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We are currently staying at a farm in Scotland, and our hosts there have a herd of deer. Unsurprisingly, when I offered to cook a meal, I was given a couple of kilos of venison to make a curry. Hiran gosht was a great favourite of my father’s, and my mother occasionally smuggled beef — something my father was averse to — to the table under the guise of shikar gosht.

The dish, as I recall, was cooked in the bhuna style, meaning that the liquid was made to evaporate so that the gravy was reduced to a thick sauce that clung to the meat. Perhaps I’ll try and replicate the recipe from memory when I tackle the venison tomorrow. Meanwhile, I flipped through Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible. Published in 2003, it was awarded the Cookery Book of the Year award by the Guild of Food Writers.

This is easily the best book on curries I have come across, or, indeed, the finest cookbook in my (rather large) collection. Quite apart from the wide range of recipes she has included, Ms Jaffrey has explored the geographical spread of our extensive desi cuisine from Japan to New York. I was surprised to learn that curries were so popular in Japan, a country with a very strong culinary tradition of its own. But according to Ms Jaffrey, most supermarkets in Tokyo have a bigger selection of curry-related ingredients and spices than the combined shelf space offering Korean and Chinese food products.

Reading about the spread of curries as a parallel to the movement of Indians as indentured labourers in many parts of the world, while dealing with venison

If a single person has converted the British public to authentic South Asian food, it is surely Madhur Jaffrey. When she arrived in London as a student from Delhi, she couldn’t cook at all. But missing food from home, she asked her mother to send her recipes, and soon acquired expert skills and a deep knowledge about herbs and spices. Featuring in a series of TV programmes, she ignited a yearning for authentic desi dishes. Thus far, the few Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi restaurants were mostly mediocre establishments, where pre-cooked sauces were mixed in with meat or chicken, and plonked down before largely ignorant customers.

Now, of course, a number of upmarket restaurants cater to sophisticated palates, with some of them having garnered coveted Michelin stars. And, of course, they charge accordingly. You can now buy a wide range of desi spices in remote supermarkets, and Indian takeout joints have popped up in the most unlikely towns.

The history of the spread of curries is fascinating as it parallels the movement of Indians as indentured labourers through the West Indies, as well as Asian and African countries. Recruited by white colonialists, these unfortunate people lived under conditions akin to slavery but, gradually, they managed to assert their identity through their cuisine. In the UK, goras who had served in India cherished their memory of the delicious food they had been served in their pampered existence. As a result of this demand, an industry based on curry-pastes sprang up.

I read recently that Ms Jaffrey has appeared in a number with a famous rap star. This is in keeping with her wonderfully versatile personality: film star, chef and writer, she has transformed my view of food and cooking.

Back to the venison, though. While the Ultimate Curry Bible doesn’t have a recipe for ‘hiran gosht’, it does include one for shikari hiran kay soolay kebab. But as I have to cook two kilos of meat, grilling won’t be possible for me. Two marinades are involved here, the first one with garlic, ginger, coriander, cayenne pepper, lemon juice and salt. The meat is rubbed with these ingredients and placed in the fridge overnight.

The next day, fry a little finely sliced onion till the rings are golden brown, mix them with yoghurt and garam masala, and rub on to the seasoned venison. Slide the pieces on to skewers, and either barbecue or place them under a hot grill for four minutes on each side. And presto!

Published in Dawn, EOS, August 4th, 2019