Sunday, December 16, 2007

Beef Varattiyathu - Kuttanadan Beef Roast

Those days when I showed no interest in cooking, my mother and aunts used to impart the words of wisdom through the ever popular saying that “The way to a man's heart is through his stomach” and that it would be very difficult for me when it comes to cooking, after marriage; and I grew up seeing some of my elder cousins and college seniors complaining about their husbands who gave them a hard time saying , “ …this is not how my mom cooks…..” or “….or my mom’s version is better …” !!! Am sure some of you out there are able to associate yourself with this situation and I would say, you guys are lucky as you are at an advantage that you know the ‘chef’ here in person and you can very well get recipes from your MIL and learn her secrets, unless she is someone like our dear friend Marie from Everybody Loves Raymond, who shares her precious meatball recipe with her daughter-in-law Debra, by sabotaging the cooking lesson, by gluing a fake label of basil on a jar of tarragon!.

Though I have no idea how I entered into my man’s heart, I had to face a different standard of comparison. In my case, I never had to compete with my MIL’s cooking skills; rather I had to compete with some local Pachakakkaran/Chef from a small restaurant or a Thattukada (road-side eatery) at Kesavadasapuram, Trivandrum, who used to prepare the best beef curry or chicken fry, my husband has ever eaten!!!!! It’s not that simple a situation for me to learn recipes from some unknown guy, earning his livelihood, in a small town in Trivandrum, whipping up these delicacies, my husbands has a craving for. There were times I used to get irritated when CJJ used to rave about the Porotta ( Flat bread) and chicken fry he used to have from Chinnu’s Restaurant, Kesavadasapuram or seeing him getting excited at the mere mention of beef curry and porotta from Ambalappatu restaurant while I cook and serve one of these; but slowly I realized that it is the trademark of guys hailing from this capital city of Kerala. If two guys from this small city meet in some other corners of the world, you will see them cherishing their bachelor days with a reference to those “thattu” specials from Kesavadasapuram quite nostalgically. If you think I am exaggerating, see what a true-blue Trivandrum-ite blogger friend of mine from here , says: “I can go to the best hotel in town and eat till I can’t take in anymore. But they don’t taste as good as the parotta bought using hard saved money from Ambalapattu…” !!!!! Yes, these small restaurants seem to have cast a spell on these guys, raising the standards and giving trouble to poor spouses like me!

Anyway, I have stopped competing with those local chefs realizing that I will never be able to reproduce the same taste but that does not stop me from learning one of the best methods of cooking up these dishes and one such style is his grandma’s Kuttanadan preparation. I have already blogged some of her precious recipes and many of you have tried them out successfully. Here’s one more to your collection. Beef Varattiyathu aka Beef Roast is a red- meat preparation where the meat is cooked with pungent flavour of the spices and fresh herbs and roasted enough to make it stay good for several days when refrigerators were a luxury of the day.

  • ¾ kg (approx. 1.60 lb) fresh beef cubed and washed
  • 1 cup red small onions thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp garlic minced
  • 2 tbsp ginger minced
  • 6 green chillies split lengthwise
  • 2-3 sprigs of fresh curry leaves
  • ½ - ¾ cup small coconut slices/'Thengakothu’
  • Masala powder (Recipe follows)
  • 2 tbsp coriander powder
  • 1 ½ tsp red chilly powder
  • ¼ tsp + ¼ tsp turmeric powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
To make the Masala Powder: (For ¾ kg beef)
  • 2 tbsp fennel seeds/'Perinjeerakam
  • ¾ tbsp black peppercorns
  • 6-8 small ½ inch cinnamon sticks
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 cardamoms
  • Grind and powder the spices, mentioned to make the masala powder. Keep ½ teaspoon masala powder aside; make a marinade with the rest of the masala powder, turmeric, salt, minced garlic and ginger, adding few drops of water; apply it thoroughly on the meat, using your hands and leave it in room temperature for around 20 -30 minutes.
  • Pressure cook the marinated meat, without adding water, until it gets cooked well. (Note: My pressure cooker takes about 4 whistles to do the cooking but it varies depending on the meat, and the wear and tear of the cooker. If it is not a tender meat, add a teaspoon of vinegar to speed up the cooking.)
  • Once the pressure cooking is done, heat oil in a big shallow pan, sauté the small onions and green chillies until they turn pale in low flame, At this stage, add turmeric powder, red chilly powder and coriander powder and stir continuously until the raw smell goes, making sure that you don’t burn your onions or spice powders. Now add the coconut slices and 2 sprigs of curry leaves and combine well with the base mixture and then add the cooked beef to this and cook covered, in medium heat, for around 4 minutes, until it starts boiling. (Do not add water at this stage as pressure cooking must have already produced some water from the meat). Now remove the lid and add the ½ tsp masala powder, kept aside earlier, and roast the meat, in low flame for 10-15 minutes, until it reaches a brown colour, as in the picture. Do a taste –test in between and adjust the salt, if needed. Just two minutes before turning off the heat, add a sprig of curry leaves; do not omit this stage of cooking as it really helps the dish to attain a wonderful aroma and fresh fragrance of the curry leaves.
  • Serve warm with rice or Palappam (Laced pancakes), chappathi or porotta (Indian flat breads). This dish attains its real flavour after a couple of hours from cooking and tastes the best, after a day or two!!
Note: The taste is largely dependent on the quality of the meat and also the fat content. If you thoroughly remove all that fat from the meat, it reduces the taste. The black peppercorns I have used are those I got from CJJ’s place and it’s quite strong; so if you re using the store-bought ones, make adjustments according to the spice level. Substituting small pearl onions with big onions is not a good idea if you are looking for the authentic "Naadan" taste. If you plan to include this in your x’mas menu you may think of cooking this one or two days in advance as it will only enhance the taste.

Other Kuttanadan Recipes from this blog:

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