24-24-24 Recipes III: Papa’s Mutton Curry

My father-in-law was a tall and handsome gentleman with piercing grey eyes. His personality never failed to induce a sense of awe in anyone who met him for the first time. However on closer contact the softness of his heart came through to endear him to one and all. We lost him to old age and heart disease two years ago but we all remember the myriad aspects of his character with fondness. When it came to the preparation of Mutton Curry nobody could beat him. When I was newly married to Rajeev I attempted to out do his reputation but failed miserably when Rajeev pronounced on the first tasting, “There’s something missing; it’s not as good as Papa’s”.

The making of the mutton curry was a ritual with Papa which began around 3pm in the afternoon when we would go down to the local Halal Meat Shop. I used to tag along to absorb the finer aspects of buying good meat.

At the meat shop Papa would turn the meat which hung on large hooks in the shop. He would point out to the shanks, shoulder and backbone and ask for ‘raan’, ‘putt’ and ‘chaamp’ respectively. The butcher would then respectfully clean the chosen pieces with a large and extremely sharp knife. Every bit of skin and unwanted bits were then eliminated with all the care and precision of a surgeon at work. Papa would then ask the man to add some “gurde kapoore”. Totally innocent of the names of the parts of the goat I remember asking aloud, “Papa what is “kapoore”? Embarassed, Papa quickly herded me out of the shop, 1 kg of mutton in hand ( in a society where it was inappropriate for a woman to even visit a meat shop, the question was perhaps the height of indiscretion). On reaching home Maa ( my mother-in-law ) was instructed to bring me up to date on the meaning of “Kapoore”. I was mortified on being told that I had been asking about  “sweetbreads”.

[singlepic id=228 w=320 h=240 float=left]The next stage of the mutton curry was the peeling and chopping of the onions, garlic and ginger. That done. Papa would consult his watch and decide it was time to pour himself a drink. It was around 7.30 pm by then and the pressure cooker would be placed atop the stove.  A cup of Ghee and 6 peeled and chopped onions would be added together to cook until the onions turned golden brown . Papa would then show me how to judge the doneness of the fried onions. (At this stage if you sprinkle some water on to the onions the onions will disintegrate into a paste.) That’s when you should add the ground paste of 15 cloves of garlic and a 2 inch piece of ginger. In my mind’s eye I can still see Papa with a large glass of whiskey in his left hand and the ladle in his right, stirring vigorously to prevent the mixture from burning. A towel hung on his left shoulder and his mutton chop moustaches would be smiling as well when he turned to say some thing frivolous to somebody or the other. Taking a large ‘katori’ he would then put in 2 tsps of turmeric powder, 2 tsps of red kashmiri chilli powder, four tsps of MDH Meat Masala and 3 tsps of salt . Half a cup of water would be poured into this mixture and stirred well. When the smell of the onions,.ginger and garlic frying was just right he would pour the contents of the “katori” into it. After a further 10 minutes of sauteeing,6 large chopped tomatoes would go in. The tomatoes would be “bhunoed”( fried ) for at least 15 minutes until they were mashed to a puree and the masala, which by now had  ghee floating on top, pronounced ready for the meat. The washed and dried meat would then be plunged into the masala and stirred and fried for a further half hour or until all the liquid that is released by the meat has dried up. Two to three cups of water are then added to the meat. He would then taste and adjust the saltiness. The tightly shut  cooker would then be placed on a high flame until the first whistle.after which the meat was allowed to simmer for 15 minutes.

My tip : Do not open the cooker immediately. Let it cool down on its own and then open it only after it has lost all its steam. Serve sprinkled with loads of green coriander leaves chopped finely.

As soon as the cooker was opened all of us would crowd around Papa to admire the shimmering perfection of the mutton curry and to savor its heavenly aroma. Cheers Papa! Here’s to your Mutton Curry and your memories.

– Vinny