Thanks in part to the coarsely named ‘Fat Les’ football anthem of the late 90s, vindaloo became near synonymous with lad culture and the various negative connotations involved therein.
Going for a curry became an exercise in machismo and vindaloo, somewhat unfairly, was labelled as the number one challenge in the heat tolerance stakes. With such a tag, much of the subtlety was inevitably lost amidst an ever-increasing barrage of heat.
Wrong on two levels. Vindaloo, although hot, should also encompass a subtle blend of spices creating a warming dish with a delicious sourness from the vinegar that creates much of the ‘gravy’, as it is called in India.
And as any true curry aficionado knows, the vindaloo isn’t the true challenge on the menu. That mantel has always, and will always, remain with the phaal – an eye-wateringly hot dish that could fell Brian Blessed at ten paces.
The great thing about making curries from scratch is that you can blend the spices to your desired taste, and I guarantee that no two will be the same. All part of the fun.
Although I usually use lamb neck or chicken thighs when cooking Indian dishes – the bone adds a depth of flavour and richness that you just can’t achieve with boneless meat – mutton is something that I’ve wanted to get on the menu for a while.
Despite the best efforts of the Prince of Wales, mutton has remained a meat that exists on the periphery of most people’s radar. As a result a special order with your butcher or a trip to a Middle Eastern supermarket might be in order. A kilo, bone in, will make a good-sized curry. Easily enough for four along with rice, bhajis and other necessary additions.
Mutton Vindaloo recipe
This recipe is an amalgamation (and a bit of freestyle) from Simon Majumdar of Dos Hermanos and Hub UK. I know the addition of tomatoes will probably see me ostracised by a great many traditionalists but I’m prepared to live with that.
Chillis are the foundation of this Portuguese inspired dish. Go for at least five or six dried chillis and take it from there depending on your taste and tolerance for heat. For those that prefer a milder curry experience, the heat can be tempered with yoghurt. Feel free to play around with the ratios.
5-6 (or more) dried chillis
An inch of dried cinnamon
Half a teaspoon of black pepper corns
A teaspoon of coriander seeds
A teaspoon of cumin seeds
Four cardamom pods, seeds removed
¼ nutmeg, grated
Two large garlic cloves
A thumb of ginger, peeled
Mash the spices together in a pestle and mortar, or grind them in a spice or coffee grinder until you have something resembling a rough powder. Add the garlic and ginger and pound into a paste, adding a little water where necessary.
1kg mutton neck, on the bone and cubed into inch pieces
Three large onions
Four garlic cloves
Two tins of tomatoes, drained and blitzed.
150-200ml white wine vinegar
Dark brown sugar, to taste
Two tablespoons of oil or ghee
Finely chop, or blend the onions and garlic. Fry in the oil or ghee in a heavy bottomed pan or casserole over a low heat until they start to brown, crank up the heat and add the vindaloo paste. Fry for two or three minutes and tip into a spare bowl.
Season the meat with salt and brown over a high heat in the same dish.
Lower the heat, add the onion, garlic and curry paste and stir. Pour in the vinegar and tomatoes and leave to cook either in a low oven or on the hob for at least an hour, preferably two or three. It should bubble gently, barely a quivering simmer – necessary to break down the tough bits of meat.
Once cooked, taste and add the sugar to temper the astringency of the vinegar.
Serve with rice, naan bread and bottles of lager, all in memory of lad culture, the grandest of oxymorons.