Thursday, 2 January 2014

Railway Mutton Curry and Welcoming 2014

First of all wish you all a very happy new year 2014!

After a long time I am back on my blog. The month of December has been quite hectic and eventful. Office work had kept me busy in the first half and in the second half of the month I was vacationing in Kolkata. I have a lot to write about my trip back home but that will have to wait for my next blog. Anyway I am now catching up on all the things that have happened in the blogspace since last month.

Of late I have been very engrossed in Google plus posting recipes, reading a plethora of recipes from far and wide, making new acquaintances who are themselves super innovative chefs and realizing that G+ is the in thing if you really want to reach out to meaningful people with a common interest. I never knew Tetor Macher Jhol - the very unassuming fare from a Bengali household could stir up so many intriguing comments especially from people living on the other part of the world. Their genuineness is so touching when they ask questions about the recipe that I feel humbled and happy at the same time. After I posted my Dak-bungalow Chicken Curry recipe over there a fellow blogger wanted me to share more recipes from the time of the Raj since his wife had forefathers who served the British east India Company.

Frankly speaking I have only heard and read about the old times when the foundation of modern India was being laid and a revolution was taking place in the Kitchens of this country - mélange of Indian flavors and British tastes. Thus was born a hybrid cuisine the Anglo-Indian cuisine, probably the first example of fusion food in the world. This cuisine is mostly prepared using English spices such as Pepper, bay leaves, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc. Indian condiments such as chilies, cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, garlic etc, are also added in moderation. Yogurt and milk are also used in certain preparations to offset extra pungency. People of my generations were not fortunate enough to taste the original recipes from the time of Raj but what we have now is somewhat the adapted version of the original ones. Adapted according to the regions and palate of the different states of India. I will still try to recreate traces of the culinary history associated with the recipe I am going to write about today.

The Railways were a way of life during the days of the British Raj. Travelling First class was an experience in itself. The Burma teak cabins , plush interiors, classic railway cuisine, the servers in perfectly starched uniforms serving lunch to the sahibs – everything about a train journey was nothing short of collecting a bagful of memories, each unique from the other. Bengal,  the first stronghold of British rule, was heavily influenced by English cuisine. Many British families in India hired local cooks, and through them discovered local foods. The spiciness of foods had to be toned down or modified to suit the palates of the 'memsahibs'. Very distinct influence is seen in the desserts, some of which were created specifically to satisfy the British – most notably the very popular sweet Leđikeni named after the first Vicereine Lady Canning. The other most popular remnants of that era is the Railway Mutton curry, which earned its name because it was served on the first class dining carriages.

As a kid I remember travelling to Darjelling in First class compartment with the entire gamut of relatives. My Mashi (aunt) used to stay in Darjelling with her family at that time as Mesho was posted there as a doctor. My Grandpa served as a doctor in the Railways for which he got First class passes. This first class was nothing like that of the British era but was definitely different and plush from the present day first class coaches. There were no aisle seats and there was a sliding door for each coup which ensured complete privacy. The first travel happened when I was some 5 year old and something really funny happened. We were some 10 odd people travelling together including  couple of kids so it goes without saying that there was never a dull moment. I remember we had got home cooked food in the big 3 tier tiffin carriers. At dinner time a newspaper would be spread out and everyone would be handed out steel plates on which the food which would consist of Daal, rice, a vegetable and a sweet would be served.  Post dinner we went to bed and were lulled to sleep by the swaying of the moving train.  The next morning I was woken up by mom. Reluctantly I followed her to the bathroom to brush. After cleaning me up she told me to walk down to our coupe which was quite near to the bathroom while she would finish brushing. Super confidently I started walking back, the third coup from bathroom was supposed to be ours. I entered the third and saw that everyone was asleep head to toe covered in quilt. Even my mom’s berth was occupied. When I left to brush I clearly remembered that granny and grandpa were already up, my other mashis (aunts) were up and preparing the beds and the kids were being woken up by their moms. How come within ten minutes everyone went back to sleep? Suspiciously I called out one of my Mashi’s name, the brush held firmly in my hands. No one answered. I was about to call once more when I felt someone tugging at my hands. I looked back to see the same Mashi whose name I was calling. She asked me what I was doing there in someone else’s coup. I realized the mix up and thanked my stars that no one woke up. Later on this story was reiterated a number of times to everyone adding all sorts of spice and tart. Poor me!

Train journeys had always been memorable for me, even the local train ones. The array of snacks that were sold during the journey was something I always looked forward to. Jhalmuri  with a slice of Coconut(puffed rice medley), veg-cutlet, mochar-chop (banana flower cutlet), chana chat (spicy chickpea) , ghughni,  tok jhal misti toffees (sweet & tart candies), chine badam beetnun diye (peanuts with black salt), seddho dim (boiled eggs), shal patae mora tatshaas (fruit of Palmyra Palm) etc. Not only the food but the chit-chat of the passengers, folk songs sung by the beggars, the passing paddy fields and different character of each station made up for a colorful experience. Before I digress more talking about train journeys coming back to the dish I am supposed to talk about.

