Calcutta Mutton Biryani: A Meaty, Potato-Filled Delicacy
When it comes to regional Biryani recipes, we are spoilt for choice. There is the ubiquitous Lucknawi mutton biryani that relies more on the flavours of the meat than spices for its unique taste. As you go down south to the courts of the Nizams of Hyderabad, the biryani tends to include more masala. And when you head east, you have the famous Calcutta Mutton Biryani, the subject of this blog, and a sub-variant of the Lucknawi-style of biryani that is famous for its potato heavy recipe.
The Calcutta Mutton Biryani also entails an interesting historic trail that began in the princely courts of Lucknow. One legend has it that when Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was dethroned by the British in the year 1856 in Awadh, he was exiled to Kolkata from Lucknow. A man loath to give up his tastes and indulgences, and disinclined to compromise on either, he brought his entire entourage of khansamas and bawarchis along with him. Unfortunately, the indulgences of the Nawab were in a fix due to scarcity of money. Meat was expensive, so to satisfy his taste buds the Nawab’s cooks created a local variant of the mutton biryani by cutting down on the meat and adding potatoes instead.
They toned down the spices, lowered the meat-to-rice ratio, resulting in the Calcutta Biryani becoming a more subtle version of the Lucknawi biryani. And from this scarcity, a masterpiece was created.
The popular legend has, however, been refuted by a few historians. They claim that the potato was added to the biryani as it was an exotic vegetable at the time, and not because the local rulers went bankrupt.
Whatever may be the legend behind the inclusion of the potato, here we are 150 years later, and we can't stop relishing the innovative “addition”.