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Railway Curry

Asma Khan

Lesson time 24 min

Take a ride on the Darjeeling Express with Asma as she teaches how to make Mutton Railway Curry, a local traditional recipe with deep roots in her Bengali heritage. The story of how the Railway Curry came to be is the perfect analogy for the story of Kolkata. Learn how to make the Indian version of meat-and-potatoes as Asma teaches life-changing cooking skills like how to properly blend spices, infuse oils, and layer flavors.

Students give this lesson an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

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– Today, I’m gonna be cooking, “First-Class Railway Mutton Curry”. During the British Raj in colonial times, the standard kind of first-class railways was really only for the white Britishers, you know, Indians didn’t travel on it. And so, supposedly the story is that one of the passengers on the first-class railway journey, a gentleman, happened to pass the dining car where the cooks were cooking the food for everybody else, which is the classic goat curry, which is “Kosha Mangsho”, which is a Bengali Curry and asked to taste it and obviously liked it a lot, but it was a bit too spicy. So, the cook added coconut milk to kind of bring it down, some of the heat and served this to the gentleman and this then became the famous first-class, you know, Mutton Railway Curry that was served to all the white people traveling on the first-class trains. So, I’m gonna start, I mean here, I’ve brought the, you know, the mutton out, to be room temperature, very important, because never ever try and cook meat straight from the fridge and I’m gonna get everything else together now and start. So, I’m taking out the garam masalas for the Railway Curry. That’s cloves, cardamom and bay leaf. So, if you are curious, this spice is “Elaichi”, this is the green one. We also have a black version which is bigger. Inside are black seeds, very smooth, almost like waxy, quite tiny. And the reason why we don’t take them out, is because they’re quite strong. And if you actually bite into it, it can be a bit unpleasant. Well, it’s really strong, it’s really strong, but when it’s enclosed in the pod and when the heat hits it, all of the oils will come out through the pod, but the seeds will stay contained. So, for the Railway Curry, we have one piece of cassia bark, one bay leaf, I think two, two cardamoms, two cloves and it’s going to be used as usual, to infuse the oil. So, you know, the flavoring process starts this way. This is a real kind of art of, you know, learning how to layer oil, before you put anything else in it. And I’ve noticed this for a lot of people, who, cooking different dishes, you know, Middle Eastern, Turkish, has started using this technique to enhance the flavors of that dish. It’s life changing, because once you know it, you can taste it in the meat. You know, the cardamom, everything comes through, it’s beautiful. So, let me just take out a plate, because I’m gonna take out my spices in there. My garam masalas, I’m also going to add a red chili. Put the fire on. So, this is just vegetable oil. We use flavorless vegetable oil in our cooking, not olive oil, or none… Flavored oils don’t work with Indian food, because they actually clash with the spices. So, I know a lot of people ask me, you know, “Why don’t you use olive oil?”. A, it’s not native to us. Olive oil is not what we do, but also just because you have olive oil, get a neutral oil, because this is where the flavor is coming, this is the life of it. Not quite there. Be patient, be patient. It’s very important, it pays off at the end. It pays off in the end. So, all of these little things that you’re doing that you’d slow down, you take time, you check that the oil is the right temperature, it’s so worth it when you eat it, ’cause you know all these moments where you held back, you gave yourself a bit of time. You know, my mother always says this, that you know, “The patience you taste in the food, immediately. That’s what elevates your food to something else”. So, I’m gonna use another spice. Yeah, it’s ready. I always like to break my bay leaf. There you can hear, “crackle, crackle”. Now, see what’s gonna happen to the clove. The clove is the black thing, okay? I’m clearing the space so you can see it. Now, the clove is what you need to watch out for. See now, you can see the back of the clove is turning light brown, it’s swelling up. There! It goes pop. This is when you know everything else is ready to take out. Don’t wait for other things, your clove is your, like your canary that you put in there to check in a cave. So there, see, that is really important. It’s swollen up and it popped. So, once your clove is done, take