Several people, when asked about a mutton curry, have described it as “a gravy of meat, potatoes and/or vegetables” depending on their location on the world map. For a Bengali, however, there is nothing ‘simple’ about the maangsho jhol (Bengali style mutton curry). This is a curry that is usually reserved for the Sunday lunch or made to add that extra oomph to a meal made to impress.
A Bengali can regale you with tales of incidents and heated discussions that have taken place during the Sunday lunch of maangsho jhol and bhaat (rice). There is an emotional connect with this curry.
Such is the robust personality of the maangsho jhol that accompaniments are limited to some fresh green chillies for that extra zing, sliced onions and some chaatni (chutney). The adventurous ones – read those with strong digestion systems – end the meal with a serving of creamy homemade doi (yogurt). I say adventurous because mutton curry is heavy on the stomach. As is any milk product like yogurt.
My memories of maangsho jhol are tied up with winter picnics and Sunday afternoons. These picnics were organised by the Bengalis who had banded together in a foreign land, in this case Rajkot, a city in Gujarat. Following traditions they had grown up with, they would organise picnics during winter. At these outings, men would take up cooking duties and amid a lot of laughter and some tiffs over the amount of red chilli powder, these daddies would cook maangsho jhol and rice. The mothers were given the tedious job of prepping the onions, ginger and garlic. Our job, as kids, was to play! Best job in the world, wasn’t it?
At the Bhaumick – yup that’s my surname – household, maangsho jhol and rice was a Sunday ritual made special by the fact that my father would be cooking it. His maanghso jhol is world-famous, I kid you not! It was (and still is) a labour of love. Labour because it does take at least 2 hours to make unless you want to be done in a jiffy and dump it all in a pressure cooker.
Don’t let the ‘2 hours’ scare you off! It made me shudder in dread too. But whilst learning to cook this dish, I realised that you don’t have to do much after the first 30 minutes. Honestly!
Over the years, the weekly Sunday lunch of this curry has reduced owing to health factors – old age and red meat are a big NO – but it’s still the preferred meat during parties. And with the Bengali New Year just round the corner, this is the best time for me to perfect this recipe and share it with you. If you do post photographs on social media, tag From The Corner Table on Instagram and Facebook.
Pssstt… I hope you are working on calling that lonely friend of yours for dinner on his/her New Year next weekend. Remember we spoke about it in ‘Sweating over Dum Aloo & Begun Bhaaja (Bengali Potato Curry & Fried Brinjal)’
Please note there are various ways this particular dish can be made. To accommodate some of the methods that my father uses, I have added notes at relevant points in the method of cooking. I urge you to read through the recipe before heading into the kitchen. Choose your method before the pots, pans are hauled out.
A household favourite and tied to every Bengali’s memory, this mutton curry is a slow cooked dish that is high on spice and flavours.
- 2.5 kgs Mutton (cleaned)
- 500 gms Onion
- 2 Tomatoes
- 3 Green Chillies
- 100 gms Ginger
- 12 cloves Garlic
- 2 sticks Cinnamon
- 3 Bay Leaves
- 1 cup Mustard/Vegetable Oil
- 3/4 tbsp Coriander Powder
- 3/4 tbsp Cumin Powder
- 1 tbsp Red Chilli Powder
- 1/2 tsp Turmeric Powder
- 1 tsp Sugar
- 1/2 tbsp Garam Masala Powder
- 1 tbsp Ghee
- Salt (as per taste)
Transfer the mutton into a huge bowl with space for you to mix the meat with the spices. Add ½ cup oil, coriander powder, cumin powder, red chilli powder, turmeric powder, salt and sugar to the meat and mix well. Marinate the meat for one to two hours.
Note: Marinating the mutton is an option. If you are short of time, then start from step two.
In a mortar and pestle, crush the cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods until they reach a grainy texture.
Put together 300 grams onion, the tomatoes, green chillies, garlic and ginger in a blender to make a fine paste.
Slice the remaining 200 grams onion and set aside.
Take a huge vessel and place it on high flame. Once the vessel is hot, lower the flame and pour in the remaining oil.
Add the sliced onions to the heated oil and stir fry for a minute. Add the hand-crushed spice mixture along with the bay leaves. Cook until the onions are soft and golden brown.
Gently add the marinated mutton to the onions.
Pour in the onion paste, roll up your sleeves and stir thoroughly. Make sure all of the mutton is covered in the spices. Once through, cover with a lid and allow the mutton to cook for 10 minutes.
NOTE: If you’ve skipped the marinating bit, then this is when you add the coriander powder, cumin powder, red chilli powder, turmeric powder, salt and sugar.
Now begins the most important and tiring part, the stirring. Stir the mutton thoroughly every 5-10 minutes to ensure the meat does not stick to the bottom and every piece is coated in spices. Do be careful when you stir. Once the mutton starts cooking in its juices, there is a bit of bubbling and splattering. Don’t burn yourself.
After 30-40 minutes, once the water has dried and the meat is cooked, pour in 2 cups of water, stir and allow to cook further until the mutton is soft and falling from the bones.
NOTE: Want to skip the stirring part? This is when you transfer the mutton to a pressure cooker, add water and cook through two whistles, or more.
The consistency of the gravy depends on you. The maangsho jhol can be served with rice and breads. If served with the former, you would require the gravy to be thin. For the latter, stick to just 1 cup of water or skip it.
Sprinkle some garam masala, add a dollop of ghee and serve steaming hot with rice.
- Hand crushing the whole spices before adding them to the oil adds a more wholesome flavour to the curry and increases the aroma
- When stir frying the onions, add a teaspoon of sugar; this will add to the colour of the final product
- If you want to serve the mutton with breads, then you can tuck in as soon as the meat is cooked. Don’t add the water
- Add potatoes to the mutton curry. Wash, peel and cut medium-sized potatoes into half. Fry in the heated oil, before added the sliced onions. Remove and keep aside. Add after the mutton has cooked in the onion paste for 10 minutes
- This curry, like many others, tastes better a day later. So once you’ve tucked in to your heart’s content, stash the rest into the freezer. Reheat and enjoy as a treat on a busy week night