Takeaway

Mutton of the matter

Bikramjit Ray | Updated on January 24, 2018

courtes y kethari srivanjiam   -  The Hindu

Bikramjit Ray

Thirty years in the making, this bowl of meat and potatoes owes its spice to Bengal and Italy

Mutton curry is to my family what a good Sunday roast is to the English. If there was one thing that was always on the table on a Sunday afternoon, it would have to be a good mutton curry with generous helpings of rice.

Growing up in Kolkata in the ’70s, mutton was more of a luxury than an everyday consumable. Till my grandmother was alive, the recipe of the mutton curry stayed pretty standard; instructed by her and produced by the bawarchi. But after she passed away in 1980, it changed according to the whims and fancies of the bawarchis who came and went.

My mother had very little interest in cooking. But on one wet, rainy morning, I remember clearly, after innumerable complaints from the family — I think it was mainly my father’s gentle griping, as much as he could dare — she decided to enter the kitchen and cook what turned out to be a masterpiece of simplicity. A mutton curry with a base of curd, a surprising absence of spices and a smattering of onion, garlic and ginger.

I would have loved to share the recipe with you, but unfortunately I never really learnt it. I also suspect that my fondness for the dish had something to do with the fact that it was one of those rare things that my mum deigned to cook for us. One of the reasons I entered the kitchen to cook was because there was no one else to do it for me in those odd, mid-afternoon hours after school, when the bawarchi was still on a break. At first — and this story is backed up by various members of the family — I concentrated completely on my favourite vegetable, the potato, and made copious amounts of potato chips. At the time, I was still in the single digits.

But I digress. Back to the mutton curry. We, and here I am being very parochial and Bengali, are famed for our kosha mangsho. It’s dry, succulent, spicy, and the sauce is caramel brown, thick and sticks to your fingers, the aromas lingering even after several hours and numerous hand washes. Of course, it has to have potato, the vegetable that is the bedrock of Bengali non-vegetarian recipes. It acts as a sponge, a repository of flavour, which you retire to after consuming the main act — in this case, the mutton. I am only a partial fan of this version; in fact, I like the potato in kosha mangsho much more than the actual curry.

As I get older, I realise more and more that for me the act of cooking something is a labour of love. I enjoy cooking for a handful of people and it gives me great pleasure to bring together a dish for them. My mutton curry, which I have made numerous times now, I stumbled upon only recently — about a year ago, after 30 years of experimenting with recipes that were patently not my own.

It came to me after a good decade of trying to perfect the Railway Lamb Curry, which I picked up from Jennifer Brennan’s Curries and Bugles. Later, the recipes in Digvijaya Singh’s most excellent book Cooking Delights of the Maharajas inspired me — my favourite was Biryani Khybari, which you have to make and taste to believe.

Yet, it is only now, three decades on that I’ve found what I consider the perfect mutton curry, at least for me. It was inspired by my mother’s version — tart and sweet because of the curd and the onions, and the light spice from the whole garam masalas; almost like a yakhni, but not quite. Then one evening, I was watching TV, and came across a dish from Sicily, lamb spezzatino, cooked with mint, and with a hint of saffron in it. I don’t like mint, so I decided to marry my mum’s ‘yakhni’ with spezzatino’s saffron. Before I share the recipe though, I must admit I don’t go by standard measurements. It’s difficult for me because I am an intuitive cook. My dish is a reflection of what I am feeling while cooking — which is mostly happy because I am cooking.

Try the recipe (above) of my version of saffron mutton. If you like lightly flavoured dishes which don’t bite your head off, this one is definitely for you.

PS: There’s something I make with the leftovers that the purists may not approve of. But I love it. I take pieces of the leftover mutton, stuff them into idlis and mop it all up with the remaining curry.

Mutton curry

What you need

1 kg mutton, any cut will do, but without too much fat

3 medium onions, white, if possible

2 medium potatoes, peeled and halved

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 inch of ginger, minced

1 green chilli

4 green cardamoms

1/2-inch piece of cinnamon

1 black cardamom, peeled

2 bay leaves

250gm curd

Water

Salt and sugar to taste

Pinch of saffron

Ghee to cook

Method

1 Mix the curd into the mutton and season with salt; keep aside.

2 In a heavy pot (or pressure cooker), warm the ghee, then toss in the onions and fry until translucent. Add the ginger, garlic and whole

green chilli.

3 Add the whole garam masalas and toss for 30 seconds before adding the meat-and-curd mixture. Cook for 5 minutes.

4 Add the potatoes and give it a stir.

5 Pour enough water to cover the meat and toss in the bay leaves. Cook until the meat is tender.

6 Once the meat is nearly done, soak the saffron in half a cup of water and add to the mutton. Bring it to a final boil.

7 Add salt and sugar to taste. When your dish is ready, it should be slightly runny. Serve with rice.

Bikramjit Ray is executive editor of BW Hotelier. You can tweet to him @bikramjitray

Published on February 13, 2015

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