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Chris Amirault

Lamb Curry--Cook-Off 4

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Every now and then since December 2004, a good number of us have been getting together at the eGullet Recipe Cook-Off. Click here for the Cook-Off index.

For our third Cook-Off, we've chosen Indian lamb curry. Yes, it's true: that's a huge category for a cook-off, and saying "Indian" is about as stupidly broad as saying "American." However, like gumbo, there are some basic elements to most of the many, many permutations of this dish, and several cook-off participants wanted to start cooking Indian at home with several options.

So, instead of choosing a specific lamb curry, I thought that having a conversation about those different permutations (like the gumbo okra/roux discussion, say) would be interesting and fun. I also wanted to avoid too particular ingredients that some of our cook-off pals can't get in certain places.

A few things that we can discuss, photograph, and share include:

-- the spice mixture: If you've never toasted your own spices, then you have a world of aromatic wonder ahead. I'm sure many people can share their ingredients, ratios, and toasting tips for curry powders that will blow away the garbage in your grocery's "spice" aisle. We can also have the ground vs. whole debate, if there are takers!

-- the paste: many curry dishes involve frying a blended paste of onion, garlic, and/or ginger, along with the spices, in oil or ghee (clarified butter). I found that learning how to cook that paste -- which requires the same sort of patience demanded by roux -- was the key to making a deep, rich curry.

-- accompaniments: rice dishes or bread (I have a pretty good naan recipe that I'd be glad to try out again).

Here are a couple of related eGullet threads:

lamb kangari

a lamb and goat thread

If anyone finds more, post 'em!

So: find yourself a leg of lamb to bone, sharpen your knives, and get ready to update your spice drawer!

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lamb isn't very easy to find in Japan and my kids don't like it...

very small voice follows:

can I substitute pork or beef.....? :blink:

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lamb isn't very easy to find in Japan and my kids don't like it...

Hard to find, huh? I guess that makes sense, based on my understanding of Japanese cuisine, but it's still a bit surprising.
very small voice follows:

can I substitute pork or beef.....? :blink:

As far as I'm concerned, you certainly can! :biggrin: I do think that very few Indian curries use pork and more use beef, though far fewer than lamb or mutton.

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As a start to the various discussions of techniques ingredients etc, may I recommend that making your own ghee can make a big difference?

A year or so back I was playing with some moghul recipes using commercial ghee and I was just not happy with the results. At a friend's suggestion, we finally made our own ghee instead and there's a noticable difference in flavor as well as resulting "oilyness" of the dish. The dishes with the homemade ghee just did not feel as greasy for some reason, and the homemade ghee had a nutty flavor which I like.

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I cook Indian quite a bit so I am going to use a recipe I haven't used yet. I have made practically everything from the meat section of Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking so this time I will try her 'Royal' Lamb or Beef with a Creamy Almond sauce, using the beef.

I have avoided this one because of the large amount of cream.....

now to serve it with a rice or a bread.....

and the sides.....

:biggrin:

and I still have yet to make the gumbo :sad:

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As a start to the various discussions of techniques ingredients etc, may I recommend that making your own ghee can make a big difference? 

A year or so back I was playing with some moghul recipes using commercial ghee and I was just not happy with the results.  At a friend's suggestion, we finally made our own ghee instead and there's a noticable difference in flavor as well as resulting "oilyness" of the dish.  The dishes with the homemade ghee just did not feel as greasy for some reason, and the homemade ghee had a nutty flavor which I like.

I second that recommendation -- and ghee is the easiest thing in the world to make: melt butter, keep at a low heat for a while, filter out the hardened white crud, put in fridge. When I used to work at the first Indian restaurant in RI with a tandoori oven (now, sadly, gone), I would make the ghee sometimes by dumping massive amounts of butter into a huge pot. Very fun!

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Yippee! I love lamb and have lots in the freezer . I'll be picking a recipe from 50 Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi. Everything I've made from this book has been really good. Looking forward to this one.

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Oh my . . . This is going to be fun. I will be following along as an eager student this time around. I am really looking forward to learning some of the basics, like making ghee, grinding the spice mixes, frying the paste. All of this is either new to me or something I haven't done a lot of.

Like Torakris, I will probably sub the meat at some point. Lamb is available here but often limited in selection like the whole leg or ridiculously expensive chops. It isn't my all time favorite meat but I like it ok. I will probably do it once and see how it goes. Besides, I have to be careful about how much I cook. My freezer is full of gumbo! :laugh:

That Madhur Jaffrey book has been languishing in my wish list for some time now. I think it just got bumped up.

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Chris,

Since you already set the stage by mentioning that "lamb curry" can be a very broad topic, let me start out by posting about some Lamb and Okra curry I made a while back

Chop 2 lg onions and brown them in some oil or ghee.

When the onions just start to brown, garlic and ginger paste, some tumeric, chili powder, cumin, and if you find it, some "Shan Meat Masala".

Add the lamb shanks (you can use other pieces of the leg or even shoulder).

I usually cook this in a pressure cooker for 2 whistles (you can cook it in a covered pot until the lamb is tender).

Towards the end add some okra and chopped cilantro.

gallery_21049_162_1101052486.jpg

Enjoy with some naan or basmati rice.

Cheers

Percy

P.S : Wish I would have know about this cook-off sooner, I just made some Goan crab curry and I could have used lamb instead :sad:

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Like homemade ghee, making your own curry powder from a hand-picked, toasted, and ground spice mixture makes an astonishing difference. Just to pick one ingredient: toasting your own cumin seeds in a dry skillet and grinding them in a coffee mill (used just for this purpose of course!) produces something that is incomparable.