everything else off, because these things are not going to color. This is not gonna change color, the cassia bark is not gonna change color, the chili might darken a bit, but your clove is, tells you, “Bang!”, it’s ready to go. So now, I’m gonna start putting in my mutton. It’s not a huge amount, so you can actually put it all in one layer. Again, don’t throw it from the top. If you were standing next to me, what you will smell is not the meat, but cloves, because that’s what’s infused in that oil and this is the simplest of techniques. So, it’s basically that clove and cardamom, cassia bark, bay leaf, chili. All those flavors are now clinging to the edge of the meat. Indian food is all about, you know, layering the spices, slowly. Just make sure that the meat is sealed, all the sides, because I’m trying to now get the flavor on. I think that food without stories doesn’t have great meaning, ’cause then it’s just calories you’re eating. Stories are very, very important, because I think that it not only makes you stop to respect, you know, the journey that that dish has taken, but also the hands that cooked it, because you know then, that that person, who is making this, is also part of that story and then when you eat, you are also part of the story. I think stories are so important. I grew up without any mobile phones, no tablet, nothing. When we ate, someone would tell the story of the food on the table. There was silence, everybody ate together. There was no one focused on other things, because the food was the star of the show. And what else would you talk about? And I think that is my greatest gift, that I inherited from my childhood and from the city. Okay, so now, the meat has been sealed. I’m just giving it a tap, so that I don’t lose the oil. I wanna try and save as much of the oil as possible, ’cause the oil has now got now, not just the garam masala, the chilies, it’s also got the lovely flavor of the meat. So this is, you know, meat, which has got bone in it, you can use obviously boneless, but I think that if you add a little bit of bone, it’s great, because it gives a huge amount of flavor. So, I’m just gonna start putting my paste in. Onion paste. Garlic. And this is ginger. I’m gonna have to put my oil off, because otherwise it will get too hot. I’m swapping to a wooden spoon, I always prefer cooking with a wooden spoon. I’m just mixing the paste in there. I’ve put the flame off, because I actually have to cut the tomatoes and the oil was getting a bit too hot. The paste is cooking and the oil is separating. I just need to do some quick chopping of my tomatoes. So, I need to chop one tomato, because I’m gonna put the masala in. You need a bit of liquid, I might have to actually spray some water in, as well, because the paste might start getting burned, but I don’t wanna put a huge amount of water, because I just wanna put that in the very end. I’m going to put chilies, turmeric, cumin and coriander powder in there. Wanna put my flame back on, because I put it off. Just waiting for it to heat up again. So this, the sizzling has started. Here’s the turmeric. Chili powder. Coriander. Cumin. So, masala is used to describe any kind of mix of spices. And now, I’m gonna mix it. The chili I put quite a bit, you could adjust that, you could also use Kashmiri chili, which is less spicy, so you can get to the color. But, as I’m not some English gentleman climbing on the train, I don’t have to temper it down, so not put the chili powder. So, I’m gonna put the tomatoes in. So, I’m just gonna wait for the tomatoes to break down, but also, I want to see the oil come to the edges. That’s quite important, because that means that a lot of the liquid has dried out. So, there you can see the bubbles coming to the edges. Can you see all the bubbles coming out to the side? ‘Cause a lot of people ask, “How do you know your masala is ready? How do you know your paste is ready?”. This is your sign, the oil bubbles are coming to the side, okay? And of course, it’s getting stuck, so… So, I’m just adding a splash of water and I’m releasing this. So, literally you’re getting a tutorial on how not to burn masala, okay? So, this is, I’m just now scraping it and taking it out from the sides. So now, I’m adding the meat back, make sure you get all the oil off and I still haven’t added any salt. I gotta make sure I coat the masala paste. So, I’m just adding some salt. So now, I’m going to add water. I just warmed up a bit of water, it doesn’t have to be hot water. It’s already looking so pretty. There is quite a lot of water I’ve put in there, because when the meat is three quarters cooked, I’m gonna put in some potatoes, because I know that, I’ve kept that little bit of extra space with an extra bit of water, otherwise it’s gonna be a bit tight