Mel’s Mutton Masala

I can’t say I am a terribly patriotic Indian. My conscience is a bit muddled on the subject as I am, now,  a British citizen. Yet, I am absolutely mortified at the fact that I am lousy at making meat curries. I mean, it’s awful. I break into a sweat when someone, when invited to dinner, puts a word in for a curry. It’s expected, ‘she is Indian, she’ll know how to make a proper, authentic curry’. I plaster a smile on and nod obligingly, while cringing within screaming, ” Noooooooooooo!!!”. The Scotsman then pipes up saying it’s lucky if he gets a meat curry once a month. Thanks dear.

Enough’s enough though. My mother, a woman who can cook a mean, lip-smacking, finger-licking, rice-coating, chapati-scooping, pot of meat spiced deliciousness, while doing the washing, laundry, ironing and homework, cannot teach. At least, she cannot verbalise the process sufficiently to supply my deficient understanding; it’s so instinctive, it’s tricky  for her to bring it down to teaspoons and tablespoons. Cooking a curry, or cooking generally, is about flavour layers, and knowing when it is the right time to introduce that next ingredient. It’s all in the nose, my ma says. Well, it’s blinking obvious I don’t have the same nose. But Melanie, my younger sister does, and what’s more, she has a flair for description and above all, patience.

I did put her patience to the test. She lives in Abu Dhabi so this was a rather expensive lesson. I kept her on the phone until the stage the meat got into the pot, which was a good 40 minutes (I hope The Scotsman isn’t reading this!). I questioned her with an eagerness tinged with lunacy- about the thickness of the sliced veg (” Just SLICE IT!!!”), the colour of the masala at various stages, the flavour, smells and tastes. She was rather tickled, laughing at my craziness like only sisters can.

For her patience and my rare act of obedience to instruction, I got the finest pot of curry that has ever been produced in my kitchen. The masala thickened beautifully, the spices were deep, balanced and rounded, with that merest layer of oil floating on the top, signalling the perfect end. The meat was tender, soft and bursting with flavour. I called her of course, garbling about how magnificent it was. After I put down the phone, I did what I used to do all those years ago in my parents house, but which was never really required in mine; a slice of white, plastic bread was torn and the sides of the pan swiped clean with it. It smelled, looked and tasted like my mother’s cooking. Finally, here was the beginning of the road.

Points to note :

Mhairi, a curry maker extraordinaire told me once after a particularly lengthy moan,” Carrie, ye cannae hurry a curry.” And that’s true. It takes the time it takes. If you want to get that deeply savoury, spiced flavour, you must obey the rules. There are cheats though!

Slice the onions and tomatoes as thinly as you can, it just helps speed up a long process.

Pay attention to the scents and smells of the food. It changes at every turn.

Cook the masala properly, until the oil separates, very, very important. It allows the masala to dissolve into the curry, so that you don’t have bits floating around; it’s one smooth, spiced mass coating the meat.

Make sure you aren’t using spices that have been lying at the back of the cupboard for longer than you can remember. Don’t blame me if the curry comes out tasting of sawdust!

Above all, patience. That’s more for me, than anyone else.

Incidentally, the meat I have used here is Goat meat. We call it Mutton. Lamb however, is a fine substitution but will probably need to cook a bit longer. This curry doesn’t require any unusual purchases. Ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, garam masala and your preference of ground chilli are all that’s needed. If you have good readymade curry powder blends, use that if you like, instead of the individual ones I have used here. This curry is a great blueprint for you to make your own variations. A little bit of coconut milk, just a touch, gives a creamy, mellow, smooth finish. Full fat yoghurt, fried with the masala will produce a different, tangier result. Add heaps of chopped coriander at the very end, for a fresh, herbal hit. Throw in some waxy, fresh curry leaves after you turn off the heat and leave to infuse. These small additions add a subtle but noticeably different element to the finished flavour structure of your curry.

Serve with rice, some flatbreads, a vegetable side, simple sliced tomato and cucumber salad, yoghurt and Indian pickles and you have a full on, everyday Indian feast. LilLoon, who is a bit of a rice nut, had two huge helpings, the Scotsman said it was very tasty (which is a huge compliment!) and I practically lost all my table manners in my greed.

