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A perfect pairing: Madhu’s masala lamb

Finding a wine that can pair perfectly with the chilli, spices and meat in this flavour-packed dish is not an easy task, but focus on matching the spices, and the wine combinations can work surprisingly well.

With culinary inspiration dating back to 1935, our restaurant brand Madhu’s specialises in South Asian cuisine with an East African influence. It’s thanks to the secret recipes handed down across eight decades that we have become caterers for royalty, dignitaries and Asian weddings – and that our original Southall location has been named Best Indian Restaurant multiple times by Pat Chapman’s Cobra Good Curry Guide.

Over the past few years I’ve been working on creative combinations to find the perfect wine and Champagne pairings for the specific spices in our recipes. Historically, wines were matched to French cuisine, and so it could be said that pairing wine with Indian spices is almost uncharted territory. We have dedicated countless hours to wine-pairing sessions to find the perfect combinations for the differing levels of heat, sweet and sour.

Indian food is not easily matched as it uses a variety of spices, and each main course has a variety of accompaniments that are also spiced. Non-vegetarian proteins are sometimes all eaten together, and finding one wine to work with all proteins in play is almost impossible. So my rule of thumb is to match the wine to the predominant spices, and not the protein. It’s a concept that came from years of experimenting – and although some take a little convincing, once tried and tested our diners have been greatly appreciative of the results.

Cardamom, cloves, dried fenugreek, cumin and cinnamon can all be superbly paired. Generally, heavy reds or oaky Chardonnays are not wines that suit my menus, although I have chosen a New World Syrah to pair with this lamb dish. What has been the most surprising find is that the best match for Indian menus is rosé. Whispering Angel from Provence is a hit with many of the spices I use.

Although beer is often associated with curry, I much prefer Champagne as a match. The bubbles always help bring out the spice, and the sweetness of Champagnes with a higher dosage helps balance the heat. Laurent-Perrier’s Rosé (£59-£62 Widely available), for its sweet fruit, or the same producer’s Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature (£80 Champagne Direct), for its clean-as-a-whistle freshness, would be my first choices.


Madhu’s masala lamb recipe

This is my father’s recipe, and a dish very close to my heart. I recommend cooking the meat on the bone as this adds so much flavour to the curry sauce.

Serves 8

Preparation time 25 minutes

Cooking time 1 hour 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1kg spring lamb on the bone
  • 175g butter or ghee
  • 150g onions, sliced
  • 100g ginger paste
  • 100g garlic paste
  • 350g tomato paste
  • 8-12 green chillies blended into a paste
  • 1 tsp heaped turmeric
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 peppercorns
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 1 black cardamom pod
  • 2-3 tsp salt
  • 1⁄2 tsp garam masala
  • 1⁄3 tsp ajwain powder
  • 50g chopped coriander

Method

1. In a large pot heat the butter or ghee and caramelise the sliced onions. Blend the caramelised onions into a paste. Add ginger and garlic paste and cook further with the blended onions until the mixture turns a dark brown.
2. Carefully add the tomato paste and green chilli, red powder chilli and turmeric. Cook until the sauce thickens and releases oil. At this point add the whole spices, both cardamoms, peppercorns, bay leaves, cloves and cinnamon stick. Leave these to simmer and remove from the sauce when ready.
3. Add the lamb into the sauce and stir in. Add salt and ajwain. Cook until the meat is sealed on all sides. Turn the heat onto a medium to low setting and cover and slowly simmer for 35-40 mins. Keep an eye on the dish and stir regularly so that the sauce does not catch (if it does, quickly deglaze the pan with water). Add the garam masala and cook for a further 8-10 mins.
4. Ensure the lamb is soft and tender. Remove the whole spices, garnish with coriander and serve with hot chapatis or pilau rice.


The wines to drink with Madhu’s masala lamb

Late-harvest German Riesling

Off-dry white wines, such as Riesling, are often touted as a good match for spicy foods, because the slight sweetness can help to balance the heat on the palate.

Dr Loosen, Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany 2020

This is a single-vineyard, late-harvest Riesling from one of the most prestigious vineyard sites for Riesling in the world. Ripe and just off-dry, it’s a curious concoction of yellow peach, pear, candied citrus and camomile that’s glazed by tangerine-jam notes. It’s a magnificent match for all that spice. The sweetness of peach and pear adds the balance and the citrus clears and cleanses the palate. 92 points.

Drink 2022-2030 | Alcohol 9.5% 

New Zealand Syrah

Bold and fruity reds, such as New World Syrah/Shiraz, can be a good option for those seeking a more robust style to pair with curry. Some of the herbs and spices used in Indian cooking, such as cardamom, ginger, pepper, clove and coriander, are often present in the aromatic profile and flavour of the wine.

Te Mata Estate, Syrah, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand 2019

Dark crimson with notes of raspberry, red plum, lavender, cinnamon and five spice. Concentrated and rich with firm tannins and a long, sweet berry fruit-flavoured finish. The berry sweet flavour balances the spice levels, while the cinnamon note lifts the spice flavour, making for a fabulous pairing. 96 points. 

Drink 2022-2027 | Alcohol 13.5% 


Chef Poonam Ball

Host of Sony TV’s Spice Up, head creative chef Poonam Ball is the daughter of the late chef ‘Madhu’ and has designed menus and catered for private events hosted at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and 10 Downing Street. The brand has been in operation for the past 42 years and has five London restaurants. Their first international project opens at the Swissotel in Istanbul later this year.


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