Lamb in Fragrant Garlic Cream Sauce (Rogan Josh)

by Julie Sahni (from Classical Indian Cooking)

This is truly the finest example of the superb flavoring of Moghul cooking. With its velvety sauce, filled with the aroma of garlic butter, it is every inch an imperial dish. Although there are several versions of Rogan Josh, no variation equals this one from Kashmir, the northernmost state of India. For such a special preparation, use only the best: top-quality lamb free of all membranes and tissues, the freshest and sweetest smelling yogurt, and freshly ground spices.

Traditionally, the meat is first marinated for several hours in a yogurt-spice mixture before being cooked in a the marinade. This process tenderizes the meat. But I find the lamb in this country so tender and of such good quality that I cut short this step. Instead, I let the cooked meat sit in its sauce for a short time before serving it. This allows the flavors of the sauce to permeate the meat and make it even more flavorful.

Marinade. Put all the ingredients except the ghee or butter into the container of a blender or food processor, and process until the ingredients are finely pureed.

Cut the meat into 1.5" cubes and place them in large bowl. Pour the marinade and the ghee over it. Mix thoroughly to coat the meat pieces with the marinade. Cover, and let the meat marinate for at least 30 minutes at room temperature, or 2 hours in the refrigerator. (Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you are ready to cook the meat.)

Transfer the meat, along with the marinade, to a heavy-bottomed pan (preferably one with a non-stick surface). Place the pan over medium-low heat, and gently bring the contents to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, covered, until the lamb is very tender. The lamb is done when a fork or thin skewer pierces it without any resistance (about 2--2.5 hours depending upon the heat, pan used, and above all, the quality of the meat). Stir frequently to prevent the sauce's sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning.

Heat the ghee in a small frying pan over high heat. When it is very hot, add the garlic, and stirring rapidly, fry for 15 seconds. Immediately add the cumin, cardamom, and Mughal garam masala. As soon as the spices begin to sizzle and release their fragrance (about 3--5 seconds), turn off the heat and pour the perfumed butter, along with the spices, over the meat. Add the cream, and stir to distribute the ingredients. Let the meat rest at room temperature for 2 hours.

When ready to serve, check for salt, then reheat the meat until piping hot, and serve.

Note. Sometimes too much moisture evaporates during cooking, causing the ghee to separate from the sauce. If that happens, add a little milk or water, a tablespoon at a time, until the fat is incorporated back into the sauce. Do not degrease, as the fragrant ghee is one of the primary flavoring ingredients in this dish.

Note. Rogan josh definitely improves in flavor with keeping. Therefore I would advise you to make it the day before you are planning to serve it. It keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, and also freezes well. Defrost thoroughly before reheating. To reheat, simmer gently over low heat until warmed through. As always, taste for salt, and if necessary, add a fresh batch of perfumed butter (using very little butter, of course).

Mughal Garam Masala

This recipe captures, insofar as possible, the fragrance of the original classic blend that once filled the Moghul courts and perfumed their food.

Break open cardamom pods. Remove seeds, and reserve. Discard the skin. Crush cinnamon with a kitchen mallet or rolling pin to break it into small pieces. Combine all the spices except nutmeg, and grind them to a fine powder. Mix in the grated nutmeg, if desired. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.

Note. This recipe may be cut in half.