Thanks Melanie. I made one pretty darn decent meat curry because of you. You do realise this is only the beginning, right? Now…about beef curries…

To view and print the recipe, click here. 

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48 comments

  1. Oh, delicious!! I am making seekh kebabs right now & was thinking of mutton curry….and here you are with the mouth watering curry. The step wise photos have all the capabilities to make even a non curry lover drool.!! You have written this post beautifully, Carie. (…Will come back again and again to read )I am loving the way you have explained the nuances of curry making. :)

  2. I love this story! What would we do if not for our sisters?! I’m the sister that gets all the crazy baking questions. From my brothers as well. It’s super funny, Miss Carrie, that with all of your phenomenal talent and skills in the kitchen, that you were worried about pulling this off. Really? I’m pretty sure you have this allll under control :)

    • Ha! I get the baking questions as well as roasting stuff…easy! Not a problem, I’m grand explaining those. But a curry has me quaking in my boots! I have not written the post with a false sense of modesty, honestly Heather, my curries, the meat ones, SUCKED! You know? It wasn’t anywhere close to my mother’s. Except this lush beauty :-) Melanie was chuckling AT me, laughing at my ridiculous (her word) questions (“Err, which way do I slice then, to get it right? Stem to stem?” “Just SLICE THE DAMN THING, CARRIE!!”). Fair point!

  3. What an utterly divine looking curry. I adore mutton, I need to find a good place to get it. Fantastic!

    • Thanks FF! I couldn’t get it in Aberdeen but if you have an Indian/Muslim or Caribbean community nearabouts then you probably can find goat meat there. This curry works with chicken too by the way. Same principles.

      • Haha – you’d be so lucky to find any of those in West Wales! Incidentally, doesn’t mutton usually refer to sheep?

        • Ah! You bring up a good point ;-) Mutton is sheep yes, as it’s called in the UK, one that’s older than a lamb. For some reason, Indians refer to Goat meat as Mutton. If it says mutton curry, it’s goat meat. It is leaner than lamb and cooks quicker. Lamb would be a good sub here. I have never cooked with sheep mutton so can’t comment on that.

  4. So the problem I had in a past attempt at lamb curry was that I didn’t have your sister’s phone number?
    Thank you for helping me around that!

  5. Luchair

    It feels as if i can smell that curry….

  6. mel

    what i’m most surprised about is the hand sliced onions…they are nice and fine I can only do that with my processor …..wonderful job…the lighting on the photos is perfect you can see the colors real well

  7. Ooh I do love a good meat curry. This one looks delicious! I don’t think I’ve ever tried mutton or goat, although goat curry is quite a delicacy in Vietnamese cuisine. I’m waiting for the instalment on beef curries! ;-)

  8. Yum-yum mutton curry! I hardly cook mutton because it takes such a long time and I hate taking out the pressure cooker. You don’t have to feel bad about the curry aspect- I live here and still don’t know half the curry capabilities of my mom, who works corporate hours (8 to 8) and still has energy to cook over the weekend. I think I am also going to take it upon myself to learn more curry.

    • Does it take that long? Hmmm, all in this must have been close to a two hour job! Thank god for fish curries! Having said that, I find the pre-meat part the most labour intensive. The time it takes to cook is fine for me.

      Yeah, my mother is the same. You think our kids will say the same about us? What you reckon Meenakshi? lol!

  9. Have. I meant ‘have the curry capabilities.’ Clearly, my brain and my typing are disjointed.

  10. Love the way you set up the photo-instruction! Revolutionary!

    If only all recipes are like that..

    I am a total mutton lover. Mouth waters already….

  11. sounds delicious. I like your pictorial recipe idea a lot.

  12. Ana

    Why are you pictures so beautiful? WHY? I was not hungry until I saw this.

