slow cooker lamb curry with fresh curry leaves
This curry was the result of uber-procrastination in the form of avoiding grading papers, the first freakishly warm day of the year, and a long overdue visit to Chicago’s Devon area. There, I purchased a whole leg of lamb for a whopping $12 (the butcher seemed taken aback that I was not fazed by the price, having told me apologetically what it would cost while I chuckled at the thought of what I would have paid at Whole Foods). I had it cut into 8 large pieces that were perfect for braising. A trip to two of the local grocery stores resulted in the acquisition of several new spices for our pantry that I’d never heard of before: amchoor powder? fenugreek leaves? asefetida hing? We now have enough to make curry to feed an army, since they seem to come only in bulk.
Even though the kitchen smelled delicious (and still smells a bit like it several days later), I was worried that this curry was going to be a total flop about midway through the cooking process. The spices really need the long hours in the crock pot to meld together, not to mention the fat from the lamb to turn the sauce into a wonderfully delicious gravy. Tasting the gravy as it went into the pot, all I could detect was a slight bitter undertone and tomatoes. Also, the heat level was intense! After about an hour in the crock pot, the sauce was still blazing hot, so spicy I worried it would be inedible. This stressed me out because we had invited our friends Christian and Heather over to share in our Indian feast, and Christian is something of a part-time chef by avocation, who regularly turns out Michelin star quality meals at home. And I don’t like to disappoint.
I shouldn’t have worried because after five hours in the crock pot, the flavors came together perfectly, the heat level dipped, and the end result was declared not only satisfying but possibly “out of this world” good.
If you live in Chicago, head over to Devon (I think the #36 bus goes all the way there, or you could red line it most of the way) and check out the unbelievable selection of spices, Halal meat, vegetables and fruits they have, even if you’re not cooking Indian. We found a place that slaughters live rabbits, ducks, and chickens, and I think that that will be our next Devon adventure. It’s a little pricey to get all the spices you need for an Indian dish, but think of it as an investment in your kitchen, because once purchased (and properly stored), they’ll last a long time!
Slow Cooker Lamb Curry with Fresh Curry Leaves
Hacked from India Curry. Serves 4.
I think it is definitely possible to cook this without the slow cooker, following the same steps and then braising it in a dutch oven, adjusting the cooking time and possibly the liquid levels. The slow cooker has the advantage of keeping the temperature consistent and allowing you to do other things while it’s bubbling away.
- 2 pounds of lamb meat, bone-in (I used leg of lamb because I was assured by the butcher that it was the best, but you could easily use shoulder or other stewing meat. I think the bones are necessary for flavor, even though you need to fish them out while you’re eating, and I feel like just cubed meat would fall apart quicker)
- about 1/4 cup of ghee for sauteeing, or as needed
- 1 large white onion, pulverized in the food processor until it is almost paste-like
- 1 inch piece of ginger, finely minced
- 6 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 2 Serrano peppers, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon of cayenne
- 10 fresh curry leaves (you could use dried here, I suppose, but the fresh leaves just have an unbelievably unique aroma and really come through in the final product)
- 2 tablespoons of curry powder
- 1 1/2 cup of high quality diced tomatoes in their juice (I used San Marzano)
- 1 teaspoon of paprika
- 2 teaspoons of garam masala
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 bay leaves (I used dried, but fresh would probably work well)
- 1 cup of water
- salt as needed (I used approximately 1.5 teaspoons, but adjust to your tastes)
Put a substantial dollop of ghee in a frying pan and brown the meat on both sides. In the meantime, turn the slow cooker to low in order to speed up the cooking process. Set the browned meat aside. In the same pan, add some more ghee and the onions. Sautee the onions until the water is almost gone and the onions are beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, serrano and cayenne and sautee for another 2-3 minutes, then add the curry powder and the curry leaves. You want this mixture to be slowly forming into a drier paste (see the images above). Sautee for another couple of minutes until the spices are fragrant. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes until everything is well combined and the tomatoes are heated through. Transfer the browned lamb and the spice mixture to the crock pot. Add the paprika, garam masala, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, salt and water, and stir to combine. Cook for 5-6 hours on low. Adjust for salt before serving.
Notes: My curry was actually done at 4.5 hours but I let it sit until 5 hours and turned it on “warm” after that while we got the rest of dinner ready. The curry is done when the meat is tender and falling off the bone. You could remove the bones before serving, but we were a foodie, hands-on-eating kind of crowd who didn’t mind pulling the bones out and sucking the marrow out of them during the meal.