Railway lamb curry is a lot like a traditional British stew.
The original railway lamb curry (actually made with mutton) was served in the first class cars of the Indian railways and stems back to the British Raj. The story goes that a British officer ordered a curry, found it to be too spicy and asked for the curry to be milder.
The chef wanting to please his customers added a little yoghurt to the sauce to cool it down and the officer loved it. Railway lamb curry was born.
About this railway lamb curry recipe…
There are many food historians who believe that the original railway lamb curry was cooled down by adding coconut milk to the sauce and not yoghurt.
As it is probably just a made up story, you could use either and come very close to what you would be served in a restaurant style railway lamb curry nowadays. North Indian chefs would usually add yoghurt while southern Indian chefs would opt for coconut milk.
Both versions are very good but this railway lamb curry is inspired by south Indian cooking.
How spicy is railway lamb curry?
When you order a railway lamb curry in a restaurant, it will most likely be quite mild. Only a little chilli powder is added to the base masala so that you get a nice kick that isn’t all that spicy.
That said, there is absolutely no reason why you can’t add more chilli powder and/or chillies to your railway lamb curry. When you make this hugely popular curry at home, the spicing is in your hands and you can make it as mild or as spicy as you wish.
This version I have for you here is on the mild side though I do tend to add more chilli powder when I make this for my family at home.
What do you serve railway lamb curry with?
If you’d like to make this curry into a feast, you’ve come to the right place. You could just go for a side of Basmati rice or mushroom fried rice.
If you’d like to make naans, why not try one of these? Instant naans, Peshwari naans, stove top naans, keema naans, garlic naans, tandoor naans (if you have a tandoor oven), or if you’re cooking outdoors, karahi naans. Oh, and really easy but just as delicious are homemade chapatis.
You might also like to serve up an easy curry house style tarka dal or slowly cook dal makhani.
Want to start your railway lamb curry meal off with a bang? How about fried shop bought poppadoms or if you’re feeling ambitious, make your own poppadoms from scratch and serve them with coriander chutney, red onion chutney, and/or tamarind chutney.
Is railway lamb curry similar to British Indian restaurant style curries?
Although the recipe is believed to have been first prepared to the British palate, it isn’t like curry house style curries which are made with a smooth base sauce.
Railway lamb curry is, however very popular now at curry houses around the UK as well as Indian restaurants around the world.
It is prepared just as curries have been prepared in Indian for thousands of years though most are a lot less spicy than other lamb curries on the menu.
Pro tip for lamb curry fans…
Although the lamb in this railway lamb curry recipes is simmered and cooked with the other ingredients, there is another way to do this for lamb curry fans.
I like to fry and then simmer a lot more meat until it is tender. How much is up to you. Then I use the amount of cooked lamb and broth I need for the recipe and freeze the rest.
Doing this speeds up the cooking process for future lamb curries whether they be curry house style lamb curries or more authentic recipes.
Step by step instructions for railway lamb curry in photographs…
Be sure to get all of your ingredients ready before you start cooking. It makes cooking the railway lamb curry much easier.
Heat the oil over a medium high heat. When visibly hot, stir in the whole spices followed by the curry leaves. Allow these ingredients to season the oil for about 40 second.
Add the chopped onions and fry for 5 minutes or until soft and translucent.
Next add the garlic and ginger and fry for about 30 seconds followed by the chopped green chillies. Stir well to combine.
Add the cubed lamb and stir well. You want to brown and coat the meat with the masala.
Add just enough water to cover and bring to a simmer. Continue to cook the lamb until it is really tender. This can take up to 40 minutes but there is no point rushing things. The meat is ready when it’s ready!
Once the meat has been cooking for a while and is almost ready, add the cubed potatoes and simmer them until tender.
When you are happy with the doneness of the meat and potatoes, add the tamarind and coconut milk . You could always substitute yoghurt for the coconut milk if you prefer.
