Railway Mutton Curry

@yashot, @surajmenon and Siddharth were home for dinner one Saturday evening. Yash and I had made the dinner plan a whole month ahead and we weren’t really expecting Menon around in Bangalore at all (I had only known of his existence for a bunch of years, owing to his deep-rooted friendship with Yash, who, as thugs and nice guys go, is one of my closest friends). But turns out, he (Menon) interned here this summer and I quite hit it off with him, so he was invited too.

Dinner involved some intoxicants, a lot of good conversation, possibly some football on TV, me generally trying hard to play perfect host and a lot of food.

There was guacamole and chips. And there were provolone cubes wrapped with proscuitto. There was also bacon and prunes.

And then there was mutton curry. It’s a pity I don’t have pictures because everybody was part-swaying, part-ready-to-break-cameras-if-they-were-taken-out-to-use by the time it was dinner, maybe?

So… here’s a little bit of history… the idea of Railway Mutton Curry first came about during the British Raj in India, when lamb curry was served with dinner rolls and/or rice on long distance train journeys. Typically, the curry was never intended to be spicy, to suit the palates of non-Indian aristocracy. The curry also made use of vinegar or tamarind juice, to ensure that it lasted a couple of days, at least.

Turns out, I’ve tried making a variation of this curry before, here. Tasty as it was, I assumed it was too spicy to be authentic Railway Mutton Curry. And then, I chanced upon this recipe a few months ago. And it didn’t look like it’d be as overwhelming as the first. So, I decided to give making it a shot. I wasn’t disappointed. But I will say it scored pretty high on heat.

(On an aside, I remember having Railway Mutton Curry some 12 or 15 years ago, when Sanjeev Kapoor started The Yellow Chilli in a couple of cities around India. He had Railway Mutton Curry on the menu, and though I have no distinct memories of what it tasted like, I will say I’m sure it tasted good: one, I’m a convenient Sanjeev Kapoor #fanboi, two, I wouldn’t have wanted to make it out of the blue in 2010 if I hadn’t remembered I had eaten some good mutton curry at some point in my life.)

(recipe adapted from here)
1/2 kilo lamb (I used shoulder cuts), cut into medium pieces
3 potatoes, washed and cut into quarters (When I’m cooking mutton curry, I don’t peel the potatoes. They taste awesome with the skin, they do.)
1/2 cup of tamarind juice
Oil, to cook
Water, to cook
Salt, to taste

For the marinade:
2 medium-sized onions, roughly chopped
4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 piece of ginger, chopped, about as much as the garlic
1/2 teaspoon dry roasted whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dry roasted whole coriander seeds
1-2 small stick of cinnamon
2-4 cloves
4-6 black peppercorn
8-10 curry leaves
2 dry red chilies broken into pieces

1. Heat a little bit of oil in a pan. Add the dry ingredients: cinnamon, cloves, peppercorn, curry leaves and red chillies.
2. When they begin to sizzle, add the garlic, ginger and onions and saute, until golden brown.
3. Grind the spice mixture along with the coriander seeds and the cumin seeds, to a fine paste. Use a little water, if required.
4. Marinate the mutton/lamb with the ground spices for about thirty minutes.
5. Add a little oil to a pressure cooker and lightly cook the potatoes until they begin to yellow. Take them out of the pressure cooker, and put them aside for later.
6. Add the marinated mutton pieces to the pressure cooker now and cook on high heat for 5-7 minutes.
7. Now add the tamarind juice and the salt. Add sufficient water to the pressure cooker and cook for 3 whistles on high heat.
8. Turn off the heat and let the pressure release. Add the potatoes to the gravy and cook it on low heat, covered, but without the pressure/whistle until the meat is tender. (This can take up to an hour and a half.)

The awesome part about the evening was that it had also rained. We may or may not have driven YashoTee out in the rains earlier in the evening to buy soda or ice or some such, and the cutester that he is, willing obeyed and came back drenched. Heh. I think I still derive pleasure in bullying him in whatever little ways I can, every once in a while.

Drunk men ate the curry with bread. And one drunk woman couldn’t stop complaining about how the men liked the curry at all, given how spicy it was. It was. Terribly spicy, to say in the least. But it was tasty. Very very tasty.

Happy times. Because…

Spicy food and I have a close relationship—an obsessive one, in fact. If it’s spicy, I want it. I want to sweat and shake and go half blind from the searing pain . . . which, now that I put it that way, seems really suggestive. But spicy stuff is addictive. That’s a known fact of science.

Maureen Johnson, The Madness Underneath


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