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Every Bengali meal ends with a sweet note and so the series on Bengali cuisine too as expected, but this year we are doing it differently. A sweet rossogolla or a mango sandesh should be the fitting finale to grand poila baisakh luncheon, but we are concluding the series with Calcutta’s Mutton chaap. Yes Calcutta and not Kolkata, the relic of the past is very much evident on its cuisine. Chaap is no traditional Bengali cuisine, it is more Mughlai in origin with an undeniable Anglo influence. And Calcuttan welcomes it with open arms, give it a special place in their heart, and through time it acquired a cult image.
My introduction to “Chaap” was in late 90’s during my college days, before that I have never come across it. Having spent much of my time in and around Park Circus, the hub of Mughlai cuisine, Chaap slowly wins me over with its rich taste and aroma, that is distinctly Mughlai in nature. Rehmania in those days was quite good, but when Shiraz opened its door, with its legendary biryani, we knew this should be the mecca for all Mughlai dishes. Aminia is more akin to chicken chaap, it used to be pretty good, but when it comes to mutton chaap, the only name that surfaced was always “Shiraz” and its legendary rezala.
Many would love to differ from it, and should be, when it comes to food, every food corner in the streets of Kolkata should be given a fair chance. If you think Royal at Chitpur serves the best mutton chaap, so be it, the warmth and pleasure of enjoying food without edible ideologies are like eating food without spices ! The year when I left Kolkata another legend was waiting to happen and that was “Arsalan”, the new destination for all Mughlai lovers.
Within a couple of years its reputation chased me down to the heart of Biryani city “Hyderabad” and I knew I had to try it . The old name faded into oblivion and the new was taking its place. The change of guard was obvious, and Arsalan becomes the new destination in the town for all mughlai food lovers. Some one has to take the legend of Mughlai cuisine forward, Arsalan is doing it with utmost conviction.
Whose idea it was to use rib chops in the “chaap” recipe will never be known, like many other things in the history remain unknown, but whoever introduced the concept, was definitely a food connoisseur in its own right. The tender rib chops of young lamb or goat slowly bhuno (braising will be a very faint word to describe the process) in ghee, slathered in rich and fragrant juices dripping from the bones, and an equally delectable biryani on a side is perhaps the best match made in heaven.
This recipe of “mutton chaap” is a derived one, adapted from the printed recipe published long back in Statesman by the chef’s of “Saffron” at HHI and at place I have followed my own instincts . At restaurants, cooks does use posto /or poppy-seed paste to thicken the gravy, it is no longer a secret and they also use sattu (gram flour) too, I perceived these additions as a fillers. Papaya and chickpea flour helps to absorb the spices and make it clings to the tender meat pieces. And the result is juicy and tender rib chops bathed in the Mughlai spices with lots of fat or oil dripping down the bones.
- 8 : Rib chops (mutton - lamb or goat. I have used goat here)
- 3 tbsp : Raw Papaya (grated)
- ½ cup : Yogurt
- 1 tbsp : Ginger - garlic paste
- 1 tsp : Garam masala (check the note)
- 1 tsp : Red chilli
- 1 : Red onion (sliced)
- 1 tbsp : Minced ginger and garlic
- 3-4 : Green chillies
- 1 tsp : Garam masala
- 1 tsp : Cumin powder
- 1 tsp : Red chilli powder
- ¼ tsp : Turmeric powder
- 2 tbsp : Chickpea flour
- 2 tbsp : Almond paste
- 2 tbsp : Melon seed (charmagaz) paste
- 2-3 tbsp : Ghee
- Few threads of Saffron soaked in warm water
- Salt to taste
- Sugar to taste
- One or two Bay Leaf
- Few drops of kewra water (Screwpine essence)
- Few drops of Rose water
- Wash and cut the ribs into half. With a meat tenderiser, beat the meat to make it more tender. But do not over do it. If you do not have the meat mallet then you can use the back of your steel spoon too. But this step is important and this ensures the even cooking of meat and it will be able to absorb all the flavours and spices.
- Mix the marinade in a bowl, apply the marinade generously over the ribs and refrigerate it for at least 3-4 hours. I wrap it with a cling film and refrigerate overnight.
- Bring the ribs / chaap to room temperature and sprinkle some salt over it. You will find that the ribs absorb all the marinades.
- In a flat fry pan, add one teaspoon of ghee and heat it. Fry the sliced onions till it becomes translucent, also add the green chillies, minced ginger and garlic. Do not brown it. Cool it and make a paste in the mixer.
- In the same pan, add another tablespoon of ghee, warm it and slowly add the rib chops along with the marinade (which clinges to the rib chops )
- Braise (bhuno) it on high flame for 5 minutes.
- Add the Onion, ginger-garlic paste now and keep braising it on medium flame. Add the chickpea flour too.
- Next add the spices (garam masala and make a paste of turmeric powder, cumin powder and red chilli powder) and keep braising on medium flame.
- Sprinkle salt over it and few dashes of sugar. It will add nice caramel color to the meat. By this time meat should leave enough fat. If it is not, then add few drops of ghee.
- Once you are satisfied with the color of the meat and braising (bhuno) is done, check the seasonings and add the almond and melon seed paste.
- Mix it well. Stir in the saffron water, bay leaves, Kewra water, rose water, cover the pan tightly and simmer the chaap on low heat till done.
- Once it is cooked, remove the bay leafs and close the lid for sometime before serving.
- Serve the mutton chaap with rumali roti or saffron rice or with mughlai biryani.
Chaap was perfect to the core, the meat was absolutely tender and juicy, we prefer it slightly charred, the gravy was highly aromatic with garam masala and kewra essence playing the magic and was most delectable meat dishes I have ever made. I prefer it with biryani like many others, but that day we happen to make some mishti pulao / saffron rice, we enjoyed it with that. You can serve it with biryani or rumali roti or anything you prefers to.
Have a blessed year ahead !