I consider this luxury cooking, my kitchen being perfumed with toasted spices and a large amount of frying onions. Nothing can go wrong with an enormous amount of caramelized onions.
I never fail to have at least a few orders of this dish whenever I visit home. I close my eyes and relish; the tender chunks of meat with the fragrant sauce and the separating oil mopped clean with a few parathas or Tandoori roti. Vinegar dipped onions and salad on the side. There is something about it that makes me wistful every single time I think of it. Memories entwined with it of my little town, the streets, my friends and family and good old days…. I start to lose myself to the time that have slowly slipped away from me.
Long long time back, when I was probably just the age of my little girl now, there came to our then quiet and old fashioned town, the very first significant restaurant. A restaurant which kind of introduced to the laid back small town to the popular Indo-Chinese cuisine and also to the concept of “eating out” or rather making eating out a more common affair. Before this happened, we had to go to the big city or do a carry out from one of the restaurants there, if we desired the luxury of restaurant food. The small time restaurants that resided in the suburbs for years had limited menus which remained the same for a few generations. We had no complains with that, for they delivered the good food which we all were used to and did not have to fear the change.
But I suppose we were all ready for change of taste and flavors when the old became monotonous.
That is exactly what Samrat did. This “Emperor” (Samrat means Emperor) was here to rule and to stay. The narrow stairs opened up to a simple but neat air conditioned place. The aroma of the mixed cuisine fed our appetite as much as the cool air, making us forget about the heat and the tiring crowded, dusty streets down below. Even to this day I can go back there without a doubt in my mind and order the exact same dishes which I did probably twenty years back and never regret.
Fry the onions until softened and they start to brown before adding the meat…
Samrat did not just serve Indo-Chinese. It brought this new cuisine to the town but this place had all the hot favorites one can think of while one considers eating out. Biryani, Kobiraji and Do Pyazas… with a roar this place became synonymous with the new found restaurant culture of our town.
As I grew up, I slowly learned to recognize the quality of food and picked out places for favorite eats around Kolkata. Rolls in Badshah, Mughlai food and Kathi Rolls in Nizams, Peter Cat in Park Street, Peping and Waldorf for Chinese cuisine are only a few to name. Then there was Kwality, Oasis and Mocambo. There was Flury’s for European style bakery and also all our typical joints for street food in every corner. These are only a few which I still visit if I am visiting home. Some have been closed down, some have been bought over, but most of them still boom with customers who have remained loyal for ever. As loyal as they have remained to us who are craving the best food with consistent quality.
However Mutton Do Pyaza (or Dopeyaja as their menu says) for me always belonged to this small town ruler: Samrat. I have had this dish in many places, but for whatever reasons, the taste has overpowered any other and still lingers in my memory. I have gone over and over the flavors as I have tried to decipher a hundred times while I attempted to replicate. I had told myself long time back that if I did try to make a perfect Mutton Do Pyaza, it would be the one from Samrat. Ever since that first try, it had a big impression. So big that after twenty five years I still crave for it.
Over the years I have had to focus on what only remains embedded in my memories now. But the imprint is strong. I have been trying to unscramble, fathom and comprehend the complexity of what makes it the best and so very special. I might not have come even close. But what I have here today is what I love only next to that of Samrat’s. I have had friends and family lick every bit it and ask for more.
Do Pyaza maybe interpreted in many different ways. I have used both crispy fried and softened and slow cooked onions. I have used onions twice in the process and as well as double (or more) the amount. So in all possible aspects this is truly a Do Pyaza dish. I am making no claims that this is the one and only one way to make it. The recipe is entirely mine as it evolved over the years and I am only publishing it now as I have achieved what I wanted.
Mutton Do Pyaza
Ingredients: (serves 3-4)
- 1 lb mutton/goat meat
- 4 tablespoon plain, thick yogurt
- 1.5 tablespoon chili garlic paste (or combine garlic paste/pounded garlic with chili powder)
- 1 tablespoon ginger paste
- 2-3 tablespoon onion paste or grated onion (use a box grater)
- 1 tablespoon mustard oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 tablespoon grated raw papaya or a tiny bit of meat tenderizer (optional: this just helps the meat cook a bit faster and makes it tender)
For the Sauce:
- 5 tablespoon oil or ghee (ghee preferred)
- 1 cups packed thinly sliced onions + 1 tablespoon oil/ghee
- 1 large black cardamom
- 2 small green cardamom
- 2 inch stick cinnamon
- 6 cloves
- 5 hot green chili peppers, stemmed and slit (remove seeds and membrane if you do not want it too spicy)
- 4-5 cups (8 oz ) tightly packed thinly sliced onions (pref. red onions)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper (adjust amount to taste)
- 2 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
- 3/4 teaspoon methi/fenugreek seeds, pounded hard to somewhat break them
- 1 tablespoon coriander powder
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon Kashmiri red chili powder
- 1 cups water or as much needed, if needed.
