The Raj loved meat. They loved big, roasted joints, and this recipe is a good example of how the local cooks changed the British approach to such dishes. This recipe is the most idiosyncratic in the cookbook and reflects just how my grandmother wanted her lamb cooked.
It is worthwhile observing that this recipe has the most versions and annotations of any in her notes. It took some time to get it right, apparently.
The Raj liked to roast fowl, beef and lamb. Pork was unheard of in Calcutta, although available in other parts of India, such as Goa. Beef, was of course, synonymous with all things British and was a regular feature. The Raj liked their beef rare, or certainly on the underdone spectrum. Lamb however, was treated very differently.
For many Western palates lamb, particularly the fat, was, and still is problematic. If the lamb was well-cooked, as most of the recipes in this book specify, it was well accepted and liked. If the lamb was actually mutton, then it had to be well-cooked, and the fattiness was not a problem.
A lamb roast, prepared as they prepared a beef roast, was never going to work. To eradicate the fat they worked out you had to cook it for a long time. They also worked out that if you cooked lamb for a long time at a high heat it was inedible, becoming tough and stringy.
Consequently, they arrived at the conclusion that the best way to cook lamb was slowly and to use gentle heat.
This recipe makes a beautiful, moist, mildly spiced lamb that can be pulled apart.
The recipe bears a resemblance to the Lucknavi leg of lamb but differs in a few ways. It is nowhere as intricate and is less spiced – although this is a far from bland dish.
- 1.5 kg lamb shoulder bone in
- 24 curry leaves
for the marinade
- 1 red onion peeled and halved
- 2 tbsp mustard oil
- 150 ml water
for the sauce
Blend the marinade ingredients to a smooth paste, then set aside.
Make about 12 incisions, about 4cm deep, in the lamb, then put two curry leaves into each incision. Place the lamb into a roasting tray, just large enough to hold the lamb, without too much extra space.
Cover the lamb with the marinade, then work it into the meat and incisions using your hands. Cover tray with cling film and refrigerate. Allow to marinate overnight.
Remove the lamb from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 220C.
Tuck the halved onions, cut side down, beside the lamb. Drizzle the lamb with the mustard oil and add the water to the tray. Place into the hot oven, uncovered and cook for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, reduce oven to 130C. Remove tray from oven and gently baste the lamb with the pan juices. Cover the tray, return to oven and cook for a further four hours, or until the meat comes away from the bone. Baste the lamb with pan juices every 30 minutes or so.
Once cooked, carefully remove lamb from the tray and place on a serving platter (see notes). Cover with foil and a tea-towel, set aside and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
for the sauce
Carefully spoon the fat and oil from the tray into a small saucepan. Do not include any of the marinade ingredients or onion yet.
Heat the saucepan over a medium heat and add the mustard seeds and curry leaves, and fry for one minute, or until the mustard seeds pop. Add the ginger, garlic and chilli slices and fry for two minutes, or until slightly coloured. Add the tomatoes, and fry for a further two minutes to soften.
Add the remainder of the contents of the baking tray – the marinade, onions and pan juices to the saucepan. Using a fork, masher or a hand blender, make the contents as smooth as possible. Add the coconut milk, mix well and bring to simmer.
Add the lemon juice and check the seasoning. Remove from the heat, and place sauce into a serving jug.
Uncover the lamb, and using two forks, separate the meat a little.
Sprinkle over the garam masala and coriander leaves. Garnish with the stem of curry leaves.
Serve with the jug of sauce on the side.
- Removing the cooked lamb from the baking tray requires care, as it might fall part. I suggest using a wide, slotted spatula, gently placed under the lamb to lift it out.
- After adding the contents of the baking tray to the sauce, we use a hand blender to puree the sauce. A more rustic approach is to use the fork or masher as described, which will give a chunkier finish. It is important, however, to break the onion down as much as possible because this is what will thicken the sauce.