This is my hundredth blogpost and contains a very special recipe ‘The Railway Mutton Curry’. The recipe is special in the sense that it’s not the typical Bengali mutton curry we generally make on Sundays. Moreover, this mutton curry brings to mind the train journeys of childhood, the immense fun, awesome food, the call of the hawkers, making new friends on each journey, beautifully green countryside strewn with paddy fields, quivering ponds and mud huts, you may say, as a whole the journeys were celebrations in themselves.
|Railway Mutton Curry|
I got introduced to this recipe by two very special people, Bong Mom Cookbook and Pritha Sen, two persons I admire. This recipe needs an allusion to the post in Atul Sikand’s Sikandalous Cuisine by Pritha Sen of Gurgaon, with profound knowledge of food history and their recipes. Later Bong Mom Cookbook also mentioned about this article in her blog and I was struck by its sheer awesomeness. Enfolded in a history dating back to the British colonial era, thus giving it an Anglo-Indian touch with a Bong coloring, this recipe is truly a gem.
There was something with which I could obviously connect, ‘The train journeys’. The chefs of the Indian Railways during the British Raj pleased the taste buds of the aristrocratic westerners who mostly traveled first class. So the dish was made not too spicy yet retained the
Bengal essence to make an amazing fusion dish blending
the taste of both Indian and English. The dish had a distinctive aroma of its
own, an amalgamation of the flavor of mustard oil and other condiments like
fennel, whole garam masalas/ whole spices, coriander, cumin, vinegar etc. This
was cooked in the railway canteen and served mostly in the recreation rooms and
first class dining cars on the train.
|Railway Mutton Curry|
Gone are those days of separate dining cars but the Railway mutton/chicken curry has stayed till date somewhat trying to retain the historic glory of the pre-independence time. Reminiscing the train journeys of my younger days memory gets flooded with the fun, enjoyment, food with which we used to associate a junction/station. The simple pleasures of life of having puri subzi at the Moghalsorai junction, idli vadas at a station (forgotten the name of the station) while traveling to Madras in the Coromandel Express and the Bong sweets like Lyangcha at Shaktigarh, Sitabhog and Mihidana at Bardhaman/Burdwan are some favorites I never missed while travelling within Bengal. And above all the drowsy, lengthy and haunting call of ‘chaaaiiii…’ or tea at the day break reverberating in the quiet platform coming in through the iron grilled windows jerking us awake from deep slumber, our eager waiting for bread and omelette to arrive at the breakfast, and the railway chicken/mutton curry along with rice, lentil, subzi, roti in lunch/dinner served in a compartmented stainless steel tray, all these will forever be associated with train journeys alone.
Coming back to the recipe, Pritha Di made use of a unique paste to impart a lovely flavour to the dish. I have followed more or less the same thing. The mutton required an overnight marination but I did it for 3 ½ hours due to time constraint.
The way I made it:
Ingredients for marination and cooking:
· 1 kg Mutton preferably shoulder cut.
· 5 onions chopped
· 1 tsp ginger paste
· 1 tsp garlic paste
· 2 tablespoons tomato paste or puree
· 2 large potatoes diced in quarters
· 5-6 green cardamoms
· 2 black cardamoms
· 2 sticks 1 inch each of cinnamon
· 5-6 cloves
· 3 strands of javitri/mace
· 2 bay leaves
· 2 green red chilies
· 1 tablespoon vinegar
· 1 tsp turmeric powder
· 2 tsp Kashmiri red chili powder
· 2-3 cups of water
· Salt and sugar to taste
· Mustard oil as per requirement
Ingredients for the special spice
· 1 inch ginger
· 8 fat cloves of garlic
· 5-6 whole dry red chilies
· 8 black peppercorns
· 2 tsp cumin seeds
· 2 tsp coriander seeds
· 2 tsp saunf or fennel seeds
· 2 tsp kashmiri red chili powder
· 1 tsp sugar
· 1 tsp mustard oil
· A little water
Step 1: Marination
Marinate the washed and pat died mutton pieces with 1 tsp ginger paste, 1 tsp garlic paste, 1 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tablespoon vinegar, salt and 1 tablespoon mustard oil for 3-4 hours, better if done overnight.
Step 2: Make the masala paste
On a tawa/pan dry roast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, dry red chilies and peppercorns. As soon as the spices emanate an aroma remove them from fire and let cool completely. Now in the container of your electric mixer grinder, toss in the toasted masalas, along with the other ingredients and make a smooth paste. Keep aside.
Step 3: Proceed with the cooking
In a thick bottomed kadai or wok heat oil until smoky. Toss in the whole garam masalas and bay leaves. Wait for the splutter and add the chopped onions and fry until golden. Add the tomato paste and continue to fry. Now add the marinated mutton and fry on high flame until sealed and brownish. It will need constant stirring for about 15-20 minutes.
Now add the special spice paste and more salt if needed because you already added salt in marination. This is the main part which needs careful cooking, bhuno-ing for 10 minutes mixing the mutton with the masalas on medium flame. When the oil surfaces you know you done.
Add water and slow cook the mutton covered on low heat. When the mutton is half done add the potatoes and keep simmering until the mutton becomes soft. This will take 45 minutes to an hour depending on the quality of mutton. Check and stir in between.
Serve garnished with sliced green chilies. This magical dish goes best with plain steamed rice.