Beef Fry (Erachi Varattiyathu)


Photographs by Sebastian John

Yesterday I was flipping through my wife’s recipe book, and to my immense surprise I found my mom’s beef fry recipe written in Malayalam, my mother tongue. It turns out my mom had given my wife the recipe nearly four years back, and I had no clue about it. So I had to make it..after all, as a kid I used to bug mom to make the “dark beef curry”.

What I like about the recipe is its simplicity. It has minimal ingredients, and no water or stock is used for cooking. The beef cooks in its own juices and the onion. The dish known as Pothu Erachi Varattiyathu is a common dish among Kerala Christians, and well adapted by other communities. And the dish is not for the faint heart (at least the dish based on mom’s recipe) – it has three kinds of peppers – green chillies, red chili powder and ground black pepper, plus other spices.


1. Two pound beef cut into about 1 inch cubes
(I prefer chuck roast. The fat and connective tissue gives the dish a nice body.)

For marinate
1. One large onion finely chopped.
(If you are cooking in India, two onions. Onions in India are smaller)
2. 5-6 green chillies
3. 1 sprig curry leaf
4. one teaspoon red chili powder
5. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
6. 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
7. 1 teaspoon oil

For cooking and tempering
1. Two tablespoon tomato paste
2. Half onion chopped fine
3. 1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
4. 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
5. 3 teaspoon oil

Marinate beef with onions, green chillies, curry leaves, red chili powder, turmeric powder and salt and keep in refrigerator overnight.

Bring the marinated beef to room temperature. Heat one teaspoon of oil in a saute pan and cook the tomato paste till oil separates. Add the beef and stir-fry it on high heat for two minutes. Lower the heat, cover and simmer till the beef is soft. (Please note : No water or stock is added for this dish). The beef should cook in its juices and the water from the onion. You have to occasionally stir the meat so it does not hold to the bottom of the pan and burn. The meat should be tender in about an hour and half of cooking time, and all liquids would have been absorbed by the meat (Images B to E below)


A. Marinated beef. B to E. Different stages in cooking. F. After tempering

For tempering, heat the remaining portion of oil and fry the onions till golden brown. Toss the beef into the fried onion, sprinkle ground black pepper and cumin, and cook for one minute.

Garnish and serve. The dish goes best with flatbreads (naan, roti, parathas etc.).

Pothu Erachi Varattiyathu and porotta (not to be confused with the northern Indian paratha) is a favorite dish of Keralites and is sold by most street vendors across the state.

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