This post is about how I build recipes.
(There’s now a more thorough and updated achari recipe here.)
On Thursday, I was running short of ideas for what to cook, and asked the internet.
This proved to be a mistake in several ways. What follows is a little long-form,
and you may well wish to just skip to the recipe itself.
(You should also pick up a copy of this. It’s a great curry reference)
First, from Twitter, there was the mass exhortation to go for a kebab:
And then, well, I had to summarize the rest of the discussion using a simple diagram:
Logic fail: not all dead cats are a subset of kebabs. I hope.
None of this got me any closer to working out what to cook. I set to thinking.
Building a recipe
Now, Allegra McEvedy’s recipe for Tagliatelle with slow-cooked lamb, mint and broad
beans is something I’ve mentioned before. It’s not revolutionary, but as a way of
handling lamb it’s just stuck in my mind, and I’ve been meaning to use the technique
as a basis for experimentation. The core of the recipe is slow cooking lamb shoulder
in white wine and stock, with handfuls of fresh thyme, then shredding it back into
a reduced sauce. It’s reasonably easy and hands-off, save for the messy shredding
stage in the middle, and produces a fantastically flavoursome base sauce. So it’s
not a bad place to start.
That’s the first problem solved. It’s to be slow-cooked lamb. But Allegra’s recipe
turns into a pasta dish, and with quite a wet sauce. I wasn’t in the mood for either
of those things, feeling something drier, more texturally like an old-school well-reduced
Here’s where it gets a bit globetrotting fusion-wank.
Lamb Achari, (often aachar gosht) is one of my favourite curry-house Indian
dishes. The sourness of the pickling spices goes beautifully with the slight crumbly
dryness of slow-cooked lamb. There’s a great recipe on p82 of Camelia Panjabi’s
book 50 Great Curries of India (the small-format paperback edition). It
works, and you should make it. Also, it’s a lamb dish, with a fairly portable spice
flavour, and not a million miles from my starting point. So I’m stealing that.
The next stop is the chachouka recipe on p20 of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s
River Cottage: Veg Everyday. It’s a North-African pepper stew, similar
to pepperonata, finished by cracking eggs over the top to fry/bake in the
oven as the stew finishes. It’s very simple – tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onion,
cumin, paprika, and saffron. Although I never quite cared for the eggs, the textures
work well, and it has a lot of richness to it.
So there’s three things that fit the bill. All rich, in broadly the right colour
spectrum, amenable to plugging into other big flavours, and probably quite happy
to sit side by side. That’s dinner, then – Italian Afro-Indian fusion lamb stew.
In for penny and pound alike, I served it with wilted, stir fried spring greens
with lashings of garlic and a dash of soy. Because why the fuck not.
- Lamb shoulder
- A tin of tomatoes
- A couple of glasses of white wine
- Plenty of veg (or chicken) stock
- Fresh thyme
- Red peppers
- Cumin seeds
- Mustard seeds
- Coriander seeds
- Fennel seeds
- Plenty of black pepper
- Sear the lamb in a hot pan. A heavy, lidded casserole pan is ideal for this, as
you can do it all largely in one pot.
- Once it’s browned, add the wine, stock, thyme, garlic, and half the can of tomatoes.
- Put it in a medium oven (say 160 or something) for one and a half to two hours.
Check it periodically. It should reduce, but not dry out. You can use this time
to fuck about with peppers and spices.
- Quarter the peppers, and slice the onions.
- Gently fry the onions for a few minutes until they start to soften and colour.
- Add the peppers, and continue frying until they’ve softened. This will probably
take something like 15 minutes.
- Add the spices, and fry them off for a couple of minutes, stirring reasonably constantly
so they don’t burn.
- Add the tomatoes, and maybe a little water, season with plenty of black pepper,
and allow the whole thing to cook together on a low heat for a few minutes. Meanwhile,
the lamb should have done it’s thing.
- Once the lamb is tender enough to flake and shred, remove it from the sauce and
put it to one side.
- Add the spiced pepper mixture to the sauce.
- Return the sauce to the oven with the lid off to reduce and come together. If it’s
still very liquid, reduce it on the hob.
- Once the lamb has cooled enough to handle a little flake or shred it. I used a couple
- Add the lamb back into the sauce, and let the whole thing reduce further until it’s
got that jam-like consistency of a ragù, then serve.
I used too much liquid at the outset, so the final reduction was quite savage on
the hob. I always worry this damages the final flavour. Certainly it would be better
if it had all just happened quietly in the oven. Removing the lid earlier in the
cooking process may go some way to addressing this, provided the lamb doesn’t dry
It has the sour piquancy of the achari, which the peppers complement well. There’s
the wonderful texture of the shredded lamb, and just enough juice, too.
One thing I’d consider is adding butterbeans to make amore of a hearty one-pot deal
out of it all.
A final note on spices.
The achari recipe mandates: 1 ½ tsp fennel seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, ¾ tsp mustard
seeds, 1 tsp kalonji seeds (sometimes called black onion, or nigella seeds), and
¾ tsp fenugreek seeds.
They’re pounded a little in a pestle and mortar. I was making it up as I went along,
and had run out of kalonji. So it ended up with around a teaspoon each way of cumin,
mustard, and coriander seeds, with a pinch of fennel seeds as an afterthought. However,
I’d definitely repeat this with the full mix.
As an aside: 50 Great Curries is rather good. There’s a thorough
overview section at the beginning that walks you through how the flavour combinations
work, the correct frying of spices, and the mechanics of the base sauces. It’s the
best introductory curry book I’ve used.