Curried mutton with chillies

The key difference between the jhol, jhaal and kawsha (kasha) in Bengali cooking is in the level of heat and the amount of gravy remaining after one finishes cooking. Ideally, a Bengali person would sit down for a meal, use his fingers to subdue a sufficient amount of rice and mash according to his/her preference, and then scream, “Maaa… jhol dao!” (Mother… now pour in the gravy!) Said mother will stand alert, pouring in the piping hot jhol and hearing her precious child grumble about how hot it is, and it just burned his/her finger, but at the same time, you could see the fingers moving, mixing the right amount of gravy with the rice to get the perfect texture and consistency before consuming furiously. In this, every person has his/her own way of mixing. Some barely mash the rice, preferring to chew the rice. Some would mash the rice and then add the gravy to make the result in to an almost porridge-like consistency. Some would love to drown the rice in the gravy, and after finishing the rice, pick the plate up, put his/her lips on one side, and tilt carefully, to drink up the remaining liquid in the plate. Then, under the watchful gaze of the mother, the Bengali person would carefully use his/her palm to scrape up every bit of food from the plate, and eat it. A good Bengali child is he/she who cleans the plate so well that washing it afterwards is just a formality.

mutton jhal

Now the word jhaal means “hot from spice”. For those who come from what is now Bangladesh, or commonly known as East Bengali people or Bangaal, jhaal is not just a type of taste. It’s a way of life. But beyond that, chillies and garlic had more than one purpose when it came to cooking in a Bangaal household. Adding these two ingredients meant adding a considerable dose of natural preservative to the meat or fish, which meant, they would not be spoilt too quickly, especially in the muggy heat of Bengal. Moreover, you would not be able to have too much of spicy food – it was a natural way to control one’s hunger and reduced overindulgence. Most people during the late 1800s and 1900s could not afford to eat well everyday. Even meat would be a one-off thing, reserved for special occasions, which slowly became a once-a-week thing during the fifties and sixties in Kolkata.

Mangsher Jhaal with Rice

The jhaal I make came from my paternal Grandmother, who originally was from Patna. She came to Kolkata, a sixteen-year-old bride, heavy with her first child, to a household consisting of around ten people. Her mother-in-law and sister-in-law were not very interested in helping her out with recipes, so she sought her own mother’s help in cooking. My great-grandmother was a legendary cook. She apparently could make anything tasty, including uchhe (bitter gourd) and neem leaves. Her recipe was simple, contained a few items, and was HOT with a capital everything. Apparently, the first time my grandmother made it, my fussy grandfather finished an entire handi of rice alone, something he had never done before.

Start by pasting the chillies. You will need around 12 dry red chillies for this. Soak them in about a cup of warm water for at least an hour before making a thick, fine paste. I used a stone sil but you can use your blender. Be very careful while making the paste, do not let the paste get to your eyes.

Marinate 1 kilo good quality mutton, preferably from the foreleg of a goat, without too much fat hanging off it, with 2 teaspoon garlic paste, 2 tablespoon onion paste, 1 cup plain yogurt (with fat), and a big pinch of salt, for at least 2 hours. I prefer marinading overnight, or around 8 hours. An hour before cooking, add a large tablespoon of coriander powder, a teaspoon of turmeric powder, and a teaspoon of garam masala powder. You should ideally use a blend of green cardamoms, cloves and cinnamon, roast them over dry heat on a flat surface for 2-3 minutes, and then grind the lot together to make a fine powder. You can also make a paste of them. Massage this on the meat pieces and set aside.

onions frying in mustard oil

Heat 4 tablespoons of mustard oil in a thick-bottomed vessel, and add a very small pinch of salt. Let the mustard oil lose its raw flavors, then, to this add 3 medium potatoes, halved, and fry them lightly. Remove the potatoes after a few minutes, and then add a bay leaf or two, three to four dry red chillies, 8 peppercorns, 2 green cardamoms, bashed slightly, one stick of cinnamon, and 4-5 cloves. Stir around for 40-50 seconds over medium low heat, then add 1 cup of chopped red onions and a teaspoon of sugar. At this point, you can add any stray piece of mutton fat, which will enhance the flavors further.

Cook over medium high heat, stirring, till the onions are golden brown. Add the meat and stir continually for 4-5 minutes, to get everything mixed in. Raise the heat to high, and make sure the meat is browned. At this point, add the red chilli paste, and stir till the red chilli paste is incorporated. Add around 400 ml. of hot water, stir again, and let the water comes to a rolling boil.

Transfer the contents of the vessel to a pressure cooker, close the lid and let the pressure cooker come to full steam. Once it does, drop temperature to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the pressure cooker cool down and release the steam on its own.

Once that happens, add the potatoes, and then cook over simmering heat, covered, till the potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes. You can also be like me, and put the pressure cooker lid back on, and let the pressure cooker come to full steam and the moment it releases the first whistle, turn off the heat and let the pressure cool down and release all the steam yet again. Add salt to taste finally, and remove from heat when the gravy is thick – not too thin and runny, or absolutely reduced to cling to the meat. No, this gravy should have the consistency of … well, a semi-chunky tomato sauce, which is the closest description that comes to mind. Serve with rice, and a slice of lime, which should be squeezed into the rice while mashing it with the meat gravy. Of course, you can serve this with other things. But the beauty of mangsher jhaal will be totally lost.

Written by Poorna Banerjee

    1 Comment

  1. Ushnish ghosh 2017-05-17 at 12:45 am Reply

    Very nice

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