Silver Blaze: Kasmiri Griddle Kabobs

Year Released: 1988
Directed by: Patrick Lan, Peter Hammond
Starring: Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke
(PG, 102 min.)

"Woe to the cook whose sauce has no sting." Chaucer

If you’re like me, maybe you were first introduced to Sherlock Holmes through those wonderful old movies starring Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as a rather bumbling Watson. 

And then maybe you started reading the real thing and found out that old Basil was a dead ringer for the Holmes that Sidney Paget sketched in the original Arthur Conan Doyle series. No other Holmes seemed gaunt enough; no one else had the piercing nose and razor profile. 

But acting and authencity slowly won you over and while you still enjoyed them, those Hollywood movies with Holmes fighting Nazis seemed more and more ridiculous. 

PBS’s Jeremy Brett was at first too fleshy for me, but his portrayal of Holmes’ arrogance, the way he would hold his hands together almost in prayer as he thought about a case, and both his abuse and tenderness toward Watson make him the epitome of all Holmes for me. And of course, his passing all the more mournful. 

Some have carped that Doyle was wrong about some of the horse racing details in Silver Blaze; others have complained that Brett’s illness took the edge off his performance here. 

Don't listen to them!

The story of Silver Blaze is so much fun because it contains almost all the classic Conan Doyle elements, not to mention Holmes’ most quoted line.

The tale opens with our moody detective – not unlike a sullen rock star – recovering from one of his recurrent brooding fits with the necessary “rambling about the room, with his chin upon his chest and his brows knitted, charging and re-charging his pipe with the strongest black tobacco.” This restless pacing comes abruptly to an end as Holmes dons his famous deerstalker cap for the inevitable train ride through the countryside.

Huddled in the first class carriage – we can almost hear the clacking of the rails and feel the steady vibration of the train - Holmes leans forward with his sharp and eager face to explain the facts of the case to Watson - the disappearance of the Wessex Cup favorite, Silver Blaze, and the mysterious death of its trainer, John Straker. The rhythmic clatter of hooves as Holmes and Watson rattle through quaint Devonshire towns marks the final leg of their journey.

Details are fleshed out with typical Victorian melodrama amid an atmosphere of Gothic gore. The trainer had lived in the lonely countryside surrounded by the complete wilderness of the moors. It is peopled only by the roaming gypsies encamped near the forlorn murder scene. On the night in question a maid carries the dinner of curried mutton to the stable boy on guard, her lantern light piercing the dark path across the open moor. A man appears out the darkness, his face “pale and nervous in the yellow light.” The next day trainer John Straker’s coat is found “flapping from a furze bush” that leads to the fatal hollow where they find the unfortunate trainer shattered by a savage blow. The right hand still holds a small knife “clotted with blood up to the handle.”

But Gothic gore alone does not satiate the Holmes addict. We are not happy unless there is also considerable mucking about and groveling on the ground for clues, punctuated with the appropriate Holmes ejaculations.

Halloa! What’s this?” Holmes utters, stretched out upon the trampled mud of the crime scene. He finds the remnants of a half-burned candle but is not content until he has “clambered up to the rim of the hollow and crawled about among the ferns and bushes.

The only hint of his not unsubstantial ego in the piece is Holmes’ acknowledgement of the Colonel’s cavalier manner toward him and the prediction of future “amusement at his expense.”

STOP HERE IF YOU WANT TO BE SURPRISED…

And amusement he does have, with his adroit unmasking of the culprit carried off with the finesse and legerdemain of the most clever magicians. This unmasking begins with the enigmatic reference to “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

Who can forget the following events, which then unfold at a rapid pace? The mystery bay horse that wins the Wessex Cup is revealed to be the Colonel’s beloved Silver Blaze, but only when “his face and legs are washed in spirits of wine.”

Holmes utters what may be his most famous line as he explains to his readers, in the unlikely case that we, too, might have doubted him. “I had grasped the significance of the silence of the dog.” Of course, we tell ourselves, the dog would have barked at an intruder. Here was the undeniable evidence of an inside job. 

And even if you have continued to read, there is still one very big surprise. The murderer turns out to be most unlikely.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

And now, finally, our food comes in, for everything centers upon the curried mutton. What better ingredient than pungent curry to disguise the “not disagreeable but certainly perceptible flavour” of the powdered opium used to drug the stable boy? 

***

Because of Britain’s strong ties to that country, Indian spice is a staple in the world of Holmes and Watson. It is, after all, at the fatal battle of Maiwand, shortly after arriving in Bombay, that young army surgeon John H. Watson receives a bullet in the shoulder. In his convalescent state he is returned to London and decides to share some nice rooms with “a Sherlock Holmes, an enthusiast in some branches of science.” 

Indian cuisine, with its special blend of exotic spices, remains a staple in Britain today. In fact, it has almost replaced the inevitable fish and chips as the preferred fast food in now cosmopolitan London.

Let us inhale its piquant sweetness as we anticipate our feast of Anglo-Indian delicacies. Our Kasmiri Griddle Lamb Kabobs are perhaps a bit more tender and refined than the curried mutton carried out to the stable boy by the little maid. And we can do without the powdered opium and depend upon our clear conscience to guarantee us a good night’s sleep afterward.

Thanks to Suneeta Vaswani, a native of Bombay and now one of our country’s foremost experts on Indian cooking, our menu bubbles over with exotic spices.

This story can be found in Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook, by DifferentDrummer herself, Kathy Borich. Click on the link below the book to read more like it.Suneeta Vaswani has just published some delightful and easy to cook Indian dishes in Easy Indian Cooking. More details can be found at her website http:// www.suneetavaswani.com.

Kasmiri Griddle Kabobs

  • 1 pound ground lamb or beef
  • 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup channa dal, rinsed and drained (looks like a yellow 
  • split pea, a smaller form of garbanzo bean)
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 3 black cardamoms, seeds only
  • 12 cloves
  • 20 peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 cup pureed onion (2 medium)
  • Oil for pan frying

Combine meat and salt in a saucepan. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Skim off the top. Lower heat to medium and cook uncovered, until water is absorbed. Drain any accumulated fat and cool slightly. Transfer to processor and pulse 4-5 times.

In the meantime, toast channa dal, coriander, cardamom seeds and cloves separately. Grind dal into a powder in a spice grinder. Divide powder in 2 batches. Combine coriander and cardamon seeds, cloves, and peppercorns and grind into a powder. Add to 1 batch of powdered dal. Stir in cayenne. Add powedered spices to meat. 

Add pureed onions to meat and process to a paste. Transfer to a shallow container and chill uncovered about 2 hours. Just before cooking, mix reserved dal powder well into mixture. Adjust salt.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in skillet. Taking 1 tablespoon of the mixture at a time, form small patties and brown in a skillet. Flip to brown other side. Handle patties carefully as they are fragile. Continue until all mixture is used. Serve with a chutney of your choice.

Recipe Source: Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover's Cookbook