Well, my curry loving friends, you are in for a real treat. Chettinad might just be the best curry in the world. This Indian takeaway favourite isn't always the easiest to come by. But, don't worry. By the end of this guide, you'll know exactly how to make it at home. Today I'll tell you everything you need to know about lamb Chettinad, including how to make it, how spicy it is and what it tastes like. Let's jump right in!
What is Chettinad Lamb Curry?
As you'll find it in takeaways, Chettinad lamb curry is an amalgamation of styles. Fusing the strong flavours and tastes of the Southern Indian Tamil region with a westernized style of quick curry cooking.
The dish is normally fairly dark, with plenty of tasty gravy. As you'd expect, lamb forms the basis of this dish. Traditionally, there aren't many vegetables included in the recipe. You can consider it more of a curried meat stew than a stir-fry style dish, such as jalfrezi.
As with most dark curry dishes brought about by toasting numerous spices, Chettinad has a really strong flavour. It is normally served with plain white rice. Still, a nice fluffy naan bread also makes the ideal accompaniment to mop up all that sublime and tasty gravy.
Where is Lamb Chettinad Curry from?
Chettinad curry takes its name from the region where it was originally produced, located in the southern Tamil region of India. The Chettinad region is famed for producing quite distinctive food, mixing various Asian spices to form curries and stews that taste sublime.
Chettinad lamb curry is the epitome of this style of cuisine. It features a heady mix of fragrant spices, rich in strong flavours, and is also more than a little fiery.
While you'll find the authentic Indian dish is more likely to feature either goat or mutton, the approximation you'll find in western 'BIR Style' restaurants is close enough to give you a real insight into Chettinad cuisine.
Unlike some other hot curries, such as vindaloo and phaal, Chettinad focuses more on flavour than out and out heat. If you like spice but want to go a bit more cultured than ordering 'a bucket of vindaloo', then Chettinad is almost certainly the way to go.
What is Chettinad Made of?
I wouldn't consider Chettinad a 'standard' curry. There are quite a few ingredients that feature heavily and add their own distinctive flavour.
Here's what you'll find in a lamb Chettinad curry: -
Like, duh… Obviously.
Of course, lamb Chettinad features lamb. While traditionally, it would occasionally be made with goat, you'll find the authentic dish relies heavily on mutton. Mutton has a much stronger flavour than the lamb you would find in supermarkets.
However, because mutton must be cooked for a long time to make it tender, you'll find that most restaurants go for lamb.
That said, to make lamb tender in curry, it still needs to be prepared properly. Here's how to pre-cook lamb for a curry.
This is what makes or breaks a Chettinad. And it isn't an ingredient you'll always find readily available. But if you can get hold of some, fresh curry leaves are the way to go.
Fresh curry leaves taste slightly bitter and have a really distinctive and pungent fragrance. They are normally added to the oil in the dish right at the start. When fried, they release their aromatic flavour into the oil and crisp up, adding a really intense curry flavour to the dish.
Chettinad is a pretty oily dish, and, as with most curries, you'll find that either seasoned oil or ghee is added to increase the richness. Ghee is optional, and you'll tend to find that if you are preparing lamb Chettinad at home, the lamb is fairly fatty anyway.
I need to be honest…
Chettinad is hot.
Normally the sauce is a little piquant. But what makes it so spicy is the inclusion of dried chillis.
It depends on the restaurant. Some places like to use chilli flakes, whereas others will use whole fried dried chillis.
Bite on one of these, and you'll know about it.
A Sweet Element
Lamb Chettinad curry sits among those slightly sweet and spicy numbers (just like Pathia).
Restaurants use numerous ways to add a sweet element to curry. This can include: -
- Palm sugar
- Brown sugar
- Plain ol' white sugar
If you want to know more about sweet curry, I've got a great article just here.
Cinnamon, Anise and cloves
Remember how I talked about Asian spices above?
This is what I meant.
You'll find lamb Chettinad is laden with strong tasting spices such as: -
- Fennel seeds
You'll occasionally find Chettinad recipes that call for coconut milk. I prefer to use coconut cream.
Chettinad curry should be cooked quickly over high heat, and you won't have time to be waiting for that milk to reduce and caramelize to produce that dark and slightly sweet sauce. Coconut cream achieves the same effect in a fraction of the time as it is already thickened and reduces easily.