  13. Great! clear instructions and beautiful pictures.

    Sam Ana

  14. What a lovely post and the curry looks temptingly delicious. I am a huge goat curry fan so this curry definitely appeals to me. I am impressed by your step by step photograph instructions. What next meat curry are you going to try now that you are on a roll? I have a few on my blog that may appeal to you ;o)

    • Thanks! I am probably going to go down the beef route, as that’s a little more involved. Beef is good with not much done to it, as in roasts, but seems to lose itself in a curry. There are a few ways of getting there, but it’s an advance curry course for me hahaha! Your blog looks stuffed with lovely things..shall be having a nosy ;-)

  15. NYinRome

    Ahhhhh I finally have some peace in my house, and am surfing and reading and catching up on my favorite blogs, feeling very luxurious, and this post was thoroughly enjoyed. When my curry moment arrives, it eventually will, your post will be what I have in front of me leading me along, most certain of it!

  16. Rushi!

    Mmmmm curry, I miss my mom’s curries. I’ve avoided the Indian mutton curries because my mom had this weird phobia about mutton so she always subbed it with chicken. Nothing beats a good curry and it does taste yum with a nice slice of white bread. Also we have this funny bread called roast paan (roast bread) which is thinner and very crispy, ahhhh a yummy curry especially a crab curry turns the entire meal into a 5 star dining. I can’t wait for more curry recipes :)

    • Rushi, you got me thinking and drooling over some of the similar meals I have had growing up! The crab masalas were incredibly good. All of us would be sat around the table with a huge pot of juicy crab and we’d be there for ages, breaking, sucking, digging out the flesh! Good times :-)

      I miss my mother’s food too.

  17. It does look good (I’m ignoring that red object on top, as of course I would remove it…lol). I was very interested in what you said about the smelling: at the demo I went to, he was telling us to go and smell the food every few minutes, saying that’s how you know when it’s time to do the next process, or add the next ingredient. Sometimes I could tell the difference, sometimes not: I guess it takes practice and experience.

    • Yip, I’d say it’s a matter of practice and not only that, but I think to really develop it, you need to make curries often. Which isn’t always possible in my case. Or rather I am too lazy.

      Seriously though, this curry works on the lowest chilli levels. The fresh chillies at the end are totally optional (and pretty up a mass of brown and beige sludge for a photo!). So, if you really want to try a meat curry, I would recommend this. Use a little chilli powder, for colour mostly and some flavour. A mild one, which I use, is perfect. If at the end of cooking, you feel like you’d like a little more heat, add a couple of slit green or red chillies into the pot, stir and let it stay and infuse for anywhere from 5 minutes (for a subtle heat) to ten (slightly stronger).

  18. Well done you!! Really, brava! I love the way you describe talking to your sister, I can picture it so well and i like the way you have photographed the steps. It makes the whole process much clearer for me.

  19. Thanks Anna! I am terribly proud too lol..if you tasted the tankers I produced prior to this, you’d understand. And yeah I was hoping visual clues would help. It certainly does for me.

  20. MOM

    Make sure you cook this one and leave it in the fridge when you go to away this October.
    In the meantime I will get Melanie to make the same here when she comes home :-)). I loved the way you laid out the photographs and the stages at which you took the shots were perfect. mmmmmm

  21. Yay! Great visual aids and humour as usual. Thank you for generously translating and sharing your families culinary secrets.

  22. I am drooling Carrie – thanks for sharing a perfect recipe for Masala. You have described the process really well – I’m drawn in!
    Do you have skype where you are (might save on your phone bills with sister :-). I use it all the time to talk to my family in Scotland when I am in Hong Kong.
    I thought the quote “ye cannae hurry a curry” was priceless – made me smile!

    • I hope you try it Jacqueline :-) I do have skype but not a portable machine such as a smartphone or laptop and the ipad doesn’t work in the kitchen…grrrr…. So had to use the phone! Made sure I plied the husband with plenty of curry to keep him sweet hahah!

      I love the way Mhairi says that with her thick Glasgow accent, ken?

  23. Sam-I-am

    Be sure that on this culinary journey, I will be stuck to you like a bad rash! Where you go I will follow, learn, try and thank you for! The Prawn Curry I learnt here is prize winning, this is next! :D

  24. Pingback: A Feast for the Eyes: Food Photography for Bloggers, Part Two | The Daily Post

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