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Monday, May 9, 2011

Lamb Curry

This is what we call "Kitchen Face"
Here in my collection, I have a book called "The Curry Cook's Assistant," published in 1887. It's a little dense, and the recipes not always the clearest; yet, they are useful in that they showcase the sheer variety of curry dishes. (Of note, it's available through Project Gutenberg—which is an utterly invaluable resource—right here. They have a whole passel of cook books on there, and I may well exhaust my digital storage space saving them.)

The Phoenix Café, which I have discussed before, celebrated our DJ's birthday this month. I spoke with him last month and asked him what he'd like, food-wise, at his second 22nd birthday party. He requested that I create a lamb dish in his honor, and I suggested a lamb curry. My suggestion was met with enthusiastic nodding and excited eye movements, so I went with it.

I found a gorgeous leg of lamb on sale at my local farmer's market in one of the many meat purveyors' warehouses, grabbed some onions and old-fashion curry powder, and set them aside for the evening. I had other obligations in the morning, and would have to fetch and cook on the fly. I remained undaunted, and met with resounding success—one of my best-received dishes to date.

Ever the humble servant, I present to you Tommy's Lamb Curry.

The Curry Powder of Choice
The Curry Cook's Assistant gives recipes for Beef Curry and Mutton Curry; the mutton recipe refers back to the beef recipe, and therefore what I present here is a combined and adjusted recipe, comprehensive in its representation of the two recipes, and adjusting for their vagaries.
1 lb. Mutton (Fresh or Cooked Meat will do).
1 Tablespoon Curry Powder (not hot).
1 Pint good Milk or strong (Beef) Gravy.
1 Large Onion or few small ones.
1 Young Capsicum
1 Tablespoon Rice Powder.
Small piece of Cinnamon.
Pinch of Cumin Powder; Salt to taste.

Mode.—Cut the meat in half-inch squares; put into a clean stew-pan, then slice the onions, and add the onions, Curry stuffs, chillies, cinnamon, milk, cumin seed, etc., and salt. Mix all well together, and set on fire for 15 to 20 minutes; do not let it burn. Add a tablespoon of cream when serving, as well as a few drops lemon juice. If required hot add a pinch of cayenne when preparing.
The recipe is obviously somewhat confused, and doesn't really include a reference to when to add its ingredients. I aim to make this a little more clear.

Boneless Leg of Lamb, closed
Leg of lamb is typically found in two states: Bone-in, and boneless (also known as boned, rolled, and tied or b/r/t). Bone-in leg of lamb, while a great deal of fun to play with, is also a pain in the neck to fabricate—lamb leg bones are obnoxious and there's a lot of connective tissue everywhere. One day, I'll do a demonstration here, but today is not that day.

Boneless leg of lamb still has a great deal of fat and connective tissue in it. This must be cleaned off to allow for tender, easy-to-eat pieces in curry, as well as to reduce the fat content. Lamb fat is difficult for the human body to digest, and a dish rich in this fat leads to stomach-aches and indigestion later. So, one must take care when preparing the lamb for lamb curry.

Boneless Leg of Lamb, opened
Lamb Curry
1 lb (454 g) lean leg of lamb, cut in 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) cubes
oil or clarified butter
1 large onion, julienne
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp (15 ml) curry powder
pinch cayenne pepper
pinch ground cumin
pinch ground cinnamon
beef or chicken stock as needed
salt and black pepper to taste

Lamb, Seared
1. Heat the oil or butter in a pot big enough to hold the finished product. Season the lamb with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, sear the lamb (in batches if necessary,) turning periodically, so that all sides are nicely browned, but not burnt. Set the seared lamb aside on a plate, or in a container. If there is a great deal of fat in the pan, drain some off so that 1-2 tbsp (15-30 ml) remain.

2. Add the julienned onion and sauté until it begins to become clear. Add the garlic, and sauté another minute or two, then add the curry powder, cayenne, cumin, and cinnamon. Stir and turn down the heat slightly so that the spices cook in the fat, but do not burn. Return the lamb and any juices that have run from it to the pot.

3. Add the beef stock and stir to dislodge all the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. These browned bits are called the "sucs" (pronounced "sook," and French for "juices") or the "fond" (French for "base" or "foundation") and they are the absolute best thing for making a sauce taste good. Bring the whole to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

4. Cook, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes, or until the lamb is cooked all the way through and the sauce reduces around it to form a glaze. Check for seasonings and add salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste. You may wish to add a small amount of lemon juice, as suggested in the original recipe, if you find that there is not enough acid in the dish. (It's all a matter of taste; richness is something I enjoy in a dish, but a small bit of acid helps the flavors become much more lively.) If you need more curry flavor, heat a sauté pan on the side and lightly cook some curry powder before adding to the dish.

Serves about 4, depending on portion sizes.

Serve over boiled rice.


  1. Wow, I'm the only one in my household who eats curry, but I'm going to make this recipe anyway. It sounds too fantastic to pass up.

  2. And it was SOOOOOOOOOO good....!!

    Thank you again for such a wonderful meal!



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