The place is known for its religious heritage and is a destination, for those seeking leisure, spiritual solace and great food. The town has people of all religious backgrounds staying together in harmony. The French flavours persists in Karaikal. Though Tamil is the predominant native language, French is also widely spoken, even by rickshaw drivers and shop owners.
Karaikal is the Gateway to various places of worship in the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu. Two famous shrines, Velankanni for Christians and Nagore for Muslims are located nearby. There is also a famous temple in Thirunallar Karaikal. Walking down the streets, one gets drawn to the various roadside shops, which sell different types of halwa, the trademark of Karaikal. The other small eateries and cafes entice you with fish, prawns and mutton delicacies.
Islambhai, who was born and raised in Karaikal and has never seen any place beyond, is an old man of 72. His cooking is still considered the best one can taste in Karaikal. We were invited as guests to his small house. When we reached the place, he was making Karaikal mutton varuval fry for my friend.
As a special concession; he made vegetable rice for me. The small house seemed to have seen a lot of life, living and celebrations .Bright green walls and mats spread around made it look welcoming. We sat in the small kitchen to watch the cooking. He was cooking it in a pressure cooker, though most of the times, he cooks on fire wood. I will share this famous recipe of Islambhai.
— The writer is a chef and author of Fes tive Offerings to the Gods
ERACHI VARTHA VARUVAL
Mutton: 1 kg, boneless and cut into small pieces.
Onion: ½ cup, chopped
Ginger: 2 tsp paste
Garlic: 5 clove, paste
Turmeric powder: ¼ tsp
Red chili powder: 1 tsp
Black pepper powder: 1 tbsp
Oil (coconut or gingely oil)
Green chilies: 3, cut lengthwise
Onion, fried crisp: 1/4 cup
Curry leaves: 1 sprig
Lemon juice: 2 tsp
Small onions (peeled, cut into half):1 cup
Mint and coriander paste: 1 tbsp
Special masala made at home with 1 tbsp coriander seeds, 1 star anise, 3 cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks,1/2 tsp black pepper pods, ¼ tsp fennel seeds, ¼ tsp cumin, 3 red chilies, ¼ tsp white sesame seeds and 1 tsp poppy seeds; all ground together
Hung curd: 1/4 cup Water
Clean, cut, par boil the mutton pieces with turmeric, salt in little wate with 1 tbsp coconut oil. Cook till you get 3 whistles in the pressure cooker. Remove and keep in a bowl.
Roast the dry masalas separately and then grind it all together. Do not burn the masalas. Keep the flame low.
Add hung curd, lemon juice, chili powder, turmeric, half of the masala paste, ginger paste, garlic paste, 1 tbsp. coconut oil and marinate the mutton for 15 to 20 minutes.
Take a big iron skillet; pour 3 tbsp. of coconut oil. When oil is hot, add curry leaves fennel seeds, 1 small piece of cinnamon stick, fry when it emits a nice smell add, broken red chilies, green chilies, small onions, ginger garlic paste and fry on low fire. Keep frying continuously.
Add the coriander-mint paste and fry.
Add the mutton pieces, 2 tbsp. more oil and fry for 10 minutes on low fire. You should stir almost continuously so the masalas and mutton don’t stick to the skillet. Let the masalas, hung curd and all other ingredients dissolve into the meat, becoming dry.
Now add fresh powdered black pepper powder, cumin powder and salt, and a little more oil. Keep frying for another 10 minutes and it should become nice, crisp and ready to eat.
It should be soft inside and crisp outside, brownish in colour and succulent.
Serve hot with plain white rice/ chapattis/ paranthas. It can be served as appetiser also.
You can substitute mutton with soya, if you are a vegetarian.
Use an iron skillet or iron kadai for making this mutton. It adds additional taste to the dish. Islambhai uses a mud wok for non-vegetarian recipes.
Small red onions ( chinna vengaayam /red pearl onions) work best for this mutton varuval recipe. A small onion adds great taste to any south Indian recipe. More the small onions and more the oil, mutton sukka varuval will be tastier.
The dry red chilies and their seeds add a nice smoky flavour to the mutton fry. Tear them into smaller pieces for more spiciness since more seeds will come outside this way.
If you have gundu vatthal (rounded dry red chilies), use it to get more spiciness, since it has more seeds in it.
Curry leaves release a wonderful aroma into the oil, when the mutton is cooked in it. It takes in this wonderful flavor. But adding curry leaves is optional.
Whenever recipes (especially, non-vegetarian recipes) demands ginger-garlic paste, try to use homemade paste. For 1 tbsp. of ginger-garlic paste, you will need 6 garlic pods and 1 inch ginger piece. Peel, cut and grind them without adding water. It will add more richness to dish.