Spicy but not fiery, this northern Indian dish makes excellent comfort food
The weather is getting chillier here, so we’re starting to crave stews and braises, preferably ones with some snap. Which leads us to Rogan Josh (aka Roghan Josh or Roghan Ghosht). Who can resist meaty chunks in a rich sauce perfumed with aromatic spices?
This dish is loaded with flavor, but it’s not spicy hot, so it appeals to almost everyone. And it’s as easy to make as beef stew.
So serve this at your next dinner party. And introduce your guests to a whole new world of comfort food.
Recipe: Lamb Rogan Josh
Rogan Josh may be the signature dish of Kashmir, in the northernmost region of India. Because Kashmir stands at the crossroads of Asia, it’s had many political masters over the centuries. Beginning in the 16th century, the area was ruled by the Mughals, who introduced Rogan Josh.
Lamb (or goat) is traditional in this dish, but you can substitute beef if you like (see Notes). Indeed, this dish has spawned countless different recipes and variations. Some versions use onions and garlic, while others avoid them. Some include tomatoes, others don’t. And so on.
But what’s common to all versions is meat that’s braised in a sauce flavored with hearty spices, including dried red chilies and paprika.
You can serve this dish with an Indian bread or rice – such as our Aromatic Yellow Rice. Even better, serve it over a bed of mashed potatoes or Easy No-Stir Oven Polenta.
Our version of Rogan Josh is adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking. That book is long out of print, alas (it was originally written to accompany a BBC program of the same name).
Prep time for this dish (including browning the meat) is about 30 minutes. Cooking time is roughly an hour. If you wish, you can prepare this dish a day ahead. Just complete the cooking through Step 8, then cool and refrigerate the dish overnight. Warm and serve the next day.
This dish yields 6 hearty servings. Leftovers will keep for several days if refrigerated in an airtight container.
- 2-inch piece ginger
- 8 garlic cloves
- 4 tablespoons water
- ~2½ pound lamb shoulder or leg (may substitute beef; see Notes)
- kosher salt for seasoning the lamb (a teaspoon or two, and may substitute table salt; see Notes)
- freshly ground black pepper for seasoning the lamb (a dozen grinds or so)
- ¼ cup olive or vegetable oil; more if needed (mustard oil is what most Indians would use)
- 2 medium onions
- 10 whole cardamom pods
- 6 whole cloves
- 10 whole peppercorns
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon cayenne (we like to increase this to 2 teaspoons, which makes for a significantly hotter dish)
- 1 heaping tablespoon paprika
- 1 to 2 teaspoons additional kosher salt (to taste; see Notes)
- 6 tablespoons yogurt (preferably Greek)
- 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1½ cups additional water (more if you want a watery sauce)
- ~½ teaspoon garam masala (optional)
- ~½ teaspoon additional freshly ground black pepper (optional)
- garnish of chopped parsley or cilantro (optional)
- Peel the ginger, chop it coarsely, then add it to the bowl of a blender or mini food processor. Peel the garlic and add it to the blender/food processor. Add 4 tablespoons water. Whirl until the mixture is puréed and blended. Set aside.
- Trim the meat and cut it into chunks measuring an inch or two (we prefer larger). Dry the meat chunks, then season them with salt and pepper.
- Place a large, wide-bottomed cooking pot (such as a Dutch oven) over medium stovetop heat. When hot, add the oil. Add enough pieces of lamb to cover the bottom of the cooking pot (don’t crowd). Brown the meat on each side (this will take about 5 to 8 minutes per side). You’ll probably have to brown the meat in several batches. When the meat is browned, remove it to a plate lined with a paper towel and allow it to drain. Add more oil during the browning process if necessary.
- While the meat is browning, peel the onions and cut them into ½-inch dice or thin slices. Set aside.
- When the meat is finished browning, add just enough oil to film the bottom of the cooking pot (if there is not enough oil left over from browning). Add the cardamom pods, cloves, peppercorns, and cinnamon. Stir until the spices take on color and become fragrant – maybe 10 seconds. Add the chopped onion (Step 4) and sauté until the onion begins to brown (5 to 8 minutes). At that point, add the ginger/garlic paste (from Step 1). Fry for about 30 seconds. Next add the rest of the spices – the coriander, cumin, cayenne, paprika, and salt. Fry for another 30 seconds.
