Tag Archives: Indian cuisine

The Oriental Club’s Mid-19th Century “Mutton Curry”

The Duke of Wellington, the first (and only) President of the Oriental Club

In the mid-19th century, the British obsession with Indian curries and culture really started to take off (see this post for a brief history of Britain’s love of spice and India). It wasn’t just the spiciness, but the romance of the place. Queen Victoria loved the country and even had an Indian wing in the palace. Although she was the Empress of India, she never actually visited the country, leaving all that excitement to her sons.

Hanover Square in the 18th Century

Authentic – or very close approximations to authentic – curries were being made in one particular London gentleman’s club called the Oriental Club which could be found in Hanover Square. The club catered for high society – the Duke of Wellington was the President and all the chairmen seem to have been Sirs, Lords, Major-Generals or Vice-Admirals.  The Club was obviously a popular one; it opened in 1825 and in 1961 it moved from Hanover Square to Stratford House on Stratford Square, where it remains to this day. If you are a Londoner (and a man), you can still join, though it does cost between £240 and £850 per year to become a member.

Stretford House, the current home of the Oriental Club

In its hey-day, Chef Richard Terry was at the helm in the kitchen, who took full advantage of the first Asian grocery warehouses; Payne’s Oriental Warehouse on Regent Street and the Oriental Depot on Leicester Square. His recipes were ‘not only from [his] own knowledge of cookery, but from Native Cooks’ too. He published a book called Indian Cookery in 1861, where the recipe below is adapted from. The job of adaptation was not done by me, but Madhur Jaffrey, though I would like to get my hands on a copy.

To make the curry, you need to make a blend of curry powder and curry paste first.

Richard Terry’s 19th Century British Curry Powder

This makes 7 tablespoons of curry powder – enough for more than three curries using the recipe below. You can of course use it in any recipe that asks for ‘curry powder’ in its list of ingredients. All the spices required are ground, but don’t buy ground coriander, pepper, cumin, cardamom and cloves if you can avoid it. Instead, roast whole spices over a medium-high heat in a dry frying pan then grind using a coffee grinder after cooling. All you need to do is mix together the following:

2 tbs ground turmeric

5 tsp ground coriander seed

2 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp Cayenne pepper

1 ½ tsp ground black pepper

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp cardamom seeds

½ tsp ground cloves

Store in a cool, dry, dark place.

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Sir Ranald Martin’s British Curry Paste

Many old (and new!) recipes ask for curry paste, but don’t always give receipts for the paste itself.  This recipe from Ranald Martin, a Victorian doctor and foodie who lived in India during the 1840s provides us with this one below. He was told it was an old Madras concoction. According to Madhur Jaffrey, the ingredients are very common in Madras, but the combination is ‘totally alien’. Aside from being used in curries, it was also used in sandwiches. The recipe below makes around 12 fluid ounces of paste.

4 tbs whole coriander seeds

2 tbs lentils such as yellow split peas or chana dal

1 tbs whole black peppercorns

1 ½ tsp whole cumin seeds

1 tbs whole brown mustard seeds

1 tbs ground turmeric

1 tbs Cayenne pepper

1 ½ tsp ground ginger

2 tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

3 cloves of garlic, minced

4 fl oz cider vinegar

6 tbs flavourless cooking oil such as sunflower or peanut oil

Dry-roast the whole spices and lentils in a frying pan until they turn a shade darker and emanate a delicious roasted aroma.

Remove from the heat, cool and grind in a spice or coffee grinder. Add the remaining ingredients except for the oil and stir well. Heat the oil in a frying pan and when hot, add the spice mixture and fry for around five minutes until the paste turns darker. Cool and empty into a jar. Store in the refrigerator.

The Oriental Club’s 19th Century Mutton Curry

Okay, you have made the paste and blended your spices, now you can get on with the curry. You can use either lamb or mutton, but bear in mind, the mutton – although more flavourful – will take longer to cook. If lamb is tricky to get hold of, goat or kid could be used as an alternative. The curry is pretty pungent, but good, dark and rich; I added a couple of peeled, chopped potatoes to add much needed-blandness. This curry serves 4 people and goes very well with plain rice, yoghurt and mango chutney. Would you believe, I forgot to take a photograph!?

4 tbs flavourless cooking oil

1 medium-sized onion, thinly sliced

2 tbs 19th Century British Curry Powder

1 tbs 19th Century British Curry Paste

1 ½ lb cubed lamb meat, shoulder is a good cut for this

8 – 12 oz (i.e. a couple of medium-sized) potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

¾ – 1 tsp salt

Heat the oil in one of those wide, deep frying pans that come with a lid. Add the onions and fry until the onions have browned and become crisp. Add the paste and powder, stirring well for a few seconds. Now add the meat and half of the salt, stir, cover and turn the heat right down. Gently fry for around 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a pint of water (that’s a British pint – 20 fluid ounces) and the potatoes, turn up the heat and when the curry comes to a boil, turn the heat back down, cover and simmer very gently until the meat is tender, around 60 to 90 minutes if using lamb, longer if using mutton. Taste and add more salt if needed.



