mutton coconut fry

 Both my parents were blessed with parents who were food lovers. My maternal grandfather would buy my mother and her siblings long, thin sticks of Cadbury’s chocolate, and treat them to the best food in Kolkata every once in a while. His wife was a legendary cook from Jessore, now a part of Bangladesh. She would never eat meat, chicken or eggs, but could cook them with an expertise which was mind-boggling. My childhood is littered with memories of my grandmother lowering bowls of piping hot, thick daal, pouring large dollops of ghee over it, and serving it with piping hot rice and a few green chillies. She would put pieces of potatoes in the daal, which would be then mashed up and consumed together with the rice and daal. 

mutton fry with coconut

On the other hand, my paternal grandmother was a widow by the time I was born, and so would only consume, what is known as satvik food, which meant, only vegetarian food without onion and garlic. She would also not consume certain kinds of lentils, because they were deemed unfit for a widow. We never wanted her to follow the customs, including her husband, but she did that anyway. She made me realize, as a child, the value of little things. I would never be allowed to sit pretty – there would always be something for me to do – whether it was needlework, or knitting, or peeling something, or chopping – by the time I was eight, I was good with some forms of embroidery, and knew the basics of cooking, enough to light up a gas oven and cook Maggi. Her mother was from Kumilla, and she was apparently a stupendous cook as well, from what I hear from my father. One of the dishes she taught my grandmother was a white mutton bhuna with coconut in it. It is definitely one of the most delicate things I have had in my life, and I tried recreating it recently. To be very honest, my version tasted slightly different from hers, but it was all kinds of delicious.

Start off with a kilo of mutton, from either the foreleg or the hind leg. Make sure the mutton contains a small amount of fat, because that will impart a large part of the flavor. If you are at your butcher’s, you can always ask him to add about 30-40 gm. fat separately. In a large bowl, mix the mutton with 150 gm. plain yogurt, 1 teaspoon of garlic paste, 1 tablespoon ginger paste, and 3 tablespoon onion paste. Add a big pinch of salt, and marinate for at least 5-6 hours, preferably overnight in the fridge. The idea is to make sure the mutton absorbs all the fat.

Make a paste or powder of 1 black cardamom, 2-3 green cardamoms, 3-4 peppercorn, 1 stick of cinnamon, 3-4 cloves, 1/4th of a nutmeg, 2-3 blades of mace, 1/2 teaspoon whole coriander, and 1 small bay leaf. If you are making a paste, add a bit of water while pasting. If powdering, roast the ingredients in a pan for 1-2 minutes before you make a powder.

Heat 2 tablespoons of refined oil over medium-low heat and add the reserved fat to it, cut into 1 centimeter cubes. You should ideally lightly salt the fat before adding it to the fire, because after you are done rendering as much fat as possible, you can always remove the pieces from the oil, let them cool down slightly, and pop them in your mouth. You can also add them back to the meat while cooking. I did that. Now, it will take about 10 minutes for some of the fat to be rendered, but trust me, it is worth the wait. Once the fat is rendered, add 1 cup of onions, chopped. Cook till the onions are golden brown.

Add mutton cook for 10-15 minutes over medium heat, searing the meat well. Once the meat is well-seared, add 2 tablespoon desiccated coconut. I prefer freshly grated coconut, however, you can use some which is pre-dried. Stir well. Now, add 300-400 ml. warm water, mix well, and cook over low heat till the meat is soft, about 1 hour, or put in a pressure cooker, and after the pressure cooker reaches full pressure, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 12-13 minutes. Turn off the cooker and let it cool down naturally before opening.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a big kadhai, and add all of the pasted/powdered masala, and stir well to combine. Add the meat, and cook over high heat till the meat is mostly dry and oil starts to float up. Once you can see the oil starting to float up, adjust salt and sugar, turn off the heat, and serve topped with some coriander leaves and freshly grated coconut if you want. This goes brilliantly with both rice and rotis, but I prefer rotis over rice.

mutton coconut fry
Written by Poorna Banerjee

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