Railway Mutton curry is a toned down version of the classic mutton curry (Manghor Jhol), with coconut milk diluting the spices and served with rice, bread or dinner rolls. Vinegar was added to the mix of mutton and potatoes to increase the durability of the meat during long journeys. The curry was not too spicy keeping in mind the delicate palates of the British. Though the dish originated in the colonial times it continued to be served in railway refreshment rooms and on long distance trains till much later.

When I searched the net I found quite a few variations of the recipe which is a clear indication of the train routes on which they were served. Coconut milk, tamarind and curry leaves were used in the recipe followed in Southern Railways. Whereas the northern and eastern railways adapted a recipe minus these. Sandeepa’s recipe (Bong Mom Cookbook) adapted from Pritha Sen’s recipe was the one I liked among all the others because of the presence of fennel seeds. Mutton and fennel seeds go hand in hand and I love the flavor a lot.

So here’s the recipe.
Preparation Time: 5 minutes 
Serves : 2

Ingredients :
For Marinade:
  • Mutton - 1 Kg
  • Ginger-Garlic Paste - 3 tsp
  • Mustard Oil - 1 tsp
  • Whisked Curd - 1/2 cup
  • Red Chilli Powder - 2 tsp
  • Turmeric Powder - 1/2 tsp
  • Salt
 For Paste:
  • Sauf/ Fennel Seed - 1 tsp
  • Coriander Powder - 1 tsp
  • Cumin Powder - 1 tsp
  • Black Peppercorn - 5-6
  • Dried Red Chilli  Whole- 7-8 
  • Garlic clove - 5
  • Ginger - 2" inch piece
  • Red chilli powder - 2 tsp
  • Sugar - As per taste
For Gravy
  • Onion - 2 large sliced finely
  • Tomato (pureed) - 1 big
  • Potato - 2 large, each halved
  • Curd - 1/2 cup whisked
  • Cardamom - 4
  • Cinnamon -  2" stick
  • Clove - 4 cloves
  • Nutmeg - 1/4 th tsp
  • Bay Leaf - 2
  • Ginger -Garlic Paste - 1 1/2 tsp
  • Warm Water - As required
  • Mustard Oil - 4 tbsp
  • Sugar & Salt - As per taste
1. Clean the mutton and marinate overnight with  the ingredients mentioned under marinade.

2. Heat a wok and add fennel seeds, peppercorn, dried red chillies. Stir for a few seconds then add the cumin and coriander powder. Roast till fragrant. 

3. Add the roasted spices mentioned above along with garlic clove, chopped ginger, red chilli powder and 1 tsp Mustard oil in the blender and blend into a fine paste. Keep aside.

4. Now fry the halved potatoes till edges turn a slight hint of brown. Keep aside.

5. Heat a wok and add 3 tbsp of mustard oil, when oil is steaming toss in the roughly ground whole garam masalas and bay leaf. Once the spices are fragrant add the ginger -garlic paste. Fry for a couple of minutes till raw smell is gone.

6. Now add the chopped onions and add a pinch of salt and sugar. Fry the onions till they start turning brown.

7. Add the pureed tomato and cook till it becomes a consistent mixture and raw smell is gone.

8. Lower the heat and add the whisked curd . Slowly stir it into the mixture. Cook for a couple of minutes.

9. Add the marinated mutton pieces into the mixture now and fold in.Cook on high flame for 3-4 minutes stirring continuously so that it does not stick to the wok. The pink colour of the mutton will turn a shade of light brown. Lower the heat and let the mutton slow cook.

10. Keep cooking the mutton and stirring occasionally till the mutton begins to release oil. It will require a patient cooking of nearly half and hour. If this process is done well the taste of the gravy will be good.

11. At this stage add the masala paste prepared separately and fold in with the mutton. Cook for 5 minutes.

12. Add the fried potatoes to the wok now.

13. Transfer all the contents of the wok into a pressure cooker and add required amount of warm water (water will be according to the water required for mutton to get properly cooked and get the desired amount of gravy). Close the lid and cook for 2 whistles on medium flame. (remember the number of whistles depend on the quality of mutton you have, sometimes it requires more than 2 whistles to cook the meat properly).

14. Once you turn off the heat after 2 whistles, let it sit for sometime till the pressure dies down. Open the lid and give everything a good stir. Add a spoon of ghee(clarified butter - optional) and 1/2 tsp of powdered garam masala. Close the lid and let the flavours seep into the meat properly for 30 minutes.

I served it with traditional Bengali pulao. You can also serve it with any kind of Indian bread (Roti/Naan etc).

Have a great year ahead and lots of mouthwatering foods!

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