Fiery lamb dish can be cooked three ways

Michelle Peters-Jones

Rogan josh is one of the better known Indian classics, and this fiery lamb or mutton dish from the Kashmir region of India is now popular all over the world. My version stays very close to an authentic Hindu-style recipe, but I have tweaked it to make a rich and spicy slow-cooked dish that is perfect for chilly winter days.

There are several versions of rogan josh, but the two most common are the Kashmiri Pandit (Hindu) version and the Muslim, or Mughal, version. The most significant difference between these two recipes is that the Hindu version does not use onions or garlic, as traditionally Kashmiri Brahmins do not eat them. The Muslim version uses onions, ginger and garlic, and is more common in the West.

Like the famous butter chicken or chicken vindaloo, rogan josh, too, has undergone several adaptations and changes to the original recipes, and the versions that we get in Western restaurants are not necessarily always authentic. For example, neither of the two Kashmiri communities use tomatoes, but a lot of adapted recipes will use tomatoes to add the traditional tangy notes and the deep red color to this dish.

In my own version of the recipe, I have not included tomatoes, opting to use yogurt to add the tangy, rich flavor to the dish. I added caramelized onions and a splash of red wine vinegar to add depth of flavor and a deep, savory-sweet note to the lamb (more on this in the recipe notes). I have included instructions for cooking this dish on the stovetop, in a slow cooker, or in the oven so you can choose a method works best for your schedule.

This rogan josh works brilliantly with saffron pilaf or plain steamed basmati rice. If you want a bit more sauce, add an extra splash of hot stock at the end, and adjust seasoning to your taste.

Lamb Rogan Josh

Serves 6

For the spice mix

1/2 teaspoon cassia bark pieces (or a 1-inch whole piece)

3 whole green cardamom pods

1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

5 whole Kashmiri chilies (or 1 teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder)

1 whole black cardamom pod (3 seeds only, use the rest for garam masala)

2 teaspoons ground sweet paprika (optional, for color only)

For the rogan josh

2 1/4 pounds boneless lamb shoulder or leg, marbled with fat

6 tablespoons neutral oil, divided

4 whole green cardamom pods

1 whole stick cinnamon

4 whole cloves

1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1/4 teaspoon whole fennel seeds

1/4 cup hot chicken or lamb stock

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 cup Greek-style yogurt, at room temperature

1 large onion, thinly sliced (optional)

1 teaspoon sugar, plus more to taste

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, plus more to taste

Salt to taste

Large handful fresh cilantro, chopped, to garnish

First, make the spice mix. Toast each spice (except for the paprika), one by one, for about 30-45 seconds (until fragrant) in a dry skillet over high heat, and transfer to a bowl. Let cool completely, then blend to a fine powder in a spice grinder.

Trim the lamb of excess fat, and then cut into large chunks. Rub the spice mixture into the lamb.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large Dutch oven, and sear the lamb pieces on all sides, being careful not to burn the spices. Don't crowd the pan; do this in batches, if necessary. I prefer to do this on a medium-low heat. Transfer to a bowl.

Add another 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan, and add the whole cardamom, cinnamon stick, cloves, peppercorns and fennel seeds. Saute for 30 seconds, until the spices are fragrant, then add the hot stock, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook for one minute.

Return the lamb to the pot. Whisk the cornstarch into the yogurt, and then add this to the pot. Stir for a minute, and season with a little salt. Cover the pot and turn the heat down to very low. The sauce should barely be bubbling.

Cook for an hour. After an hour, uncover the pot. Taste and add a little more salt. Continue to cook, uncovered, for an additional 2 hours or until the lamb is very tender and the sauce is reduced.

Meanwhile, heat the last 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy pan over low heat. Add the onions and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Caramelize the onions, stirring occasionally, until sweet and brown, about 40 minutes.

When the lamb is tender, stir in the onions, if using, and 1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar. Taste and adjust the seasoning by adding more salt, sugar and red wine vinegar, as required to balance the flavors for a deeply spiced, rich sauce.

Stir in the cilantro. Serve with rice or tandoori roti.

Slow cooker and oven versions

Slow Cooker Rogan Josh: Pre-warm the slow cooker while you prep the dish until the point where you add the yogurt. Transfer the whole dish into the slow cooker. Cook on low for 4-5 hours. Once the lamb is lovely and tender, stir in the cornstarch whisked yogurt and caramelized onions (which can be made ahead in a slow cooker, too) taste and season with red wine vinegar, sugar and salt. Stir in the cilantro.

Oven Rogan Josh: You can also put the dish into the oven to cook. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Once the yogurt has been added, cover the pot tightly with aluminum foil and the lid, and place in the preheated oven for an hour. Take out, stir and season some more, then cover and place back in the oven for 2-3 hours, checking every so often, until the lamb is tender. If the sauce is drying out too much, add a splash of hot stock. Season with the red wine vinegar, sugar and salt, and stir in the cilantro to taste.

Recipe tips

■I stirred in the caramelized onions at the end, instead of starting with them, because it gives you the option of leaving them out. As I mentioned, this recipe is closer to the Kashmiri Pandit version, so if you want to stay completely authentic, you can leave out the onions altogether.

■This is a fairly fiery dish. If you want to reduce the spiciness, use less of the peppercorns and chilies.

■Don't use regular chilies in place of Kashmiri chilies. Kashmiri chilies are much milder. If using regular chilies, use only one or two and increase the paprika, as they won't add the deep red color of Kashmiri chilies.

Per serving: 473 calories; 36 g fat (10 g saturated fat; 68 percent calories from fat); 9 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 98 mg cholesterol; 237 mg sodium; 29 g protein; 2 g fiber.