for the potatoes to go in. If you forget, no problem, when you put the potatoes in, you can add some extra water. So, this should cook in half an hour, but again, it depends on what quality of meat you’re using, whether it’s actually using beef, or you’re using mutton, or lamb, or goat and there is a risk depending on how you cut it. If you cook it for too long, it’s gonna start falling apart and look more like, you know, pulled beef or something, when it’s just like shreds. So now, that you can see that it is boiling, I’m gonna add the vinegar, which is, was used, I think probably to preserve the meat for longer train journeys. So I’m, I need around two tablespoons of vinegar. Here I’m using malt vinegar, but any kind of vinegar will do, cider vinegar, white vinegar, red wine vinegar, it doesn’t matter, because it’s gonna lose. By the time it boils and cooks, I’m gonna lose the vinegar aroma, definitely. It’s boiling, I’m going to put the lid on it. So now, I can actually, the aroma of the vinegar is there, but by the time it cooks, in half an hour, it may go. So, I’m gonna put the lid on it and I’m going to lower it. I’m just gonna go off and make some rice. So now, we are making the rice. I’m not letting the water hit the rice, I’m softening the blow. I’m gonna very gently, put the rice in. A bit of salt. I cover it and I leave it for 10 minutes. Potatoes is something that is so intrinsic to Bengali cuisine. It is as, almost as important as rice, which in Bengal, is saying a lot. I’m not sure whether this is to do with the fact that the British brought potatoes into Bengal. Maybe it was the kind of excitement of a new crop, something new for them, that it was used in everything. So now, is the time that I’m just gonna add a little bit of potatoes. So, you know, we normally leave the skin on. You know, you want the potatoes to be kind of slightly chunky, that’s traditionally how we do it. So I’m gonna add the potatoes now, because the meat is like three quarters cooked, close to cooking, because if I put the potatoes in the same time as the meat, potatoes are gonna be completely mush. Also, you need to make sure that you don’t put very small pieces of potatoes, ’cause that’s also gonna break down and also gonna be lost with all those pieces of meat. You want the potatoes to be visual, you want people to see it. So, I’m just gonna put it in now. Traditionally, it’s only potatoes that are put in. In the North, we call it, “Aloo Gosht” and the word “Aloo” comes before the “Gosht”, “Gosht” is the meat. So that, this whole concept of having potatoes in with meat is of course, in Bengal, it’s everyone’s favorite. Potatoes, everyone loves, we even put potatoes on biryani. You can put peas towards the end, but that also, is quite unusual. This is traditional. You can of course, you know, put anything you want. So, I’m just gonna leave it covered for a bit, so the potatoes cook. It’s almost done. So, I’m gonna go now, get my curry, which is definitely ready and get my rice, too. So, it’s reduced now, looking perfect. I’m now going to add the coconut milk. It has this lovely marble effect, but I’m gonna gently stir it. This looks so pretty. It’s now getting this color, which I always associate with the Railway Curry, this kind of beautiful orange, with some hints of gold in it. So, let me do the rice first. I wouldn’t bother eating a lot of rice with this, I just eat the potatoes. All of us fight over the potatoes, when we, in my family. I don’t know why, they never put enough potatoes. I have no idea why they don’t put more, there’s always like one less than what we want. So, the rice is here, I’m just gonna move the pot and I’m just gonna start getting the mutton. This is my favorite piece. So, I’m just gonna keep watching it, so that nobody else eats it and I get to eat it, because always the piece of meat around the bone, is just much more succulent. Gravy is quite important, especially because we tend to have this with rice and you wanna have a lot of gravy in there. Okay. I’m just going to put a bit of coriander. Just in the middle. Here’s my “First-Class Railway Mutton Curry with Potatoes”, and you’re ready to ride.

About the Instructor

Asma Khan, owner of famed London eatery Darjeeling Express and bestselling cookbook author of “Asma’s Indian Kitchen” teaches her favorite family recipes, inspired by her childhood in Kolkata, India. The chef, restaurateur, and activist is the first UK-based chef to be featured on Netflix’s Emmy-nominated Chef’s Table and, in 2019, was listed number 1 on Business Insider’s ranking of “100 Coolest People in Food and Drink”. Join Asma on a nostalgic culinary journey to explore the smells, flavors, and ingredients of her ancestral Bengali roots.

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