Filed under food, history, Indian food, Meat, Nineteenth Century, Recipes, The Royals, The Victorians, Uncategorized

The Jewel in the Crown

Britain and India have a long history together which stretch all the way back to the fifteenth century, and that history is based on the fact that India produced and exported spice, and the British had – and still have – a real taste for it. This was all in India’s favour at first; they sold to traders that travelled great distances through Western Asia, the Middle East and Europe. It was hugely popular during Tudor times, especially as a status symbol, everything that could be was seasoned with liberal amounts of cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, mace etc.

The East India Trading Company coat of arms

The tables soon turned on New Year’s Eve 1600 when Queen Elizabeth I set up the East India Company after Sir Francis Drake seized a Portuguese ship the carried detailed information about Indian trade. This royal charter essentially put India under English rule. The charter also gave England the right to trade with the America and Africa. All of this behaviour put the noses out of Portugal and the Netherlands who both had well-established trade routes too, prompting the latter to create the Dutch East India Company. There was terrible fighting between the three countries’ fleets brought on by the greed of the European trader and merchants. The English fought on, but it was the Dutch that gained the upper hand. So powerful were they that during this time a Dutch admiral led a flotilla up the Thames with a broom tied to the front of his ship, symbolising that they had swept the seas of the English.

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Elizabeth I knights Sir Francis Drake

It wasn’t until the mid-seventeenth century that the English made a return as a major player under the control of Oliver Cromwell of all people; I would have expected him to be against all of the splendour of spices. Later, Charles II renewed the royal charter, and even a second trading company was set up, which eventually joined up with the original.

The United East India Company became an unstoppable force, trading also in sugar, tea and rubber. The greed and mistreatment of the Indian people by the British prompted Prime Minister William Pitt to draw up the India Act of 1784, essentially nationalising the company. Then, in the mid-nineteenth century, mutiny was afoot; the Indian people who had become slaves to their British masters, could take no more, prompting the end of the great trading company. India was then passed on to the Crown where it became known as the jewel in the British Empire’s crown.

During this time both British and Indian cuisine changed, particularly during the Victorian Era when the British men were joined by their wives (it never seemed to occur to them to travel all the way to Asia before then). The Brits were soon hooked on Indian food and were eating curry for breakfast. They also brought their own cooking style with them, for example, there became Indian versions of cream of tomato soup, and Anglicised versions of their lamb soups that became Mulligatawny. Although dishes like kedgeree became very popular in Britain, it wasn’t until Victoria’s reign that curries became really popular in Britain, though references to curry dishes can be traced back as far as the sixteenth century.

 Sake Dean Mohamet, owner of Britain’s first Indian restaurant

In 1809, the first Indian restaurant in Britain was opened, though it was a little ahead of its time, closing three years later. Queen Victoria herself loved curries and had Indian servants; at one banquet cailles aux pommes de terre à la Indienne, which is a quail and potato curry to you and I, appeared as a course on the menu. The top restaurants of the time such as the Strand and the Ritz followed suit and put curries on their menus too.

 Queen Victoria gets a lesson in Erdu from an Indian teacher

Then, in the 1960s there was a huge influx of Indian people into Britain, some as doctors and nurses, others seeking refuge with their British passports. Now the curry could really take off, especially in the cities of London, Birmingham and Bradford. Dishes were modified to British tastes and we flocked to the restaurants for the taste of the chicken tikka masala, lamb rogan josh, the bhajis, and the vindaloos, reaching a peak in the 1980s with the launch of the wonderful Madhur Jaffery’s classic book Indian Cookery. These days people want to taste more authentic curries and the Indian curry restaurant is still going from strength to strength, with several holding Michelin stars, and let’s not forgot that fish and chips has now been displaced by chicken tikka masala as our national dish.

I have absolutely no qualms about including curries in this blog, Britain has always been a cultural sponge especially when it comes to food. This in itself should be celebrated and I am glad new and exciting foods are constantly taking seed and blooming in this country, flourishing alongside – never needing to compete against – fish and chips and shepherd’s pie.

India-inspired recipes added to the blog thus far:

The Oriental Club’s Mid-19th Century “Mutton Curry”


Filed under Britain, Eighteenth Century, food, General, history, Indian food, The Victorians