It’s nice to make a dish with complex flavours and a whole host of ingredients once in a while. And that occasion was for our Magh Bihu celebrations this weekend.
Our family is pretty big and so we needed quite a bit of food for the dinner party. Last week, I had seen a programme on the tele about cooking in earthen pots in Ethiopia and I was really keen to try it out.
People in Assam have been cooking in earthware for a long time, but never really used it to make a slow-cooked meat dish – at least not in my family. Plus, I had never made a dish to serve 30 people. It was a day of firsts.
Prep time: 15 mins | Marinating time: 2-3 hrs or overnight | Cooking time: 2 hrs
- 1 big earthen pot to fit about two kilograms of mutton (goat meat) or lamb if you prefer
- About 2 kilos of mutton, chopped into small pieces
- 1 cup thick yoghurt/curd
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons mustard oil
For the marinade mix:
- 8-9 garlic cloves
- A 2-inch piece of fresh ginger
- 3 green chillies
- A 1-inch stick of lemongrass stem
- A 2-inch piece of lemon peel
For the dry rub:
- A 1-inch stick of cinnamon
- A piece of star anise
- 3-4 green cardamom pods
- 1-2 black cardamom pods
- 5-6 cloves (long)
- 6-7 peppercorns
- 1 small mace flower (javitri)
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
- 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
- Half a teaspoon of turmeric powder
- 1 and a half teaspoon of garam masala powder (or five spice powder)
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
For the frying process:
- Half a teaspoon of panch puran (Assamese five spice powder)
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 2-3 large garlic cloves
- 2-3 green chillies
- 1 tablespoon mustard oil
- A piece of hot charcoal
- A tablespoon of clarified butter (ghee)
- Chopped coriander leaves
Wash and pat dry the meat completely.
Dry rub: Toast the cinnamon, star anise, cardamom pods, cloves, peppercorn and mace flower in a pan little they are a little warm. Grind them into a fine powder. Add the coriander, red chilli, turmeric, garam masala and cumin powders along with the salt.
Marinade mix: In another mixer, add the garlic cloves, the pieces of ginger, lemongrass, lemon peel and chillies. Blitz till a smooth paste is formed. Add a splash of water if the ingredients stick to the blade.
In a large bowl or kneading pan, add the meat and the dry rub powder. Mix well and coat every piece thoroughly. Now let it rest for 5-10 mins.
Now, add the marinade mix, mustard oil, yoghurt/curd, salt and pepper in the bowl and coat the meat thoroughly once more.
Cover with a plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for at least 2-3 hours or preferably overnight.
Frying process: Heat the earthen pot over a high flame and add the mustard oil. Drop the panch puran after the oil is slightly warm and let it splutter. Add the garlic, chillies and onions.
Once the onions start turning a little brown, add the marinaded mutton along with all the liquid in the bowl. Stir well to ensure that the meat is coated with the onions and garlic.
Cover with a lid and let the mutton release some water as it cooks. Meanwhile, make a quick dough of wheat flour (atta) and water to seal the pot.
After the mutton releases some water on its own, add two cups (500 ml) of lukewarm water and let everything come to a boil.
Let the meat simmer for a minute or two, before covering with a lid again and using the flour dough to seal the sides completely.
Reduce the heat to its lowest or transfer to a smaller stove top. We want to reduce the heat as much as possible. Let it cook for at least 2 hours before removing the seal.
The meat now will be so soft that it will start crumbling once you start stirring. So, be very careful. The excess water added at the beginning will ensure that there is no sticking at the bottom.
Garnish: Take a small bowl and place a piece of hot charcoal in it. Gently place it in the pot and add the clarified butter on top of it. Cover the pot for another 5 minutes to allow the meat absorb the smoky flavour.
Uncover and garnish with some chopped coriander. Serve it in the earthen bowl with some steamed rice or wheat flour flatbreads (rotis). Happy cooking!