- Now return the browned lamb chunks to the cooking pot. Stir the meat to combine it with the onions and spices. Add the yogurt a tablespoon at a time, stirring and cooking for a minute after each addition (to blend the yogurt with the meat). Then add the tomatoes, stir, and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the water and stir, making sure to scrape the bottom of the cooking pot thoroughly (in case any spices have stuck). Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook for 1 hour. (If you prefer, you can cook the dish in the oven at a preheated 350 degrees F.) Stir several times during the cooking process.
- At the hour mark, check the meat to make sure it’s tender (if not, keep cooking). Spoon off any fat that has risen to the top. If the sauce is too liquid for your taste, turn up the heat and continue cooking to reduce the sauce until it’s the consistency you prefer.
- Right before serving, sprinkle garam masala and black pepper (if using) over the dish and mix it in.
- Dish up the rogan josh (we like to serve it over polenta or mashed potatoes). Garnish with chopped parsley or cilantro, if desired, and serve. Don't forget to remind your guests that they may find some whole spices in this dish.
- Want to substitute beef for lamb? A good chuck roast would be our choice. It will probably take longer to cook, though (around 2 hours; see Step 7). You’ll probably need a bit more water, too (maybe an additional ½ cup) because the longer cooking time will lead to more evaporation.
- You could also try using brisket in this dish (we haven’t tried this, though, so no clue on how it will turn out).
- As mentioned in the headnote, you can prepare this dish ahead of time. In that case, don’t reduce the sauce when you cook it initially – you can do that as you reheat it.
- This dish requires a lot of spices. Don’t have them all on hand? You can skip one or two of them. The dish won’t have as much flavor, but it’ll still be good.
- We don’t recommend skipping the cayenne or paprika, though – their flavor (and color) are integral to the dish. (If cayenne is just too spicy for you, however, you can leave it out and replace it with twice as much paprika.)
- This dish traditionally is made with Kashmiri chile powder. If you can find that, by all means use it (in which case you really can skip the cayenne and paprika.) The cayenne/paprika blend we suggest approximates the flavor of Kashmiri chile powder.
- We use kosher salt in cooking. It has larger crystals than table salt, so it’s less salty by volume. If using table salt, use about half as much as we suggest. But, as always, season to your taste, not ours.
“OK,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “So vacation is over and it’s back to blogland.”
“We had a great time,” I said. “A cruise, on the Regent Seven Seas Explorer.”
“Their newest ship,” said Mrs K R. “And a beauty. Wonderful food and drink.”
“Yup, we filled up on Dover sole and lamb,” I said. “As we sailed across the English Channel to Saint-Malo.”
“Where we got to see Mont Saint-Michel,” said Mrs K R. “So cool to visit an 8th century abbey that’s surrounded by water at high tide.”
“It rises over 300 feet above sea level – and we walked all the way to the top,” I said. “Lots of steps. So it was nice to sail on to the city of Bordeaux, and stay overnight.”
“Bordeaux looks like a miniature version of Paris,” said Mrs K R. “And of course we tasted wine. Lots of wine.”
“All of it lovely, and local,” I said. “Then we made our way to Bilbao, Spain. Another overnight.”
“Where we saw the fabulous Guggenheim Museum,” said Mrs K R.
“Yeah, it looks spectacular in pictures,” I said. “But it looks way more interesting in real life.”
“Then on to La Coruña, where we took an excursion to Santiago de Compostela,” said Mrs K R. “So interesting to see it – and think about the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who travel to it each year over the 500-mile Camino de Santiago.”
“Had a really good lunch there, too,” I said. “More research! Then on to Oporto, Portugal.”
“Home of port wine!” said Mrs K R. “Which, being the dedicated researchers we are, we had to sample. And sample. And sample some more.”
“Then Lisbon,” I said.
“Love all the red tile roofs,” said Mrs K R. “Such a pretty city. And then onto Cádiz. Home of sherry wine!”
“Which we didn’t have much time to sample, alas,” I said. “Because we took a long excursion to Seville – SO worth seeing.”
“But we did have sherry at lunch,” said Mrs K R. “And some local wine. And loads of fried seafood. More research, of course.”
“And we finally ended up in Barcelona,” I said. “A fascinating city – and much in the news, too.”
“Two glorious weeks, filled with sightseeing, eating, and drinking,” said Mrs K R. “Loads and loads of it. Nonstop.”
“Right,” I said. “Now that you mention it, I’m exhausted!”
“Not to mention jet-lagged,” said Mrs K R. “We need this hearty Rogan Josh to perk us up.”
And she’s not joshing.
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