I said this jokingly one day to Madhushree while getting ready for office – please please do something special before I die, which will be my death wish. Madhushree, knowingly started beating around the bush – play Hazaron Khwahisheh aisi by Jagjit Singh? Switch on the Bourne Series of Matt Damon? Read out from ‘Out of my comfort zone’ by Steve Waugh?
As I carefully moved the razor for a final master touch, I announced like a king (as if I will have an entire nation and a kingdom who will leave no stone unturned to fulfill my last wish!!) – Please make me Kosha Mangsho and even if I am in my death bed, I would like Kosha Mangsho to be my last meal. Such is the connection- till death do us apart. But why?
I try to figure it out why Kosha Mangsho is so special for me
- I am a Moddhobitto Bangali Bhodrolok (middle-class Bengali gentleman) who is a 70’s kid and has seen and imbibed the change of the open economy in ’90s. A bong and his Kosha Mangsho are almost inseparable. Therefore, no matter how much I die for Italian food or Turkish lamb or can commit murder for baklava, my Kosha Mangsho is my Kosha Mangsho.
- I have grown up with weekly review tests on Mondays and I still curse my school for spoiling almost 520 Sundays of my life in preparation for Monday. This meant that almost no social gathering/ invitation attendance on Sundays. After that, my only respite, other than cricket/football matches, was Kosha Mangsho in the afternoon by Ma. Of course, it was cooked only once a month. The rest of the Sundays was mangshor jhol (mutton curry).
- That particular Kosha Mangsho Sunday was special, very, very special. Complete your studies on time – check. Clean your school shoes – check. Clean your bicycle – check. Take a shower on time – check. In addition to this, I used to help Baba in small errands just to be in the good books of Ma during lunch, so that I could request an additional piece. Therefore additional mutton was a luxury not for money but for the middle-class discipline of optimization.
- A man is a prisoner of childhood – if this is the impact that I had on me during childhood, how could I let it go so easily?
- This year, on the eve of Poila Boishakh (Bengali New years day ), we were once again thrilled to see a very familiar scene – there were huge queues outside sweet shops and also in front of meat shops. ‘Bengali’ is almost synonymous with the ‘Mishti and Mangsho’ (sweets and mutton). Most of the national holidays are celebrated with Kosha Mangsho. So when one grows up knowing that Kosha Mangsho is synonymous with festivals and celebrations, one knows that it is a part of the soul.
- It is ‘the comfort food’ for me. It’s for all seasons and every reason. Therefore when I am upset, to lift my spirits I need that additional piece of aloo (potato). When I am happy, I need that additional piece of mutton. But no matter what, I want to come back to this dish time and again. Okay, the debate still continues whether Kosha Mangsho needs to have Aloo or not.
- I don’t know of any other dish which will leave my heart contemplated for the last time. My wife says that there is a beaming smile on my face whenever there is a mention of Kosha Mangsho and who would not want to breathe the last breath with a beaming smile.
Why do most restaurants go wrong in making this dish?
Some word of caution here though, this dish is as much popular as much as abused. It’s saddening to see so many restaurants making a mess of this dish. For most of the restaurants serving Bengali cuisine, this is perhaps the litmus test where it clearly distinguishes the wheat from the chaff. While the scene is a little better in Kolkata and West Bengal in terms of serving Kosha Mangsho, outside Kolkata, it’s worse. I remember in Pune, a particularly popular restaurant had served a normal yellow-red runny gravy. Even in Kolkata, many restaurants add coriander leaves and kill the taste. Most places, they don’t do the ‘kosha’ part that is to ‘bhuno’ it well till it is browned.
This immensely popular dish had initiated a virtual war last year. Can kosha Mangsho be considered as a curry, semi-dry dish or a thick gravy? (Read here)
What’s your reason today to have Kosha Mangsho?
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Kosha Mangsho- Bengali style mutton kassa
- 1 kg mutton cut into medium-sized pieces (read notes about the quality of mutton needed)
- 500 gms onions finely sliced
- 1/2 cup thick yogurt
- 3 tbsp garlic paste
- 2 tbsp ginger paste
- 2-3 nos dried red chilies
- 4 nos green cardamom
- 2 nos bay leaf
- 1 inch cinnamon stick
- 4 nos cloves
- 1 tsp sugar
- 4 tbsp Kashmiri Red Chili powder
- 1 tsp red chili powder
- 1 cup mustard oil
- salt to taste
- Marinate the mutton with yogurt, ginger paste, garlic paste, 2 tbsp Kashmiri red chili powder and a bit of salt. Keep it for at least 3- 4 hours. Overnight is preferable.
- Cut the onions into thin slices. In a wok or a kadai, take 2 tbsp of mustard oil and when it is hot add 2 dried red chilies and half of the onions. Fry until deep golden brown in colour. Then take the fried onions and the red chili and make a paste in the grinder. You will not need any water but add a little bit if required. Keep the paste aside for later use.
- In the same pan, add the rest of the mustard oil. When it is super hot, reduce the flame and add bay leaf (crushed with your hand), whole cinnamon, whole green cardamoms, whole cloves, more dried red chilies if you want, a tea spoon full of sugar and half a tea spoon of salt.
- When the whole spices start to splutter, add the sliced onions. Fry on medium heat till it is golden brown. While frying this, add a couple of heaped teaspoons of Kashmiri red chilli powder (or more) and one teaspoon of normal red chilli powder. Kashmiri red chili powder does not have any heat and it only imparts colour and flavour.
- When the onions are almost fried, add the fried onion paste and continue stirring for a few more minutes till all the raw smell has gone off.
- Then add the marinated mutton.
- Mix it all very well in the wok and keep stirring and cooking till the mutton has browned. At this point, to reduce the amount of effort, just transfer the entire content to a pressure cooker. You may do it completely in the kadai as well.
- Use a cup of water to clean the wok and put it in the pressure cooker.
- Pressure cook this for a few minutes (3 -4 whistles). This will only cook the mutton by half.
- Now take it out and put it all back in the wok. Here starts the hard work (or as we call it...koshano).
- Continue cooking and stirring till the water evaporates. This process takes a lot of time since you have to ensure that the mutton cooks. For that, you need to cover it with a lid and slow cook it. You will notice the colour changing and becoming darker eventually.
- From time to time, uncover, increase the heat and stir while making sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the wok.
- It completely depends on how much time you want to devote to getting the right colour and depth of flavour. This particular time, I took almost 2 and a half hours to finish. Sometimes, , it takes 3 hours. It depends on the age of the mutton.
- When the mutton is almost cooked, add ground garam masala. Adjust the seasoning.
- Serve it with some steamed rice or parathas or luchi.
- For kosha mangsho, we need rewazi mutton that is mutton which has some fat. Without its own fat, the mutton will dry out as you keep cooking.