jamaican curry lamb

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Every cook in Jamaica has his/her own version of curry goat—for that’s what you get when you go to the island. But goat isn’t readily available elsewhere so here we use lamb when we can get it. My dad makes his version of Jamaican curry lamb—rich with curry powder and Scotch Bonnet pepper. My tolerance for pepper is so low that I don’t taste anything but I feel the burn. As a result, I have never been able to taste and appreciate curry lamb. So when I came across Melissa Clark’s recipe (attributed to Martin Maginley of Round Hill Resort), I decided it had possibilities. I reviewed the ingredients and accepted the challenge.

It took me two days to gather all the ingredients. Lamb is not a common commodity and neither are Scotch Bonnet peppers. Andy did some networking. His friend Robert recommended we try Villa Supermarket at Paradise Park for the lamb. He was right. I bought a 3 pound boneless lamb shoulder there.  Bangkok Foodies ‪#‎BangkokFoodies recommended to Andy that we try the other Villa on Sukhumvit for the peppers.  On Friday, I went to the Villa on Sukhumvit and bought their last pack of Habañero peppers. Habañeros are a good substitute for Scotch Bonnet peppers. That afternoon I seasoned the lamb and put it in the fridge to marinate overnight. Today, the curry lamb is center stage.

Jamaican Curry Lamb (adapted from NY Times)

Prep time: 30 minutes
Marinating time: 2 to 12 hours
Cooking time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours

3 pounds boneless lamb stew meat, 2” chunks (I used boneless lamb shoulder)
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons curry powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt, more to taste
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 large white onion, coarsely chopped
2 scallions coarsely chopped or 1/ 2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1/2 inch fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 whole allspice berries (pimento) or 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 thyme sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 tablespoons olive oil, more as needed
1 1/2 cups diced potato
1 cup diced carrots
1-2 whole Scotch Bonnet peppers, seeded and chopped (leave in the seeds if more heat is desired)

Cooked white rice or coconut rice

Lime wedges for serving
Mango chutney or mango pickle, for serving
Fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped for serving

Pat lamb dry with paper towels and place in a large bowl. In a small bowl combine 1 tablespoon curry powder, salt, ground ginger, and black pepper. Add spice mix to large bowl and toss with lamb.

Cook’s Note: After patting the lamb shoulder dry, I trimmed as much excess fat and skin off the shoulder as I could. Lamb is very oily when it stews. Then I chopped up the meat into 2 inch chunks.

Combine onion, scallion, garlic, fresh ginger, allspice, thyme, and 2 tablespoons oil in a blender; purée until smooth. Scrape mixture over lamb and toss to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Stir in 2 teaspoons curry powder and heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Working in batches to avoid overcrowding the pot, brown the meat on all sides. Drizzle in additional oil, if needed, to prevent meat from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Transfer browned meat to a plate.

Once all the meat is browned, return it to the pot along with any juices on the plate. Add enough water to cover the meat, just. Bring liquid to a simmer, covered, then uncover the pot and cook gently 45 minutes.

Stir potato, carrots, and Scotch Bonnets into the pot. Simmer until the vegetables are fork tender and meat is cooked through, about 30-45 minutes longer.

Cook’s Note: Jamaican cooks use Scotch Bonnet peppers for their flavor as much as for their heat. I slit the peppers before adding them whole to the pot. One is spicy, two may be extremely spicy.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer meat and vegetables to a bowl. Simmer cooking liquid until it has reduced and thickened to a saucy consistency (to taste), about 15-20 minutes. Remove the peppers from the pot. To make the pot spicier, chop up the peppers then add them back to the pot. Or you could skip this step altogether. Don’t throw out the pepper but offer it as a side for those who like more heat on their plate. Taste sauce and add more salt if needed. Pour sauce over meat and vegetables.

Cook’s Note: To make a simple coconut rice, substitute unsweetened coconut milk for half the water. Add a pinch of salt. I recommend  using basmati rice.

Serving Suggestion:  coconut rice with curry lamb and gravy topped with a squeeze of lime, a dollop of mango chutney or mango pickle, and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro. And the pepper from the pot.

This curry is full of flavor, everything melded together in the meat and in the sauce, and not spicy-hot at all. The mango chutney adds a sweet-tartness to balance the spiciness, and the coconut rice is the stalwart in the background, a perfectly al dente accompaniment for the sauce.