Go ahead and imagine the most flavorful bite of food you can. What makes it so flavorful? Is it the amount of salt? The amount of heat? The amount of fat? The amount of acidity?
All of these factors come into play in this recipe for lamb curry from April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig. It’s undoubtedly the best curry I’ve ever had in my life; but it may also be the single most flavorful bite of food I can remember eating in a long, long time.
When you see what goes into it, you won’t be surprised that it’s so flavorful. I had to buy a few specialty ingredients to make this curry–kaffir lime leaves and fenugreek seeds (on the bottom), not to mention turmeric and cumin seeds (which are easier to find):
The fenugreek and cumin get toasted in a skillet along with fennel seeds:
And everything (including the turmeric and kaffir lime leaves) gets added to a spice grinder, along with cloves, star anise, cardamom pods, pequin chilies, and freshly grated nutmeg. Blitz that up and behold something far greater than any curry powder you can buy at a store:
I should probably mention here, at this juncture, that a real Indian curry would probably have curry leaves in it. April Bloomfield makes no pretense of calling this an authentic curry; “It’s not traditional by any means, but I really like it,” she says.
Once you have your spice mixture, you’ll need to slice up shallots (I used yellow onions that worked fine), garlic, fresh ginger and whole tomatoes:
That’s a cinnamon stick in there with the ginger–as if this needed MORE flavor.
But wait, there IS more flavor. After cooking those onions and garlic on high heat until they’re brown…
You add the spices and ginger and cinnamon stick…
Then you add the tomatoes and cook until the mixture is dry…
At which point you add the final flavor factor: cilantro roots, orange peel, lemon peel, orange juice, lemon juice, lime juice and pineapple juice.
Are you following all this? Can you imagine this? All of that citrus with all of those spices and all of that ginger and garlic and onions. And then on top of that, you add LAMB–the most flavorful meat ever:
I did a bad job of browning my lamb (I crowded the pan) but it didn’t matter. It’s lamb shoulder, which is tough at first, but after almost three hours in the oven it becomes meltingly tender and totally infused with all of those big, bold flavors. This may be an ugly picture but there was nothing ugly about how that all smelled:
Serve it up on rice and you have a dinner so good, you won’t be able to forget it for a long time. (And with the way it perfumes your house or apartment, you won’t be able to.)
I’m anticipating the inevitable comments–“This isn’t a real curry! So how can it be the best?”–but until you taste this next to your favorite curry, authentic or otherwise, I won’t be able to take your protest seriously. Because this is without question the best curry I’ve ever had or plan to have in my life.
Recipe: The Best Curry of Your Life
Summary: From April Bloomfield’s new cookbook, “A Girl And Her Pig.”
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted
- 2 tablespoons cumin seeds, toasted
- 1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds, toasted (to toast these three, just add them to a dry skillet, turn up the heat and toss around until fragrant)
- 10 whole cloves
- 2 whole star anise
- 3 green cardamom pods
- 3 fresh kaffir lime leaves
- 1 tablespoon crumbled dried pequin chilies or red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus more for lamb)
- 2 cups thinly sliced shallots (or yellow onions, if that’s easier)
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1/2 small cinnamon stick
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh ginger (from a 3-ounce piece)
- 3 cups drained, trimmed, and chopped canned peeled whole tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons Maldon or another flaky sea salt
- 8 cilantro roots with 2 inches of stem attached, washed well and finely chopped (I just used the stems; not sure about the roots!) (save the leaves for garnish)
- A 5-inch strip of orange peel, any white pith cut away
- A 5-inch strip of lemon peel, any white pith cut away
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 1/2 cups pineapple juice (fresh, bottled, or canned)
- 4 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces (I only bought 2 pounds and that worked fine for two people)
- Make the curry first by combining the toasted spices, cloves, star anise, cardamom, lime leaves, red pepper flakes, nutmeg, and turmeric in a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder, and grind them until you have a very fine powder.
- Heat a large Dutch oven or other heavy ovenproof pot over medium high heat and add the olive oil. When the oil just begins to smoke, add the shallots (or onions) and garlic [note: if I had to do this again, I’d wait to add the garlic so it doesn’t brown before the onions!] and cook, stirring often, until they’re deep brown, about 10 minutes. Add the ground spice mixture, cinnamon stick, and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and salt (I didn’t add all 2 tablespoons at first–it seemed like so much!–so I added 1 tablespoon here and about 1/2 tablespoon later to taste), stirring frequently, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture looks quite dry, about 15 minutes.
- Stir in the cilantro, citrus peel and juice, and pineapple juice, then remove from the heat and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat until smoking; meanwhile, season the lamb with lots of salt. In batches, brown the meat (believe me: it’s worth doing this in batches–I crowded the pan and ended up with gray meat) all over, 12 to 15 minutes per batch. As the pieces finish browning, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the Dutch oven with the curry mixture. Brown the following batches in all the nice fat remaining in the pan, transferring the pieces to the Dutch oven as they are done, and then discard the fat.
- Give the lamb pieces a good stir to coat them in the curry mixture, cover the pot, and put it in the oven. Cook the lamb 1 1/2 hours, stirring now and then.
- Reduce the heat to 250 F and let it go until the lamb is fork tender but not totally falling apart, another hour or so. Serve over rice and garnish with cilantro leaves, if you like.
You may be freaking out about some of these ingredients–kaffir lime leaves? fenugreek? pequin chilies?–and normally I’d tell you to go ahead and make it without them, but, instead, think of this as an opportunity to do some serious spice shopping, either in real life or online. The exotic spices in this dish are part of what makes it taste so special.
Preparation time: 20 minute(s)
Cooking time: 3 hour(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4