A year or a little more ago, Champaran Meat House made its debut into the Kolkata food scene at Ultadanga. Although the restaurant looked rather unremarkable, more suited for takeaway than dine-in. The popularity grew steadily, all thanks to the incredible smell that emanated from the shop helmed by Abhishek Singh, drawing in people by the hoards. Served by weight, the meat would come bubbling to you inside a tightly sealed clay pot, and the ideal portion size would be either a pot of 500 gram or a kilo, depending upon your appetite. The common accompaniments would include rotis anointed with ghee or a pot of hot rice and a few pieces of raw onion and chillies on the side. It would also come with a minty chutney that essentially would be a stone-ground fine paste of mint, salt and garlic. Cooked over a slow fire for an hour and some more, the meat isn't supposed to be stirred at all during the cooking procedure, but rather, shaken once or twice interim enough to dislodge the onions at the bottom - this must be done carefully enough so that the wheat dough seal doesn't break. The moment of truth is when the tight lid is slowly cracked open and the meat is tender enough, yet not fall-off-the-bone soft - with a decided bit of chew to it that's perhaps rather satisfying on a primal level.
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The first Champaran Meat House can be traced back to the Motihari region in Bihar, where some allege the origin to Ghorasahan, near the Nepal border. Another trace goes back to Bettiah, which, Dr. Angshuman Bhattacharya, a resident of Patna and food enthusiast, recalls to have a famous place for the "ahuna" mutton. The place is always buzzing with people who come there to savour the dish. The place serves ahuna mutton with a side of Chicken or Mutton Taash (meat cooked on a tawa or kadai) along with wedges of lime, puffed or parched rice (moori or chewra) or a bit of bhuja (a snack mix consisting generally of fried puffed rice with spices, an assortment of farsaan and nuts).
"The first Champaran Meat House in Patna started around 2011-12, as far as I remember, and soon enough, more sprang up. Old Champaran Meat House makes their version which is really good, and it can be had with rice, roti, or sometimes on its own, like a really heavy soup. Generally, meat is served by weight, and a kilo yields enough to feed 6-8 people, depending on portion size, of course." Dr. Angshuman Bhattacharya noted further.
Over the last year, several Champaran Meat shops have cropped up around the North Kolkata region. Apart from the Ahuna Mutton/Chicken, these menus sometimes feature other items from the Champaran region like Chicken and Mutton Sekwa (a skewered kabab that is distinctly Nepali in its making and execution), Mutton and Chicken Taash, and the Tawa fry. Depending on the place, one or all of these dishes keep on cropping up on the menus of these outlets. Most of the times, the makers of such food are brought in from Champaran to keep up with the demand as well as to maintain the authentic touch. With handis of Ahuna Mutton going for around INR 900 and 1250 per kilo of mutton, and a single portion of meat priced at about 200-300 rupees, the target market is the crowd that loves a good, tasty, versatile gravy that can be consumed for lunch as well as dinner.
Abhishek Singh, owner of Champaran Meat House near Ultadanga, discussed the popularity of the dish. "We have seen a great response from locals who love the food served fresh. We have tried to keep the menu short and simple, focussing mainly on the Ahuna meat and that is what people come back for. The important part is to not open the lid at all during cooking, and the cook instinctively knows when the dish is ready. We cook it over a coal fire in earthen pots and that is another reason the meat gets a lot of earthy flavours. The other thing is the mustard oil. We use mustard oil that is from the ghaani and not from any packet, and that adds a lot to the flavours of this dish too."
Typically, for making Champara-style meat, uniformity is the key. The meat is cut up in small pieces to facilitate cooking, roughly 50-70 gram per portion, and they should be of similar size. This is crucial for cooking this kind of a recipe - it ensures that all the meat pieces are cooked at the same time. Then, the meat is marinated with yoghurt, sliced onion, crushed ginger, garlic, onion, black pepper, whole red chillies, turmeric, garam masala, mustard oil, ghee and whole pods of garlic. The garlic is rather important to this recipe - a whole pod is served with every single portion, which means, depending on the eater, around four to five pods of garlic would go in with the meat in a clay pot and then the pot would be sealed and put over low heat. The meat should not be stirred - rather, the pot will be shaken from time to time to ensure even cooking. The end result is peppery and the pungency of mustard oil hits you almost immediately, though the resulting flavours are relatively tame, thanks to the hour-long cooking process.
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Champaran Chicken Curry Recipe
- 1-kilo meat (chicken curry cut)
- 6 tablespoon good quality mustard oil
- 2 tablespoon ghee
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 20 gm garam masala (made by pounding together 5 gm each of cloves, large and small cardamom, and cinnamon)
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri chilli powder
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- Half cup plain yoghurt
- 4-5 whole red chillies
- 1 tablespoon garlic paste
- 1 cup (250 gm) chopped onions
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 whole pods of garlic (about 100 gram)
- 8-10 peppercorn
- Juice of 1 lemon (optional)
- Salt to taste
- Wheat dough to seal the lid
- Wash and clean meat and apply salt and lemon juice. Keep aside for 15 minutes.
- Add 2 tablespoon mustard oil, ghee, onion, turmeric powder, pepper powder, garam masala powder, yoghurt, garlic paste, Kashmiri chilli powder and mix this in really well.
- In an earthenware pot with a tight lid, or a pot with a fitted lid you can seal, put the rest of the mustard oil, then add to it the whole spices, whole pods of garlic (washed and tops lopped off), onions, and then the meat, ensuring the meat forms a layer on top of the onion.
- Seal the edges of the pot/pan with wheat dough.
- Then, put over simmering heat, and cook for a minimum of 1 hour for chicken and 1 hour 30 minutes for mutton.
- Every 10-15 minutes, shake the pan/pot gently to ensure the meat cooks evenly. After taking off the heat, leave the pan alone to cool off for at least 10 minutes before attempting to break the seal. At this point, adjust seasoning according to your taste and serve.
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