Railway mutton curry
Updated: Dec 3, 2022
The British colonized India and brought with them numerous technologies, one of which was the elaborate railway system they built using the sweat of Indian slaves. The other technologies were the telegraph, steamer ships and the printing press. Even with the establishment of quite a robust railway network times taken to travel across India, especially from the North to the South were long and very cumbersome. This was because of the slower coal-fired engines that spewed smoke, and the initial narrow gauge railways that were slower. However, the upper crust of the British class and the Captains and Generals from the army had to travel in style, being completely pampered and with all the luxuries they demanded. One of these was elaborate tasting menus on the train with some amazing dishes.
Railway mutton curry was one of these dishes. The chefs of the Railway canteen were tasked with creating dishes for travel, and Railway mutton curry was introduced as a standard to the menu as early as the start of the 1920s. This dish was a staple on the Frontier Express for many decades. It is a watered-down version of the traditional mutton curry, as the British could not tolerate the sharp spices. The spices were reduced and coconut milk was added to tone down the flavours.
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For the railway garam masala:
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 1-inch piece cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
6-7 whole cloves
4-5 green cardamom pods
4-5 dried red chillies, Kashmiri preferred
For the curry:
1 lb mutton pieces, preferably with bone and from the shoulder
4 cups water
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 onion, roughly diced
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons ghee
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ginger paste, or 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ginger paste
10-12 curry leaves
1 tablespoon railway garam masala
1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate
3/4 cup coconut milk
Salt, to taste
2 green chillies, thinly sliced
Cilantro, minced, for garnish
Start by adding the meat, garlic, onion, and salt to the water and bring to a boil. Skim off the scum from the top and simmer gently for 1 hour. Top with water if needed.
While the meat is boiling, make the railway garam masala by individually toasting all the spices till aromatic. Cool and blitz in a spice mill till very fine. Store in an airtight container.
After the meat has simmered for 50 minutes, heat the oil in a large pot, one that will contain the whole curry. Add the onions and fry on medium heat till they are a light golden colour, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and sautè till the ginger no longer smell raw, about 1 minute. Add the curry leaves and toss well. Add the railway garam masala and toss well being careful not to burn the spices.
Add the meat and the stock. Stir well to mix in the cooked spices and bring to a boil. Simmer gently with a lid for 30 minutes. Add the tamarind and the coconut milk and mix well. taste and adjust the salt to suit your palate. Simmer covered for 30 more minutes. At this point, you should see the oil for a light sheen on the surface or form small pools. Check the meat, it should be fall-off-the-bone-tender.
serve hot garnished with sliced green chillies and cilantro.