Braised Lamb Belly, Curry Reduction


Back in December I started purchasing lamb and beef from a small farm in southern Minnesota. I’ve previously posted recipes for an oxtail curry made with one of the tails we got from them and also for two curries with lamb shanks (here and here). At my most recent pick-up from them—in a gas station parking lot off Highway 35—I also got a 2 lb pack of lamb bellies. I had not previously known that lamb bellies were a thing. Well, I knew lambs have bellies but I had not encountered this cut before. Still I couldn’t resist it when I knew they carried it. Looking it up when I finally got around to defrosting it to cook I learned that this is probably not a belly cut at all. What part of the lamb it is actually from I’m not sure. What I can tell you though is that it is very good in a braise, which is to say, it is very good given the curry treatment. The broad contours of the recipe are inspired by this one; the flavours etc. here are, of course, squarely North Indian in nature. It makes for a dramatic presentation—the kind of dish you might trot out for a dinner party—but we also enjoyed it for lunch on a weekday. It might seem like a complicated preparation but it actually comes together very easily (you can see most of the steps in the thread I posted on Twitter when I made it).

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs deboned and butterflied lamb belly
  • The following ground to a coarse powder: 1 tspn coriander seeds, 1 tspn cumin seeds, 1 tspn fennel seeds, 1 tspn peppercorns
  • 1 tspn kosher salt
  • The following whole garam masala: a large stick cinnamon, 3-4 cloves, 4-5 pods green cardamom
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 tspn freshly grated garlic
  • 1 tspn freshly grated ginger
  • 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric
  • 1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes (or equivalent in chopped fresh–4 cups?)
  • 1 tspn sugar
  • Salt
  • A few sprigs cilantro for garnish
  • Oil
  • Water, as needed

Preparation

  1. Lay the butterflied lamb belly fattier side down and cut in half into two smaller rectangles. Sprinkle both all over with a few pinches of the ground spices and the kosher salt. Roll each rectangle up into a long tube and truss it up as expertly as you can. Sprinkle a bit more of the ground masala and kosher salt on the outside of the rolled lamb.
  2. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a heavy dutch oven over medium heat and brown the rolled lamb thoroughly on all sides, taking care not to let it scorch.
  3. Remove the browned lamb to a large plate and set aside.
  4. Pour off most of the fat from the dutch oven, leaving 2-3 tblspns of fat/oil.
  5. Add the whole garam masala to the hot oil/fat.
  6. As soon as the whole garam masala become fragrant add the chopped onion and saute, stirring often till nicely browned.
  7. Add the ginger and garlic and saute for another minute or two till the raw aroma is gone.
  8. Add the haldi and all the remaining ground spices and saute for another minute or so.
  9. Add the tomatoes, salt and sugar and saute for 3-4 minutes till the larger pieces have all broken down.
  10. Add the browned lamb belly, cover, lower the heat to low and simmer till the lamb is done (2 hours or so, probably). Uncover from time to time and make sure nothing is sticking at the bottom. If the sauce seems like it might be drying up, add 1/2 cup water at a time to keep things loose. The final sauce should be thick but pourable.
  11. Remove the lamb, shaking the sauce sticking to it back into the pan, and skim off any excess fat from the sauce.
  12. When the lamb has cooled a little, untie it and cut into small rolls.
  13. Place a ladleful of the sauce on a plate, arrange 2-3 rolls of the lamb artfully on it and garnish with a bit of the dhania.

Notes

  1. I did not add chillies to this as I wanted to make it more likely that my kids would eat it. If you’d like to make it hotter feel free to grind 2-3 dried hot red chillies along with coriander, cumin etc. I might make it a bit hotter next time and I think I will also add some crumbled up dried mint to the stuffing.
  2. You could also make this more “shahi” by adding some ground nuts and raisins to the stuffing inside the lamb.
  3. For a smoother sauce you could at the end fish out the whole garam masala and give the sauce a whiz in a blender. Personally, I enjoyed the texture of the sauce the way it was.
  4. You could crisp the rolled lamb belly up again at the end before untying and slicing it—I don’t know that it’s necessary though.
  5. You might be tempted to add a touch of cream at the end but I really don’t think you should—the lamb flavour in the sauce would be dulled, I think.
  6. If you don’t have lamb belly you could make a more basic lamb curry very easily following the broad contours of this recipe. And it probably wouldn’t be difficult either to adapt it for cooking a leg of lamb or a shoulder.
  7. We ate this with steamed rice the first day and finished the leftovers with parathas. Very good either way. It would also be very good with this pulao.


 

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