Mad about mutton
The other day we went to this restaurant called Pot Belly. The name was endearing enough. But what intrigued me was that its USP was Bihari cuisine. Now, I would not have described myself as insular, but the fact is that though I am from Bengal, and Bihar is a neighbouring state, I was completely unaware that Biharis have a distinctive culinary repertoire.
Anyway, so off we went to the newly opened Pot Belly outlet at Bihar Niwas in Delhi’s Chanakyapuri area. Browsing the menu itself was a delight. There was the commonly known Bihari staple of Litti chokha (whole wheat balls stuffed with sattu and served with aubergine mash and potato mash), of course, but also a whole lot of other gorgeous sounding dishes such as Fish Chokha on Marua Roti (Fish paste served on crispy buckwheat pooris), Pothia Machhli Fry (Small deep fried fish serve with hot banana chips), Dana Jhamarua Thali (Aubergine and potato in a mustard gravy served with rice flour rotis stuffed with spiced poppy seeds), Golmirch Chicken, Champaran Style Mutton and so on.
We had the Saboodana basket (deepfried spicy tapioca dumplings served with parwal and tomato mash) as a starter, followed by Golmirch Chicken with lachchha paratha and Champaran style mutton with moong dal ke pooris. The Saboodana dumplings, spiced with bits of green chillies, ginger and coriander leaves were chatpata enough. But the Golmirch Chicken and the Champaran Style Mutton packed a truly amazing punch. The former was chicken in a mild-hot creamy sauce (dahi, cream and sunflower seed paste, perked up with a liberal sprinkling of peppercorns), and the latter an absolute zinger of a dish — succulent pieces of mutton in a gravy full of the flavours of ginger, green chillies and crushed pepper.
Both the dishes used boneless meats and although I am not a great fan of flesh without bones, the tastes were so refreshingly different that I am not going to carp about that.
And oh, the moong dal poori was excellent, as was the lachchha paratha — tasty and cooked to a turn — not underdone inside as is often the case with parathas that you get in restaurants.
I found the aubergine chokha interesting. Mainly because it was almost identical to the Bengali Begun pora, where, after charring the brinjal on an open fire and peeling off its blackened skin, you mash the flesh with a bit of mustard oil, salt, and chopped green chillies. It’s a wonderfully aromatic and appetising dish, and to my mind, its sharp clean flavour is infinitely superior to the north Indian bharta, where the smoked aubergine mash is stir-fried with chopped onions and tomatoes.
I did find the aubergine chokha at Pot Belly a bit watery, though. Still, it’s a minor flaw and on the whole this was a pretty rewarding dining experience.
In fact, I was so enamoured with the taste of Champaran Style Mutton that I promptly tried to replicate it in my kitchen. I don’t know if this is how Puja Sahu, the nice girl who runs Pot Belly makes it, but I was blown away by the result of my experiment. Try it. Hot and tangy, it’s a great party dish and it’s bound to leave your guests asking for more.
Champaran Style Mutton (My Version)
2 large onions chopped
3 inch piece ginger grated
A few cloves of garlic, crushed
Two tbs of crushed peppercorns
6 green chillies chopped fine
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
2 tsp slightly coarse coriander powder (you could also roast whole coriander and crush it)
A few sticks of cinnamon
A few cloves
Salt to taste
Mustard oil to fry
Mix the mutton with the curd and leave to marinate for an hour.
Heat the oil in a wok. Drop the cinnamon and cloves into it and then the chopped onions. Fry over high heat and then over medium heat, stirring continuously till the onion is a dark golden brown in colour. Add the garlic, fry a bit and then add the ginger. Keep frying over medium to low heat till the onion-garlic-ginger mixture is an even brownish colour and the oil separates. Now mix a little water with the chilli, turmeric and coriander powder. Add the mixture and fry until the masala stops giving off that "raw", taste-killer of a smell.
Take out the mutton pieces from the marinade (the marinade that sticks to the mutton is fine) and put them in the wok. Add salt and fry over high heat. A little later, lower the heat somewhat and continue frying. Add the crushed peppercorns and the chopped green chilles.
Fry the mutton, turning it over fairly continuously. If the masala begins to stick to the bottom of the wok add a splash of water to keep things mobile. Remember, the more you fry — without getting the spices burnt — the better will be the taste. It’s hard work, but totally worth it!
Meanwhile put some water -- not too much as you don't want a watery gravy -- in a pressure cooker and bring it to boil. Once the meat has taken on a rich dark colour, transfer the contents of the wok to the pressure cooker.
Give it a few whistles — I usually let my meat cook for about 20 minutes after the first whistle.
Open the pressure cooker to see if the mutton is done. Adjust seasoning. And then boil away excess gravy till you have a thickish sauce.
Serve hot with parathas.