If you're from Kerala, or have been to Kerala and visited any of its bakeries, you know that the cutlet is a favourite snack in the cities and the Catholic parts of the state. Made traditionally with beef, it is typically available in every flavour from chicken to egg, tuna to vegetable. My favourite though remains to be the traditional beef. Like my sister says—there's something perfect about the pairing—meat and potatoes that always works.
My mom tells me that making cutlets on holidays is a tradition she picked up from her sister-in-law before she got married, and it’s been a fixture at every Christmas, Easter or celebratory event at home ever since I can remember. Now that my dad runs a bakery chain in Kerala that's known for its cutlets and plum cakes, she rarely makes it at home and her recipe is a family secret I was eager to excavate and document.
As I spoke to her and helped her reconstruct the recipe this year, I remembered the days when the making of the beef cutlet was a family ritual in itself. The meat would be bought a day before, cleaned and refrigerated. On the morning of the preparation or even the evening before, my dad or uncle would cut the meat into large chunks for it to be boiled with the masalas till tender and aromatic. The next day, potatoes would be boiled, the meat minced and the masala made by the women. Then one of the men would lend their muscle to the mixing of the masalas till they were the right consistency and the kids would help with patting the beef cutlets into shape. We’d shape them as we chatted or sang a weird mix of carols and old Hindi film songs.
Finally, the cutlets would be handed over to my mom for her to crumb and fry them up while swatting our greedy hands away from the freshly fried lot. The crust would be crisp, just a tad sweet, the inside perfectly spiced. Soft and in parts creamy and sweet. With a side of the fantastically simple challas (onion salad), this was, and still is, bliss!
Recipe for Meat Cutlets (makes about 24 cutlets)
1 kg beef (you can also use buff/mutton)
1 kg potatoes
1 tsp peppercorns
1 inch cinnamon
4 tsp meat masala powder (the Kerala masala is a mix of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, nutmeg, mace and black pepper but any regular meat masala should work in a pinch)
1 tsp chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
10 - 12 green chillis
3 + 5 sprigs curry leaves
1 kg onions, sliced
10 cloves garlic
4 tbsp minced ginger
½ cup oil
Salt to taste
Oil to deep fry
4-5 cups of breadcrumbs (made from rusk grounded in the mixer)
5-7 egg whites, whisked till well liquidated
1. Boil the potatoes.
2. Clean, wash and cut the meat into large chunks (about 3 inches). Mix well with 1 tsp salt, the chillis and turmeric powder, 2 tbsp minced ginger, 3 sprigs curry leaves, garlic, peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves and pressure cook without any added water. My mom cooked this year’s batch on high heat for two whistles and then reduced the heat and cooked for another 10 minutes till tender. But she says that you may need to cook a little longer if the meat you've got is tougher.
3. Once the meat is cooked, open the cooker and check to see if there is any gravy. If there is, cook the meat without a lid to let all the juices evaporate. Let it cool.
4. When cooled, shred the cooked meat in a food processor or mixer. Do not grind to a paste. Just enough to ensure there are no meat chunks left and you can see fibre of the meat distinctly.
5. Heat oil. Stir fry the onions, minced ginger, curry leaves and green chilli till the onions are softened, glassy and just starting to brown around the edges. Add in the minced meat and meat masala and stir through. Taste for seasoning and correct as required. Switch off the gas and let cool.
6. Now crush the potatoes in your hands and mix into the minced meat and onion mixture. Check and correct seasoning once more.
7. Knead the mixture. Grabbing a handful at a time, squeeze the mixture with your hands to pack it all in and shape into a firm, oblong, baseball shape. Press gently but firmly to flatten, while ensuring that the sides are all smooth and without cracks. This step is critical to making sure that your cutlets do not disintegrate while frying.
8. Dip lightly in the breadcrumbs and keep aside till all cutlets are shaped. Your cutlets are now ready to be fried. You can also keep these in the freezer and use over the course of the next few days.
9. Just before frying, dip in beaten egg whites and then roll in the bread crumbs till the entire surface is evenly coated.
10. Deep fry till the cutlets are golden. I've also successfully coated these in oil and air fried them with great results.
How to make challas
4 onions, thinly sliced
2-3 tsp coconut oil
Salt to taste
1-2 thinly sliced green chillies
2 tbsp minced coriander leaves
1. Mix the onions with salt and coconut oil and massage well with your hand. Let it marinate for 5 minutes.
2. Add in the coriander leaves, green chillies and lime juice and mix thoroughly.
3. Let it marinate for about 10 minutes before serving.