Is a Chettinad Spicy?
In a word? Yes. Chettinad is a spicy dish. On a scale of 1 – 10, where 1 is mild, and 10 is extremely fiery, Chettinad curry sits somewhere in the region of an 8 to 9. This is because it includes a substantial amount of dried chilli in either flaked or complete form.
The chilli is also toasted, meaning it infuses into the oil, giving the sauce a really spicy taste.
Chettinad will not be the curry for you if you don't like hot food or want to steer clear of chilli.
If you like spicy food, then Chettinad is a great choice. Due to the spices used, it is really tasty. So, provided you aren't chilli averse, I'd give it a go!
What Does Lamb Chettinad Taste Like
Lamb Chettinad is a strong tasting curry. The curry leaves give it a pungency that you tend not to find in other 'traditional' Indian takeaway cuisine.
As lamb is quite a fatty meat, and the spices are toasted until they are quite dark, Chettinad isn't delicate in any way. In fact, it is really rich.
You'll get strong umami tastes combined with strong tastes of onions and garlic. There is a subtle sweetness undercutting the dish, brought about by including both sugar and coconut. The thick dark gravy is almost as good as the meat itself. It is the ideal curry to choose if you enjoy wiping around your plate with Indian bread, such as naan, chapati or roti.
How to Make Lamb Chettinad
OK, enough chat.
Want to know how to make an authentic Indian takeaway style lamb Chettinad?
Here's how to do it…
Cooking Lamb Chettinad | Hints and Tips
If you are looking to make the perfect lamb Chettinad recipe, then you are in the right place! However, there are a few things you can ensure that your recipe is indeed perfect.
Check these hints and tips out to ensure success…
Switch Out the Meat
Not a fan of lamb? Prefer chicken Chettinad? Want to try beef? Or are you going to go veggie?
The good news with BIR cooking is that you can make your lamb Chettinad exactly how you want.
Using the BIR cooking style, you can easily swap the meat for whatever you like. Just exchange the lamb for pre-cooked beef. If you don't have pre-cooked chicken for curry, it's not a big deal. Just add chunks of raw chopped chicken breast just after adding the curry leaves.
If you prefer a vegetarian curry, then this is the dish for you. Want to know what veg will work well? Swing by my article on the best vegetables for a curry.
Coconut or Not?
You may happen across Chettinad recipes that call for coconut milk to be added.
Chettinad cuisine does include coconut but make no mistake, this isn't a Thai or Malay curry. You are adding the coconut for flavour, not to form the bulk of the sauce. Coconut cream works far better than coconut milk.
If you haven't got coconut cream, a small splash of coconut milk will work but don't add a full can. It will spoil the dish.
You Can Use Powdered Spices
You may have noticed that the above lamb Chettinad recipe calls for whole spices. However, not everyone has a well organized and stocked spice cupboard.
But here's the good news.
If you don't have whole spices, powdered spices will do the job in a pinch.
Cook The Onions Well
As I've said repeatedly, lamb Chettinad is a dark curry. Part of the key to achieving that darkness is to make sure you cook and properly caramelize your onions. We aren't talking 'pale golden'. We are looking for mid to dark brown as a minimum.
Make sure you don't skip this step, as it will really affect the flavour of your dish.
Use Fresh Curry Leaves
I'm afraid this is a deal-breaker when making an authentic Chettinad recipe.
Fresh curry leaves are the key to making lamb Chettinad taste authentic. The powdered and dried stuff is OK, but you'll find fresh gives you a much better result.
Don't Like Spice? Go Easy on The Chilli!
Lamb Chettinad is a traditionally spicy dish.
Do you like the sound of the flavours but don't want to blow your palate with chilli heat.
No problem, I've got you.
Simply reduce (or even leave out completely) the dried chilli. You'll get all the taste with none of the fire!
Lamb Chettinad | Final Thoughts…
Lamb Chettinad puts me in a little bit of a dilemma. It might just be my favourite curry, but it isn't always on the menu. Thankfully once you have learned to make it at home, you needn't call the takeaway ever again. This Chettinad recipe is properly authentic. If you like what you see, or want to try out different curries, swing by my BIR curry cooking guides; there's plenty to choose from!