This dish is a favourite, and one I must have at least once or twice in June. It’s never quite the same when you have it in a restaurant. For the best warming and aromatic flavour experience, you really ought to try making this Lamb Curry with whole spices yourself.
Sheep farming has long been practiced in India’s highlands. So it’s no surprise that meat based dishes which blended Central Asian and Persian traditions with the Indian love of spicing came about from the 8th and 9th Centuries onwards. In May and June, lamb is at its freshest and tenderest. This seems as good a time as any to rustle up this dish.
Some diced shoulder cuts should do the trick and you’ll need at least 800g (1Kg is plenty for four). The Lamb we’re sold tends to be quite lean. That will also be the way your butcher / supermarket gets it. For this reason, this dish will use a fair amount of vegetable oil (I avoid using Olive Oil in Asian cooking as it flattens flavours and aromas).
The warmth of the spicing is drawn from India’s south – cinammon, cloves, black peppercorns, cardamom, fresh ginger, fresh coriander and bay leaves – all the richness of the ancient Indian Ocean trading networks. And from Portuguese trading networks, to India came the chilli. As an aside, proper Indian spiced chai (tea) uses exactly the same spice blend, just without the chilli, and is a lovely accompaniment. I digress . . .
Aromatic, warming, Lamb Curry for 4 folks
Get four tablespoons of oil going in a pan. Once good and hot add three medium sized onions, finely diced, to the oil, lower the heat and cover.
After a couple of minutes add around 10cms of cinammon bark, stir, cover and leave. After another couple of minutes, pop in ten whole black peppercorns, stir and cover again. I never add ground pepper, it will burn and rarely has the right flavour as the volatile essential oils evaporate once pepper is ground.
Then, after another couple of minutes, I’ll chuck in around ten cloves, ten cardamom pods, and ten bay leaves, stir and cover.
Finally, after about a minute, I’ll add a couple of inches of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into fine strips (julienned), along with the stalks of a handful of fresh coriander and the lamb cubes and around 1 pint of water – bring to the boil, stir, cover and leave to simmer on a really low heat for 30 minutes.
After about 30 minutes the oil will start to separate and you’ll have something a little like this …
If you need to add a little more water at this stage, do. All you need is enough to cover the meat. Get it to the boil, stir, slam the lid back on and keep on simmering on a low heat for 30 minutes more.
In total, you need to have cooked the Lamb for at least one hour. Check it again at the one hour mark – at this point, I usually add a generous teaspoon of garam masala, a healthy pinch of ground red chilli for some kick, and a wee pinch of salt.
Also at around the one hour mark, I’ll get some rice on. Into a pan with a teaspoon of vegetable oil will go a teaspoon of fennel seeds. Then four handfuls of rice and two of red lentils. I’ll toast them gently for about a minute and then pop in enough boiling water to cover the rice twice.
I quite like my rice bulked out with veg. So at this stage I usually finely dice three carrots, halve a handful of green beans, and quarter three medium sized tomatoes and add them to the rice, pop a lid on, and let it simmer for around 6 minutes.
Check the rice at the 6 minute mark … use a fork at the edge to just lift it a little. If you’ve followed instructions and just it simmer gently you’ll find there is just enough water still left to be absorbed, if there is slam the lid back on and let it simmer away for around two to three minutes. If there isn’t enough water, add a little (a couple of table spoons should do), cover and simmer as above for a couple of minutes more.
Once the rice is done, serve it in a bowl with the Lamb Curry, having first removed the bay leaves and cinammon bark. Dress it with lots of fresh chopped coriander leaves.
Aromatic, warming, Lamb Curry with whole spices