Season with salt to taste and enjoy.
By the way, rice is delicious with this curry but I like naans even better. Dip those naans into the hot railway lamb curry and you will be in curry heaven. Here’s my curry house style stovetop naan recipe.
Authentic Railway Lamb (Mutton) Curry
- 1 kilo (2 lbs) lamb or mutton shoulder or leg cut into bite sized pieces on the bone
- 5 tbsp (1/4 cup) mustard oil
- 5 cardamom pods – bruised
- 3 dried Kashmiri chillies
- 4 cloves
- 1 x 2.5cm (1 inch) cinnamon stick
- 20 fresh or frozen curry leaves
- 2 medium red onions – finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons ginger and garlic paste
- ½ tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 300g chopped tomatoes
- 3 green chillies – finely chopped
- 3 potatoes – peeled and quartered
- 1 generous tsp tamarind concentrate
- 200ml thick coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves
- Salt to taste
- Heat the mustard oil in a large saucepan. When visibly hot, add the cardamom pods, Kashmiri chillies, cloves and cinnamon stick and let these whole spices infuse into the oil for about 30 seconds.
- Add the curry leaves and let them fry with the spices for another 30 seconds before adding the chopped onions.
- Fry the onions for about five minutes until soft and translucent and the stir in the garlic and ginger paste and continue frying for a further 30 seconds.
- Now add the ground spices and chopped tomatoes, stir well and add the chopped chillies. This is your base for the curry.
- Stir in the cubed meat and add just enough water to cover and simmer for 40 minutes or until fork tender.
- When your meat is almost cooked to perfection, add the potatoes to the simmering meat and cook them with the meat until they are tender.
- This curry can be either really soupy or thick, depending on what you prefer. So reduce the stock down until you are happy.
- Stir in the tamarind concentrate and coconut milk. You’re almost done now.
- To finish, add the kasoori methi by rubbing it between your fingers into the sauce. Season with salt to taste and garnish with some chopped coriander if you like.
Saturday 18th of March 2023
Love your recipes! I seem to remember a recipe of yours for Railway curry made with lamb shanks instead, though I can't seem to track it down now. Went down so well, my family still talk about it today! Has it been taken down?
Wednesday 22nd of March 2023
I’ve taken that one off the site and put my new railway lamb one on there. You can still use lamb shanks, just cover with enough water and cook until tender, probably about 3 hours. Thanks Dan
Monday 18th of April 2022
Hello Dan. Just a point about mustard oil. There are possible consequences of using this as it contains elements which may cause poisoning at worst and stomach disorders less seriously. It should be heated to smoking and then be allowed to cool before using normally. Some brands even have a warning that it is for external use only.
Even though I have a tandoor, I still make my naans by your stove-top method. Here in France it is not easy to find spices at a reasonable price, especially since brexit but there are several Indian-owned providers in Germany of all places.
Monday 18th of April 2022
Totally up to you if you choose to use mustard oil or not. Just use rapeseed oil instead. Thanks Dan
Friday 4th of June 2021
I have made this four times now. It’s a great original curry, which always attracts comments.
The third and fourth time I made it with beef. To my taste beef works better, although in India I understand that might not work!
We grow fresh curry leaf in the garden, which needs to be cooked a bit longer. Actually better when the curry leaves have been frozen.
Your book is great by the way. Highly recommended!
Friday 4th of June 2021
Thanks very much for your lovely comments, all great to hear. Sounds good with beef, I will have to give that a go. Kind regards Dan
Thursday 3rd of June 2021
Cooked this dish a few times now a family favourite, would like to share with friends now lockdown has eased. Can you let me know how many the recipe serves as i need to feed 8 people please.
Friday 4th of June 2021
The recipe feeds four people so you would need to double it. Thanks very much. Dan
Saturday 7th of March 2020
Absolutely beautiful wonderful and delicious in taste
Friday 13th of March 2020
Thank you very much Kieran.