A: Growing up in Eastern India, I remember from my childhood that it wasn’t easy to source meat. Unlike the well organised distribution chains of today, meat was largely locally sourced. The butcher had his trusted supplier from some nearby village who would supply the live animals. The butcher’s job was to slaughter the animal in his shop early in the morning and be sure to sell off the meat as quickly as he could. There was no storage facility or ways to hang and preserve the meat. The severe mid day temperatures were very unkind to the meat too.
Besides, religious sensitivities ran very high. It was impossible to source beef or pork in the region I grew up in. Cows were too sacred for the Hindus and pork was haram for the Muslims. So to keep the communities at peace, both meats were not available with any butcher. Hence the only proper meat we used to ever get was goat meat. There was abundance of fish and chicken, but nothing more.
This did not mean that pork or beef were not available at all. You had to use your personal contacts to know families who could provide you some forbidden meat – maybe a farmer from his own livestock. The big cities had Muslim or Christian localities where you would see butchers who sold beef or pork. But buying meat was always through references – knowing the butcher was very important as that was the only guarantee of quality. My mother simply refused to buy goat meat after our local butcher died and his son wasn’t keen to run the family business.
As you can imagine, it was truly exotic to be invited to someone’s home and treated with some meat dish. This pork curry was popular with the Anglo-Indian Christian families who had their roots in the South Indian state of Kerala. I am not sure if it is available in restaurants as I have never tried. As far as I know, this is very much a “mother’s recipe” passed on within the family.
I use a piece of pork tenderloin for this dish, but I guess it will work equally well with a nice piece of pork shoulder or chops. This recipe is for 3-4 people and it takes about an hour to make.
For the curry:
500 gm prime pork piece – preferably tenderloin, cut into 4 cm chunks
3 large Echalion shallots, finely chopped
10 cloves of garlic, peeled
15 gm ginger, finely chopped
2 hot green chillies, roughly chopped
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 cm piece of cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp coriander seeds
35 ml Tamarind liquid
1 green chilli, thinly sliced lengthways, without seeds
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
The taste and eventual success of this dish depends heavily on the freshly ground spices. It simply doesn’t work the same way if you substitute the spice seeds with ground ones.
Put the shallots, garlic, ginger and chillies into a mini food processor with a splash of water and blend to a rough paste. This is the wet spice paste.
Fry the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon stick and black peppercorns in a dry frying pan over medium heat until toasted and aromatic. Add the turmeric and fry for another 30 secs. Cool the spice mix and grind to a coarse powder. This is the dry spice mix.
Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-based pan over medium-high heat. Add the pork pieces and fry for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned. Add the wet spice paste, the dry spice mix, salt and fry for another 5 minutes adding a splash of water if the spice starts to stick to the bottom of the pan. Once thoroughly mixed, add sufficient water to just cover the meat. Lower the heat down to low, cover the pan with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes or until the meat is tender.
Meanwhile, to finish, fry the coriander seeds in a dry frying pan over a medium heat for a minute until toasted. Grind this to a powder. When the pork is tender, add the tamarind liquid, sliced green chilli, garlic and the ground coriander and stir to mix. Cook for a minute and take the pan off the heat.
The dish is light, fresh and the acidity of the tamarind cuts well the fattiness of the pork. It is also very aromatic and goes well with some non-fragrant rice like American long grain.