"It's not much but it's ours"

Sunday, July 17, 2011


In the last few weeks, as much for my own enjoyment as any other reason, I have been undertaking research into the all too familiar cast of dishes that appear on British curry houses.

While some of these dishes, like the splendid Chicken Tikka Masala, may be truly British inventions, others, like the Vindaloo, the Korma, the Dopiaza and the Phaal do have roots in dishes that can be found on the Indian subcontinent, even if the curry house versions may be entirely unrecognisable to anyone from India.

Although, the versions of these dishes that can found in the Taj Mahal's and Standard Tandoori's of Blighty can be delicious, if well made, there is usually a “one sauce fits all” appearance to them that pays testament to the pre-preparation required in any restaurant and the lack of authenticity of curry house versions.

So, in an attempt to rectify this and get to the source of the sauce, I am going to spend the next few weeks in my kitchen attempting to find authentic recipes for those dishes we love so much and to present them on DH with a little cultural background to give added spice.

To begin, the Bhuna. It’s a rich, dark, spicy and thick dish that has become one of the most popular of Indian restaurant staples. It has its origins in North East India and the areas of Bengal and what is now Bangladesh to thank for its popularity in UK curry houses.

In the early 1950’s, large numbers of immigrants from Pakistan, East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and India began to flow into the United Kingdom. Initially they came to fill roles in the ship building, textile and steel industries and graduated towards areas like West Yorkshire, Scotland and Lancashire. Soon, however, a number of these new immigrants began opening restaurants. At first these modest places were aimed at feeding their fellow immigrants, yearning for a taste of the homeland. However, they soon became popular with the local community and, as their popularity spread, so too the dishes became modified to widen their appeal.

The word Bhuna, I am told, literally means to fry and refers to a process where spices or spice pastes were fried to release their oils before meat (usually goat) was added and then allowed to cook in its own juices and the spices.

Recipes vary, but my own version involves the laborious, but entirely worth the effort, approach of marinating cubes of lamb in spices, onion paste, ginger, garlic, chilli, methi (fenugreek) leaf and a little yoghurt for a couple of hours before then cooking them down in their own juices, with sliced onions and tomato until they are covered in a rich, dark, spicy coating.

The recipe below certainly takes a bit of effort, as so many good recipes do, but it is definitely worth trying if you want to experience an authentic version of a curry house classic.

3lbs Lamb (I used cubed lamb leg)
1 Large White Onion
4 Fresh Green Chillies
2 Inches Fresh Ginger (Peeled)
5 Cloves Garlic (Peeled)
1 12oz Can Plum Tomatoes (Drained and chopped)
3 Tbsp Whole Milk Yoghurt
1 Tsp Coriander Powder
1 Tsp Hot Chilli Powder
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Sugar
1 Tsp Cumin Powder
1 Tsp Turmeric
1 Tsp White Pepper
½ Cup Fenugreek Leaf (Fresh if you can find them, but dried worked well for me)
1 Stick Cinnamon
4 Green Cardamom Pods
4 Cloves
4 Dried Red Chillies (try and use Kasmiri Chillies if you can find them. They add a great red colour without adding to the heat too much)
¼ Cup Vegetable Oil

Blend half the onion into a fine paste.
Make a fine paste of the fresh green chillies, ginger and garlic.
Drain and chop the tomatoes.
Dry fry the whole spices (cinnamon, cardamom pods, cloves, dry red chillies) and grind to a fine powder and combine with the pre-ground spices.
Combine the lamb with yoghurt, spices, fenugreek leaf, onion paste and half the ginger/garlic/chilli paste in a large bowl. Cover with cling film and marinade for at least two hours.
Heat the ¼ cup of oil in a deep sides pan. It may seem like a lot of oil, but it really adds to the flavour and you can skim off excess as it is cooking.
Finely slice the remaining half of the onion and fry in the oil until it is golden brown.
Add the remaining half of the ginger/garlic/chilli paste and fry on a low heat for five minutes.
Add the tomatoes and cook for five minutes until they begin to break down.
Add the lamb and all its marinade. Cover the pan and cook for thirty minutes.
After this time it will have created a lot of its own liquid.
Cook for a further thirty minutes on a low heat until the liquid has reduced by half.
At this point, I add ½ pint of water and continue the reducing process. I find this results in really succulent lamb and a rich sauce with a lovely sheen.
Continue cooking until the sauce reduces to little more than a coating.
Serve with rice and rotis.
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

How fabulous of you to share this! I grew up in Hyderabad where this dish is from - and now I'm going to try and replicate this bhuna ghosht recipe in my non-Hyderabadi kitchen in London. I can't seem to find fresh methi leaves anywhere Central. Can I use the dried ones or methi seeds? And if yes, then how much?

Sunday, July 17, 2011 8:40:00 pm  
Blogger Sassy Fork said...

What a great idea to present authentic recipes with a bit of history!Had no idea Bhuna came from the North East.Looking forward to the whole series

Monday, July 18, 2011 3:24:00 am  
Blogger Debs @ DKC said...

Sounds like a fab recipe, can't wait to try it, thanks for sharing and I look forward to more dishes.

Monday, July 18, 2011 8:28:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But is the Chicken Tikka Masala a truly British invention? I think not-it is simply the famous Murgh Makhani of Delhi with boneless tikkas insted of tandoori chicken on the bone.

Friday, July 22, 2011 9:32:00 pm  
Anonymous MacD said...

I cooked this Lamb Bhuna the other day, and it was great - thanks. Keep the recipes coming - I'm always on the hunt for good Indian recipes which are more like the food cooked at home than the usual curry house stuff we are served here.

Friday, August 05, 2011 11:25:00 am  
Anonymous TonyS said...

Made and ate this last night. Delicious. Reminded me of your rendang recipe. The multiple reductions gave the meat a similar texture. One for the book.

Sunday, August 14, 2011 11:41:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@poojavir...Most indian shops have fersh methi, the one on drummond street,behind euston station always seems to have it (they seem to have everything indian under the sun, from hajmola to umm.methi).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011 4:23:00 pm  
Blogger Tommy bass said...

wow, thanks for an amazing recipe. i love the amount of effort involved. its goning to be great fun to make . i will let you know how it turns out

Thursday, October 20, 2011 12:54:00 am  

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