry powder likely originated from Indian spice traders, but the British standardized the formula. Yellow and warm with a smidge of heat. These days it has a fairly precise definition, at least if you’re in the United States. The USDA defines a curry powder spice blend as follows:
Curry powder blend shall have a uniform color and shall not stratify in layers nor lump. It shall have a fragrant aromatic aroma, and a warm bitter taste. The curry powder blend should include, but is not limited to, the following ingredients: turmeric, coriander, fenugreek, cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, ginger, and cardamom. (USDA, A-A-20001B, 2010)
Despite the rigor of federal law, traditional Indian spice blends are not so rigidly defined. Curry powder is simply one of many different masalas used in Indian cooking.
Authentic or not, Madras-style curry powder is a versatile ingredient. I’ve seen it used in everything from spaghetti sauce to cheese dip to English muffins. Curried Carrot Croquettes is one of my absolute favorite recipes on this site. Ham with Noodles and Curry isn’t even the first time I’ve seen curry paired with cured meats. Curry and ham is an inspired combination. We’re already accustomed to seasoning ham with warming spices: cloves, cinnamon, etc. The cumin and turmeric add an earthy counterpoint.
Preparation is straightforward. First, julienne the ham and saute in butter. Then add the curry powder and continue cooking until the spices are fragrant. Finally, toss with cream and cooked noodles. It takes more time to cook the noodles than to assemble the final dish. Dinner can easily be on the table in under 30 minutes.
My family quite enjoyed Ham with Noodles and Curry. It had been a busy Saturday, with my children and spouse variously at work and marching band activities. A rare Saturday when we aren’t all together or dining out. I appreciated not having to spend much time in the kitchen. The child who wandered in late appreciated a dish that reheated easily. We all appreciated the comfort of a USDA-approved curry powder. We all agreed that the recipe as-made was missing something. A fresh squeeze of lemon juice when serving made all the difference.
I served this dish with a Cauliflower Salad and fresh tomatoes. It’s heavy enough that a salad or fresh vegetables are a must. In a million years I might serve it with peas or lightly steamed green beans. Ham with Noodles and Curry is an entirely different dish on day two. The noodles have had time to absorb the excess cream, leaving a sticky, thicky curry sauce in its wake. It microwaves easily and pairs well with sriracha and black pepper. Enjoy!
- 1 lb egg noodles
- ¼ cup butter
- 1 lb cooked ham (julienned)
- 1½ tbsp Madras-style curry powder
- 1 cup whipping cream
- lemon wedges
- Cook egg noodles according to package directions.
- While noodles are cooking, melt butter in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add ham and curry powder and saute until spices are fragrant and ham is warmed through.
- Add cream, reduced heat, and simmer uncovered until noodles are done cooking.
- Drain noodles and toss with curry cream mixture. Serve with lemon wedges on the side.
The little bit of acid from the lemon wedges makes all the difference, but be sure to add it right before you eat to avoid curdling the cream.