Many days I need something different, not the usual preparation but an equally aromatic and meaty curry but without the typical onion-garlic- tomato masala. The rogan josh delivers. Rogan (fat) from the lamb and josh (intensity) from the kashmiri red chillies, combined with the warming flavors of ginger, fennel & hing, each morsel of this kashmiri dish with origins in Persia is a true delight.The spice selection is different than the usual turmeric or coriander and its a much needed change at dinner time.You can easily do it wrong by choosing a lean meat (like chicken) for making rogan josh.It is not rogan josh unless the meat cooks in its own fat plus the aromatic & bold infusion of whole black cardamoms, bay leaf and sharp indian cinnamon or cassia bark to develop a robust, distinctive taste.
This recipe comes from my aunt, a true blue Kashmiri. To tell you the truth, I had eaten it all wrong before I ate rogan josh prepared by her. My first time was some six years back, and while the meat cooked on the stove, I could tell that it did not smell like the usual curries which we are used to eating in our homes,the strong liquorice aroma of fennel & smoky chillies permeating the atmosphere of the house till quite a few hours later.The vibrant red hue of the dish was indicative of its essential character, of royalty, of feast. Last month, I tried the recipe she told me over the phone twice, it didn’t come out great the first time. I over did the ginger, but the second time it was insanely good. ‘You could use a few spoons of thin dahi (yogurt) if you like, but it’s not necessary, water will do’, she tells me.In addition, she briefs me about using ground fennel the way I would use coriander powder in day today north indian recipes.Using mustard oil is the authentic route but since its not a popular oil in the west, I would say substitute with any neutral oil in this recipe if you do not get it.
No tomatoes, no garlic, no onion and no ready to use garam masala (please). These are not used in kashmiri rogan josh. The finished braised dish is more of meat chunks coated in oily flavors than a thin gravy or sauce.It is supposed to have oil separating on the plate from the meat chunks when you serve.Mop that oil with roti or soak some basmati in it.It taste unique and smells fragrant. Your tastebuds will take a while to adjust to the fennel if you are a heavy coriander eating person like me, but then it gets addictive. Many a times, dried kashmiri chillies are soaked in water, ground to a paste and then used to make rogan josh but I think, the dry kashmiri chill powder works fine too. Traditionally,ratanjot spice is used for the intense red color but trust me it’s not easy to find outside India.
Ingredients (Serve 2-3)
- 1.5 lb (boneless) lamb shoulder, cut into 2 ” chunks ( or mutton or beef)
- 1/2 tbsp mustard oil
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2.5 tbsp plain whole milk yogurt (not greek)
- 5 tbsp mustard oil
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- scant 1/2 tsp hing (asafoetida)powder
- 1 small tejpatta (indian bay leaf)
- 5 green cardamom, cracked open
- 1 black cardamom, cracked open
- 1.5 – 2 tbsp kashmiri mirch powder (or use 1.5 tbsp paprika)
- 1/4 tsp ginger powder
- 1.5 tsp powdered fennel seeds
- 1/4 tsp red chilli powder (or cayenne, adjust to taste)
- salt to taste
- 1/2 cup water
- scant pinch of saffron (optional)
- fresh cilantro for garnish
To be dry roasted
- 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 whole cardamom
- 6 whole black peppercorns
- 1/2 inch cinnamon (cassia bark)
- 2 cloves
- 1 small blade mace
- Traditionally mutton is used in the preparation of rogan josh. If you get it where you live, go ahead and use that meat. I used lamb since I do not get good quality mutton or goat meat where I reside.
- Fresh ground fennel is really strong. I usually grind the fennel a day ahead and leave covered on countertop. If you use fresh ground do not use more than 3/4 tsp or maybe less.
- The rogan josh is supposed to have little or no gravy. So do not add too much water. It is supposed to have an oil separating from the meat chunks when you serve.You will need a soupy side dish or gravy if you plan to serve it with steamed rice.
- Substitute mustard with any neutral oil.
Rub the lamb pieces with 1/2 tbsp mustard oil and salt. Set aside for 20 minutes. In a small bowl, thin out the yogurt with 2-3 tbsp of water. Mix to a smooth consistency. Set aside.
In a heavy bottomed pot, heat up the mustard oil.Mustard oil needs to be heated more than the usual oil to do away the raw smell. Heat till you see that the oil turns pale from its deep golden color. Reduce heat to low. Add the cumin and hing. Wait for the aroma. About 5-7 seconds. Add the marinated lamb. Bump up the heat to medium Stir around so that the lamb pieces are coated in oil. You will seed that in 1-2 minutes the lamb will start changing color. Add the green & black cardamom. Stir for another 1-2 minutes.
Now, reduce the heat to low. Add the kashmiri chilli powder a teaspoon at a time and immediately add a splash of thin yogurt.Stir around gently.Do this till all the chili powder and yogurt are exhausted, adding yogurt at the last. Continue on low heat so that the yogurt does not curdle and the chili does not burn.If you feel that the pot is way too hot, take off the stove for a while and return back.After about 2 minutes, bump up the heat to medium and add the ginger powder, ground fennel, red chili powder and salt.Str around, you will see a lot of liquid in the pot but that’s okay. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Let simmer covered on low heat for about 1 hour and 10 minutes (or more, depending on how big the meat pieces are) till the lamb is almost 95% cooked. You will need to check the pot 3-4 times in between to ensure that it is not sticking to the bottom, you can add a splash of water if needed.
While the lamb is cooking , in a small pan dry roast the spices listed under ‘to be roasted’ for a minute or less. Transfer to a coffee grinder or mortar & pestle and coarsely grind. Once the lamb is 95% cooked, add these spices to the pot, add about 1/2 cup water and cover again. Let simmer for another 20 minutes till the lamb is cooked through.
Let sit for 40 minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.