Culinary custodian and founder Spices and Friends, Rohini Bhowmick on what makes this early 70's innovation the perfect start for Durga Puja mood.
By Madhulika Dash; Picture Courtesy: Spices and Friends
A few months ago when self-taught cook Rohini Bhowmick decided to add Kosha Mangsho and Luchi to the thoughtfully curated menu of Spices and Friends’, a residential made-to-order home pop-up, it was as an ode to the two culinary influences of her life – her dad, an ace hotelier, who loved and preferred a good meal of kosha mangsho and luchi any day; and her mother, an exceptional cook who not only taught Rohini that taos of the wok trade but also built the culinary custodians’ love for the iconic dish.
Recalls Rohini, “unlike my friends and others, my introduction to kosha mangsho was at home. My mother would often make it on special occasions like Kali Puja, Durga Puja or at the behest of my dad, who called the meal of a good pillow like luchi and a velvety rich kosha manghso the best marriage on plate. Since then my association with the dish – or meal I should say – has been that of celebration. In fact, looking back, I think my love for kosha mangsho and luchi stemmed also because of that culinary romance that happened around the making of the dish.’’
So it comes as a little surprise that Rohini’s Kosha Mangsho is a happy mirroring of how her mother got the dish to life, at least, adds the culinary custodian, “in terms of that celebratory mood. Even today, making Kosha Mangsho any time of the year brings the same sense of joy that one would have hopping pandals during Durga Puja. In fact, it is a dish that I often end up making around the five days of Durga Puja, habitually every year.”
After all, for me, “the bowl of steaming hot and fragrant kosha mangsho is like a time travel to the time when I would often wake up to the aroma of fried onions and ground spices wafting through the house.” Clearly, for Rohini, like most of those who have tasted this culinary masterpiece, kosha mangsho and luchi are an emotion than another Bengali dish. And hence perfecting it has been a kind of mission for the seasoned cook.
But what is the key to memorable kosha mangsho?
The secret, adds the foodpreneur, “lies not only in the mutton or the quality of spices and oil, but also the patience that is needed to nurse the dish into becoming the palate feast that it is known for most, given that it is one mutton dish that needs gradual building of texture and taste.”
A fact that culinary historian and Bengali food authoritarian, Pritha Sen agrees with. “There is no short cut to making a great mutton curry, especially the Kosha Mangsho that was invented by the cooks of the fast casual format-styled restaurants called cabin around the 1970s,” says Sen, who finds the dish is prepared best when slow cooked in an iron kadai than the few whistles of a pressure cooker that most resort to these days.
Adds Rohini, “when you pressure cook the meat you are actually skipping the process where the fat in the meat melts enough to allow the masala to steep into the mutton giving it that sweetness, taste browning and shine – the few aspects of kosha mangsho that has made this rather modern-day creation, a posterboy of Bengali cuisine.”
Given, explains Sen, “that kosha mangsho is a no-water dish, there is little or no scope for error. So getting the process of cooking right is crucial to making it memorable.”
Concurs Rohini, who while advocates the use of best quality produce and a good recipe in hand to get the dish right, she does understand the perils of not being able to find the right meat always. “But when that is not possible instead of using raw papaya to tenderise the meat I prefer to marinate it with a few warm spices for at least 6 hours before cooking. This little trick allows me to work with whatever fresh meat I can lay my hands on, and still get the consistency and taste I want.
As for cooking the dish, I prefer using freshly ground masala and the magic of slow cooking, since it is all about extracting the flavours like sweetness from the onion. Usually, good quality meat has enough moisture in it to cook well, and for browning the onion – the base of the dish – well it needs consistency in dicing the onion and of course patience to see it turn brown, slowly. Once that is done, and the oil starts separating the masala, it is a good enough base to cook the meat till it falls off the bone on a tug,” says Rohini, whose version of the iconic dish was recently compared with that of Golbari in Shyambazar crossing in Calcutta, one of the few places that made Kosha Mangsho, legendary.
After all, a good bowl of kosha mangsho paired with luchi, another innovation of the Cabins in the 1970 as per Sen, is indeed a labour of love – and joy.