The history of the ‘Rezala’ goes way, way back, rooted deep in the time when Awadhi-Mughlai cuisine was being brought into Bengal by the Nawabs who were calling Bengal their home, and just couldn’t do without the special touch brought about by their dishes.
The Rezala is one such dish, a very fragrant yet mildly spiced curry that is much like a stew, but slightly thicker in consistency. Mutton Rezala, made from goat or lamb meat, is a quintessential name in the Bengali’s culinary repertoire; though the dish has not yet earned its fame outside the region, the reasons for which remain unknown. The Nawabs of Awadh brought to Bengal their fondness for rich gravies, fragrant spices and the liberal use of ghee (clarified butter) in their cooking.
The mutton rezala has a creamy whitish colour that has a clear layer of ghee (clarified butter) floating on top, and meat that almost falls off the bones, so tender they are. The dish gets its iconic flavour from its yogurt-based gravy and the addition of fragrant Kewra water. In Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta) the mutton rezala is a much sought-after dish, popularized by several iconic restaurants, such as Aminia, Sabir’s, Siraz and a few others. The dish gets its flavours too, by the method of cooking over a ‘sigri’ or a charcoal fire, and each restaurant uses its own ‘secret’ recipe to prepare the dish.
Unfortunately, having grown up outside Bengal, my rezala-eating adventures never took off the floor, meaning to say that I have never, before today, eaten a rezala dish! My parents have though, and after trying the result today, Mom fondly remembered my Dadu (her father) who was especially fond of Mughlai and Awadhi cuisine. There seem to be several recipes available over the internet, some which use poppy-seed and cashew paste, while others relying solely on yogurt, and sometimes, even milk.
Mutton Rezala is best enjoyed with Parathas (of any variety), Rotis, Naan and on that odd occasion, with Poori (or Luchi for us Bongs).
For the marinade:
- Mutton: 500 gm
- Curd: 400 ml
- Onion paste: ¼ cup (2 medium)
- Grated ginger: 1 tsp
- Minced garlic: 1 tbsp
- Salt: 1 tsp
- Bay leaves: 2
- Dry red chili: 3-4
- Black peppercorn: 1 tsp
- Cinnamon stick: 2 of 1” stick
- Cloves: 1 tsp
- Green cardamom: 1 tsp
- Ghee: 2 tbsp
- Onion paste: 4 tbsp
- Poppy seed paste: 3 tbsp
- Cashew nut paste: 2 tbsp
- Nutmeg powder: ½ tsp
- Crushed mace: ½ tsp
- Sugar: 1 tbsp
- Salt: 1 tsp
- Ghee: 3 tbsp
- Wash and clean the mutton pieces, drain and place in a large mixing bowl.
- Add the ingredients listed under ‘Marinade’, and mix well.
- Cover the mutton with a clingwrap or foil and refrigerate for at least an hour, or preferably overnight. (I left it overnight, 6 hours).
- Before cooking, bring the mutton to room temperature.
- Soak the poppy seed and cashew separately in bowls of warm water.
- In a pressure cooker or large pot, add ghee, and temper with whole spices listed under ‘Tempering’.
- Allow them to sputter, and then gently pick up the mutton pieces, shaking off the marinade, and add them to the ghee.
- Fry for 2 to 4 mins on a medium flame and when mutton changes colour, mix some warm water with the marinade, and pour into cooker.
- Let it come to a boil, and then close the lid, add whistle and cook for 3 to 4 whistles or until mutton is half-done.
- Meanwhile, make a smooth paste of the cashews and poppy seed.
- Heat the rest of the ghee in a large wok or pan and add the onion paste and sauté for 1-2 mins or until onion turns golden.
- Now pour the cashew and poppy seed paste, and sauté for a couple of mins, or until the raw smell is gone.
- Add crushed mace and nutmeg powder (I used a grater to grate the nutmeg), and season with some crushed black pepper and salt, as well as sugar.
- When ghee starts separating from the sides, add the mutton pieces and toss in the gravy.
- Now add the mutton stock in as well, and check seasonings. Check if mutton is tender, and if needed, let it slow cook for about 10 minutes (or give it another few whistles, depending on quality of mutton).
- Once gravy is light and soupy, switch off the heat and transfer Rezala into serving bowl.
- Serve with Naan, Paratha, Tandoori roti, etc.
- As you can see, I have skipped Kewra water because I detest it, but if you want an authentic Rezala, don’t skip.
- Use mutton on the bone for this dish, preferably pieces with flesh and fat mixed, or chop pieces.
- You can make a variation of this using Chicken, Paneer or even vegetables.
- If you skip adding cashew and poppy seed paste, replace the same with beaten curd.