- 1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala (homemade or store bought)
- a few drops of kewra water (optional)
Note: Please do not compromise on the amount of onion (or the time spent in slow cooking them). While more won’t hurt, less will. The onions make the dish, in both texture and flavors.
Note: I will have two ways to cook this; One will be the traditional long, slow cooked way and the other one is the quick way which I usually do these days.
Wash the meat clean and pat dry. Combine all the ingredients for the marinade and toss the meat well with it. Or you can place the marinade in a ziploc bag and place the meat in it. Then rub the marinade on the meat and allow it to sit for a couple of hours. Overnight works well.
When starting to cook: heat the tablespoon of oil or ghee. Add the cup full of sliced onions to the ghee/oil with a little sprinkle of sugar and salt and cook the onions in low to medium heat until the onions turn golden. Keep stirring and cook until they are brown and crisp, not burned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
To cook the short-cut way: Precooking the meat
Place the meat with the marinade and one cup of water in a pressure cooker and partially cook the meat, for about 10 minutes after the steam builds up or whatever time your pressure cooker will take to cook it. The meat should to a bit more than one fourth cooked. Let cool and open the pressure cooker. Set aside the pre cooked meat and the sauce and marinade.
For the traditional way, just remove the meat from the refrigerator if you were marinating in the refrigerator about an hour before you start cooking so it can come to room temperature.
Once it comes to the room temperature, remove the meat from the marinade (and save the marinade). Heat about a tablespoon of oil in the pan and place the meat, if possible in a single layer and slightly brown them on all sides, tossing and flipping them in required. Remove the meat and set aside. This is somewhat seal them so they remain moist.
Making the Sauce:
Pound the cardamoms, cinnamon and clove until they crack. Place them in a large (you are going to cook the meat here), heavy bottomed pan and let it heat up with pounded spices. As the spices toast there will be sweet aroma of the spices. Add the 5 tablespoon oil to the pan and allow it to heat up.
Once the oil is hot, add the sugar and stir it around in low heat until it starts to dissolve. Be careful not to burn the sugar. Add the slit green chili peppers and all the onions and cook at low to medium heat until the onions starts to caramelize. They will turn pinkish golden first and then deep brown on the edges, not dark or burnt brown. Now add the minced ginger and garlic and the fenugreek seeds to the cooked onions, toss well and cook again for about a couple of minutes.
Time to add the meat: If you have pre cooked the meat, strain them from the liquid (save the liquid) and place them in the pan. If you have just sealed the meat by browning them, place them in the pan with the onions. The cooking process is going to be the same for both, except the uncooked meat will take longer to complete.
Toss the meat well with the onions mix. Increase the heat. You will now be cooking mostly on medium to high heat. Add the turmeric, coriander powder, fresh grinds of black pepper and chili powder. Cook everything for about 5-7 minutes until the meat and the onion mix blends well. Now start adding some of the cooking liquid (if you have pre cooked the meat) , or some of the marinade with some sprinkle of water so the mix does not stick at the bottom of the pan and continue to cook at medium heat mostly. The target is to braise the meat slowly with the spice mix for the flavors to infuse slowly.
Cook slowly adding the cooking liquid or some of the marinade with warm water when the mix dries out. With the partially cooked meat you might need to cook for about 40 minutes, and much more with the uncooked meat. When all the cooking liquid/marinade + warm water is used up and the meat and the onion mix in the pan comes to a texture of a thick brown mix with oil separating from the sides, it is time to cover and do the final cooking for the meat to get tender.
Add a cup (less for the pre cooked meat as the meat might be almost done by now) of hot water to the pan, and the pre fried crisped onions and cover it tightly. The precooked meat will need less water and way less time to cook depending on how much it was cooked before. Cook until the meat is tender and almost falling off the bone. (might take more than an hour or hour and half for the uncooked meat). Add more water if required. The consistency of the final dish should be like the one I have in the wok (see photo).
If you want less sauce, you made uncover and reduce the liquid to what ever consistency you want. When done, add the Garam Masala powder and kewra water. Cook for five more minutes switch off the heat. Keep tightly covered until ready to serve. Garnish with fresh cilantro/coriander and more fresh slit green chili peppers if you wish.
Serve with rice or bread and good squeeze of fresh lemon juice on the meat. Sit down and enjoy your meal.
Preparation Time: 15-20 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour +
Difficulty level: Intermediate
Serves: 2-4 as side
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