Uncle Raju's Kolhapuri Game Meat
This recipe has gone through so many hands to get to me that I can’t ascribe any legendary authenticity to it. Though its roots are in Kolhapur, in the southern part of Maharashtra, (where I know it was traditionally made by the family of my parents’ late friend Rajendra—Uncle Raju to us kids), it has gone a convoluted route to get here to me, in New York.
I remember first eating this dish when Uncle Raju was visiting us in Bangalore sometime in the ’90s and we received a gift of some wild boar from a neighbour. He insisted that the meat had to be used to make this Kolhapuri dish that his family often made with meat brought back from the hunt. Everyone in our house was mobilized into action to track down the ingredients for kanda lasun masala (not a staple in our Malayali-Anglo Indian household) or procure a sufficiently generous stash of copra (the dried coconut so beloved in many parts of Maharashtra). We were all given tasks: cleaning and drying bushels of fresh cilantro and drying it meticulously; frying and grinding onions, garlic, spices together; grating what seemed like mountains of copra.
The dish was worth it: a splendid combination of earthy, fiery, sweet, and nutty; the tender cubes of meat set off against the almost grainy profusion of the spices and the soft, subdued herbaceousness of the drifts of finely chopped cilantro were something utterly new and bewitching to me.
Though Raju’s wife Patsy told me that he would have definitely preferred to use mutton here if he couldn’t get a hold of game meat, my fondness for the porky version he made for us so many years ago has made me switch in fatty pork shoulder here. If you can get your hands on some good, well-marbled wild boar, do use it—same with mutton.
The success of this dish depends on two very critical ingredients: dried copra and kanda-lasun masala. The first you should be able to find easily in most Indian stores where you’ll recognize it as the dark-brown dried kernel of a coconut. You can peel the copra if you want to, but it’s not strictly necessary (and it is quite a tricky process). If you can’t find copra, feel free to use good quality (unsweetened) coconut chips. The kanda-lasun masala (literally onion-garlic masala) is a slightly more complicated proposition. It is hard to find even in most Indian cities. If you have a Marathi friend who cooks, ask them if you can borrow some off of them. Or, use this recipe. It is rather a labour of love, but I promise that it is something you will use with a fervor bordering on mania: coconutty, spicy, sweet, umami-rich, it’s quite unlike anything else.
And finally, the finished dish should be quite dry, so three things to keep in mind are: be careful not to add too much liquid to the pan when you’re cooking the meat; make sure to thoroughly dry the cilantro before adding it to the pan; and do not cover the finished dish while it’s still hot, which will cause condensation to drip back into the pan.
UNCLE RAJU’S KOLHAPURI PORK
1 kg pork shoulder cut into ½-inch cubes
2 tsp ginger garlic paste
1 level tsp haldi
5 tbsp khanda lasun masala
2 cups grated copra
½ tsp sesame seed
½ tsp khus khus
1 big bunch of cilantro, washed and thoroughly dried
Marinate the meat with 2 tsp fine salt, the ginger-garlic paste, turmeric, and cook with a scant half cup of water in a covered pan over low heat for half an hour, or until the meat is tender to the tip of a slender knife or a fork.
When the meat is cooked through, there should just be the barest amount of liquid left in the pan—just enough to glaze the meat.
Add 2–3 tablespoons of the khanda lasun masala and cook for 4-5 minutes, over low heat, uncovered, till the meat is well coated with the masala and glossy.
In a pan large enough to hold all the meat comfortably, heat 4 tablespoons of the vegetable oil (or lard if using), till it shimmers in the pan.
Add the grated copra, sesame, and poppy seeds and cook, stirring often, for 3–4 minutes, or until the mixture is a lovely golden brown and smells rich and nutty.
Add 2–3 more tablespoons of the khanda lasun masala and stir well to incorporate.
Add the cooked meat to the pan with the grated copra and stir well to combine over medium heat, 4–5 minutes.
Turn off the heat and set the cooked dish aside while you prepare the cilantro.
Using a large chef’s knife, mince the cilantro leaves and stems very finely.
Add the chopped cilantro to the pan along with the juice of two limes.
Check for seasoning, adjust as needed and serve while still piping hot.