Meat in Asia is not always premium quality; it isn’t hung and more often than not is extremely tough. Therefore, papaya is said to act as a tenderiser. Slow-cooking ensures the meat in this curry will be succulent and juicy.
Venison curry can be turned into Sri Lankan shepherd’s pie. Both the curry and the shepherd’s pie can be made in advance and can be frozen. The papaya marinade isn’t essential if you are in a hurry.
For the curry (serves 4)
1kg venison haunch (or lamb’s neck), cut into 3cm chunks
265g unripe green papaya flesh (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
5tbs coconut or vegetable oil
10 curry leaves
4 red onions, peeled and sliced
10cm pandan leaf (if you can find it), chopped into 2cm pieces
15g garlic, peeled and finely chopped
15g fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
25g coriander root, washed and finely chopped
3-4 small green chillies, finely chopped
4 Ortiz anchovies, chopped, or 2tbs fish sauce (optional)
2tbs roasted curry powder
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
400ml coconut milk
2tbs coconut vinegar or rice vinegar
1tbs brown sugar or jaggery
200g cherry tomatoes, halved
1tbs full-fat yogurt (optional)
For the roasted curry powder
1tbs uncooked rice (optional)
3tbs coriander seeds
2tbs cumin seeds
2 cinnamon sticks
2tbs fennel seeds
1tbs black mustard seeds
2tsp black peppercorns
2tsp fenugreek seeds
1tsp whole cloves
2tsp cardamom pods
1tsp chilli powder
For the sambol
50g shaved celery
Handful of peanuts, roasted and crushed
Handful of mint leaves
1 lime, cut into wedges
For the roasted curry powder
Gently dry-fry the whole spices and uncooked rice (if using) in batches over a medium heat for two to three minutes until they start to colour and before the pan starts to smoke. Pour the toasted spices onto a cool plate immediately to stop them cooking. Alternatively, you could toast the spice and rice mix in the oven at 160°C for six minutes.
Cool and pound the mix in a pestle and mortar or use a spice grinder. Once you have a fine powder, stir in the turmeric and chilli powder.
Roasted curry powder lasts for up to three months if you keep it in a dry glass jar with a tight-fitting lid; the recipe given here is enough to fill a 500ml jar. You can also use roasted curry powder as a dry spice mix for roast quail, chicken or poussin; or just adding a little water will turn it into a curry paste.
For the curry
Preheat the oven to 160°C. Put the venison chunks in a bowl. Whisk the papaya into a paste with a balloon whisk in another bowl and combine with two tablespoons of black pepper. Add it to the venison, mix it all together and set aside in the fridge.
Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan (with a lid) that is suitable for the oven. When it is smoking, add the curry leaves, onions, pandan, garlic, ginger, coriander root and green chillies, and a teaspoon of sea salt.
Cook until the onions are soft, about 20 minutes. The more patient you are, the better – they will get sweeter and softer the longer you cook. If the onions start to stick to the pan, you can add a little water.
Stir the onion mix every so often. Season the venison with two tablespoons of sea salt. In a separate large pan, heat the remaining oil and, when smoking hot, brown the meat in batches, about three minutes on each side. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a baking tray.
Once the onions are soft and sweet, add the anchovies or fish sauce, if using, and the spices, and cook for five minutes.
Add the meat to the curry base, along with any leftover papaya, the coconut milk, vinegar, water, sugar and cherry tomatoes. Bring to the boil with the lid off, then put the lid on the pan and put in the oven for three hours, until the venison is tender but doesn’t break up. It will separate – don’t worry, just stir it all together and swirl in the yogurt, if you like. Season to taste.
Serve with lime wedges and the sambol (celery, peanuts and mint leaves mixed thoroughly together).
Recipe taken from Weligama. Photography by Issy Croker