What’s cooking today: Chettinad lamb curry

What’s cooking today: Chettinad lamb curry
Tony Jackman’s Chettinad lamb curry, served on a Mervyn Gers Ceramics plate. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

This recipe uses slices of lamb neck and ribs, with the fat of the latter adding texture and flavour. But the hero of the dish is the spice mix based on Chettinad masala.

The masalas of Chettinad in the Tamil Nadu state of India are famed for their complex spices and depth of flavour. There’s lots of finely ground star anise, chilli and plenty more spice in the mix. And it’s easy to mix your own.

The method is unusual. The meat is first simmered until almost tender in ground turmeric, chilli powder and salt mixed with water. Meanwhile, a wet masala is made for the curry to be finished in later on.


1 kg lamb neck and ribs

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp chilli powder

Salt to taste

1 cup water

For the masala:

1 Tbsp cooking oil

½ tsp ground cumin

1 tsp white pepper

5 tsp chilli powder

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground star anise

1 tsp fennel powder

2 tsp ground cardamom (or use seeds and grind them)

1 Tbsp dried curry leaves, crumbled

For the curry:

2 Tbsp cooking oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 large onions, chopped

2 Tbsp ginger and garlic paste

1 x 400 g can chopped tomatoes

2 Tbsp coriander stems, chopped

Coriander leaves for garnish


Chop the lamb into small chunks.

Mix the turmeric, chilli powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the lamb and mix it up so that all the meat is well coated in the spices. Leave it aside for the spices to marinate the meat for half an hour.

Place the spiced meat in a heavy pot with a cup of water. Bring to a simmer and cook gently on a very low heat, with the lid on, until the meat is close to tender. This should take about two hours. Keep an eye on the pot and stir now and then.

For the wet masala, begin by heating 1 Tbsp of cooking oil and add the white pepper, cumin, coriander, curry leaves, fennel powder, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cardamom and red chilli. Sauté for three minutes on a low heat, then grind as finely as you can. Add ¼ cup water to it, mix, and set aside.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a heavy pot. Add the cumin seeds and cook on a low heat until they pop. Add sliced onions and sauté until lightly coloured, stirring. Add ginger and garlic paste and stir.

Add the can of chopped tomatoes and simmer for five minutes. Add the masala paste and mix well. Cover and cook gently for 5 minutes. You now have a wet masala.

Add the wet masala to the cooked mutton with a cup of water, stir, and simmer until the meat is perfectly tender. This might take about half an hour to 45 minutes, but it’s done when the meat is perfectly tender. Stir in 1 Tbsp chopped coriander stems a few minutes before it’s done. Taste and adjust seasoning if not salty enough.

Serve with basmati rice, garnished with chopped coriander leaves. DM/TGIFood

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Champion 2021. His book, foodSTUFF, is available in the DM Shop. Buy it here

Mervyn Gers Ceramics supplies dinnerware for the styling of some TGIFood shoots. For more information, click here.

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks. Share your versions of his recipes with him on Instagram and he’ll see them and respond.

SUBSCRIBE to TGIFood here. Also visit the TGIFood platform, a repository of all of our food writing.


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