I have no connection to Penzeys Spices but have been using them for years and think that they are amazing. And while they make good vindaloo, garam masala, and other curry mixtures in a pinch, you can make your own amazing stuff for very little money. Since proportions are not copyright-able, let's share the different proportions we use for the spice mixtures we find. They will be much, much better, I gar-on-TEE -- oops -- not in the gumbo thread any more -- sorry! :wink:

I say all of this because truly wonderful homemade lamb curries actually meld the flavor of the curry with the lamb in such a way that many folks who "don't like lamb" often enjoy lamb in these dishes. I guess I'm hoping that a few lamb doubters will take a crack at this cook-off in the hopes of conversion. But, then again, I think lamb is probably my favorite meat, so I'm prejudiced!

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. . . . .

I say all of this because truly wonderful homemade lamb curries actually meld the flavor of the curry with the lamb in such a way that many folks who "don't like lamb" often enjoy lamb in these dishes. I guess I'm hoping that a few lamb doubters will take a crack at this cook-off in the hopes of conversion. But, then again, I think lamb is probably my favorite meat, so I'm prejudiced!

You make a good point, your prejudices aside. :raz: Now that I think about it, I am not sure I have ever had lamb curry. Well, maybe I have at an Indian restaurant where someone ordered a lot of different dishes and they were passed around. I will start looking for lamb options. Is there a preferred cut for curries? I am thinking in the same way a lot of folks prefer beef chuck for stews for instance.

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Chris, I've never tried Penzey's spices. Do you think they're better than what you can buy cheaply in bulk at an Indian store, should you have one in your general vicinity?

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Thanks, I now have a project for my weekend :smile:

first a question though.. what defines a curry? For example, I have a lamb recipe that I often make. It's from Claudia Rodens Book of Jewish Food and she calls it "Lamb with chillies and tamarind". It has cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves and chillies as the aromatics and it's finished with coconut milk. It's not what I'll be making for the cook-off because I want to try something new, I'm just wondering what makes a curry a curry?


Edited by Chufi (log)

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I decided on my recipe: Roghan Josh from an old Madhur Jaffrey cookbook. It involves the techniques described in the first post - roasting and grinding the spices, making a paste, frying this in ghee. I've never made something like this, it's going to be fun!

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[...]I have a lamb recipe that I often make. It's from Claudia Rodens Book of Jewish Food and she calls it "Lamb with chillies and tamarind". It has cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves and chillies as the aromatics and it's finished with coconut milk.[...]

Is that an Indian Jewish recipe?

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Is that an Indian Jewish recipe?

It's a Bene Israel dish, the Bene Israel (Children of Israel) being one of the 3 Jewish communities in India (and the largest and most Indian of the 3).

According to Roden, this community lived "for centuries, unknown to the rest of world Jewry" on the west coast, south of Bombay. They were 'discovered' in the mid eighteenth century.

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I'll give it a go over the weekend - I rarely make lamb curries (Apart from the occasional Keema made from lamb mince).

Give me a good excuse to go and get some fresh spices.

I'd like to recommend Camilla Punjabi's 50 Great Curries of india book - It's a lot better than the title suggests. It's been recently republished in the UK in a much nicer format. It is about the only book I've read which properly stresses the importance of cooking onions (and what sort of onions) )properly in the initial stages. And it recommends you make the simple 'homestyle' curry first before tackling the regional specialities, which I think is great advice.

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That Madhur Jaffrey book has been languishing in my wish list for some time now. I think it just got bumped up.

I think that's the Jaffrey I just saw as a remainder at an Austin Barnes and Noble in their bargain book section for about 8 or 9 dollars

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Sorry i had missed this!

I make a very uncomplicated and simple cardamom lamb that is a favorite with family. I fry minced onions, then add the lamb and fry it well along with some yogurt and almond paste. the only spices added are -- whole bruised cardamom and then the garnish is freshly ground cardamom. I pressure cook the lamb -- it is so lovely and moist (can you tell what I am having for lunch today :laugh: )

here is a picture -

gallery_6825_558_352507.jpg

happy to post the recipe if anyone is interested :biggrin:

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Monica, would you please talk about cardamom? What's the difference between green and black?

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Is there a preferred cut for curries? I am thinking in the same way a lot of folks prefer beef chuck for stews for instance.

I don't know -- interesting question. I've only ever used leg of lamb, which I love to cut up. I also have few other options.

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Is there a preferred cut for curries? I am thinking in the same way a lot of folks prefer beef chuck for stews for instance.

I don't know -- interesting question. I've only ever used leg of lamb, which I love to cut up. I also have few other options.

I think I have seen lamb "shoulder" mentioned. Maybe it was in one of those shows with Jaffrey on FTV. I think that would be comparable to beef chuck or pork butt. I will ask around and maybe call a couple of specialty butcher shops. (Although, that will require an in-town trek.)

If most of our choices of cut are so limited, what do they do with the other parts of the lamb?

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I would imagine that in India, like in most of Asia, they have different ways of cutting up meat than we do in the U. S.

I know in Thailand, at the markets, big hunks of meat (like quarters) hang from hooks and what you want is cut off. I know that at my local Asian markets, the butcher counter looks vasty different. I think they use more of the animals than is typical in an American market, and I don't recognize some of the cuts. My dad (a former butcher) even commented on this.

I'm planning on using leg o, because that's what I have on hand that needs to be used.

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