A feast for kings
It is a celebration all-in-one dish, cooked only by the 'Dum Pookth' method, for special occasions like weddings and of course company and club AGMs. The spices and condiments used in Kachchi Biriyani are what primarily contribute to its flavour.
The three main ingredients are the chevon, potatoes and basmati rice. Cooking this dish is a challenging process, as it requires meticulously measured time and heat to avoid overcooking the rice or undercooking the meat. The "Ustad" (chef) is also required to preserve the delicate flavour of the rice.
It is a fine balance achieved by extensive practice and long-suffering apprenticeship. And all this cooking is done simply on three stacks of bricks; fired by 'lakri' - strips of firewood. Traditionally 'kachchi' is served with the yoghurt drink 'borhani', and followed by either 'firni' (khir birini) or 'jorda' (zard girinj).
According to ancient Vedic edicts, cooked foods are classified into two groups. Ingredients cooked in water, such as bhat, daal or roti was 'Kaccha' (raw) food, and food cooked in ghee was 'Pucca' (cooked) food. Milk is 'pucca' as it comes out warm from the udders; furthermore as it is deemed as the sperm of the fire god "Agni", it is therefore considered ritually pure. Ghee is pure consummate, the purest of the pure. Primarily, it comes from hallowed milk, clarified or made untainted yet again with chaste fire (Agni).
Positioned in the 'pucca' rank were those foods that were first purified by cooking them in ghee. It is also important, for such classification, to note at what stage of cooking ghee is introduced to the ingredients. In 'payesh', rice is not roasted in ghee but cooked in milk. The ghee is added at a later stage, it is therefore judged as a 'kuccha' food. In pulao as rice is roasted first in ghee it is elevated to the 'pucca' (a.k.a. pakki) category.
These Vedic concepts along with many other local beliefs were adopted by the Mughal Emperor Akbar and inculcated in the Mughal culinary culture. It is from this concept that certain biriyanis are considered as 'kuccha' or "kachchi" in Urdu.
This is a basic kachchi recipe, which we obtained from the migrant Awadhi Baburchis, the potato was adopted during their transitional stay in Calcutta (Kolkata).
1½ kg chevon, cut into 10 pieces
½ kg basmati rice
½ kg potatoes, peeled
1 cup onions, finely chopped
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp ginger paste
4 tsp garlic paste
2 tsp Sonth (dry ginger)
3 tsp red chilli powder
2 tsp cumin seeds
5+5 cardamom, depoded
5 cardamoms, gentry cracked
2+2 (2.5 cm long)cinnamon sticks
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp cubed pepper
¼ tsp nutmeg, grated
1 tsp mace, pounded
1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
2 tsp + 1/2 tsp + 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup ghee
½ cup yoghurt
1 cup soya oil
2 tsp sugar
5 drops edible yellow colour
2 drops edible red colour
½ cup rose water
2 cups sliced onions
Pinch of saffron
½ cup milk.
1. In a metal mortar (hamam-dista), pound the following: cumin, 5 cloves, 5 de-poded cardamom, 2 cinnamon sticks, caraway, cubeb, nutmeg, mace and black pepper.
2. After you achieve a fine powder, transfer them to a mixing bowl. Add the following: red chilli powder + ½ cup yoghurt and lemon juice. Mix up and work to get a smooth paste.
3. Drop the meat into the mixing bowl, and meticulously apply this paste to coat the meat pieces. Marinate for 4 hours.
4. Spread rice on a 'kula' or a clean surface, pick out and discard any grits, dark or discolored grains.
5. Wash rice in a fine sieve or colander set under warm running water until the draining water runs clear.
6. Place the rice in a large bowl, add 2 tsp salt and enough cold water to cover it by about 2.5cm (1 inch) and soak for 2 hours.
7. In a small glass bowl, soak the saffron in lukewarm milk and let stand covered fill required.
8. In a separate glass bowl, mix the following yellow colour, red colour, and rose water. Let stand covered until required.
9. Heat oil in a korai, throw in the sugar and cook until sugar caramelises.
10 . Chuck in the potatoes and sauté them until their coat acquires the caramel colour, strain out and keep potatoes aside. Discard oil.
11. Heat ghee in a large heavy deghchi/pot, lob in the sliced onions and sauté until they are golden. Using a slotted spoon strain out the fried onions (baresta) and set them aside. Reserve the ghee also.
12 . In a separate deghchi/stainless steel pot, bring 6 cups of
fresh water to a boil over high flame.
13 . Drain the rice. In a slow, thin stream so
the water does not stop boiling, pour in the rice and sprinkle with ½ tsp salt.
14 . Stir once or twice, then boil briskly, uncovered for 5-mins.
15. Occasionally pick a few of the rice grains with a spoon and chew on them to see if they have softened.
16. When the rice is half-crunchy half-soft, take pot off the flame and tip out the water through a fine kitchen strainer.
17. Lightly rouse the rice with a large fork, to remove all moisture, and to keep the grains separated.
18 . Divide the rice into three portions.
19 . Colour first portion with yellow-red colour concoction, and set aside.
20 . Combine the reserved ghee (#11), with the second portion of rice, set aside.
21 . Keep the remaining rice untouched and white.
22. Lay the potatoes on the bottom of the large heavy deghchi or a heavy pot with a 30 cm (12") base. Sprinkle potatoes with ½ tsp salt. Pile up the yellow-red coloured rice (#19) loosely on top of the potatoes.
23. Take half the quantity of meat and arrange them on top of the rice. Scatter half the baresta on top of the meat.
24. Now cover the meat with the ghee mixed rice (#20) and add one more layer of the remaining meat.
25. Disperse: cracked cardamom, 5 cloves, cinnamon sticks, over the meat and cover the entire surface with the remaining baresta.
26. Finally, loosely cover the second layer of meat with the remaining white rice (#21).
27. Sprinkle the saffron infused milk over the rice in a manner to crate irregular patches of saffron colouring.
28. Make soft dough with the 2 cups plain flour and enough water. Roll out the dough into a long thin strip.
29. Place the strip on the rim of the deghchi/pot, covering the whole circumference. Rest the lid on the dough strip, and firmly press down to attach the lid with the dough tightly.
30. Place deghchi/pot on high flame, for about 5-mins.
31. Take deghchi/pot off the flame and place it in a preheated oven.
32. Cook in a low to moderate hot over 170'C (320'F Gas 3) for 50-mins (As cooking time varies from oven to oven, please experiment with the timing to find out the best result of "not overcooking the rice nor undercooking the meat").
33. Switch off the oven flame and wait for about 10-mins before taking out the deghchi.
34. Insert the handle end of a metal khunti, right through the centre of the food, until it reaches the bottom of the deghchi. Gently pull it out, and check if the end is well coated with fat.
35. If there is no fat coating the khunti-handle, return the deghchi covered with the lid, back over a very low flame and cook for 10-more minutes. At this stage you can hear a slight splattering sound of the fat which will form at the bottom of the deghchi.
36. For serving, open the lid, take a ceramic dinner plate, and cut vertically into the biriyani, push the plate down, until the plate touches the bottom of the deghchi. With one deft scoop take out a plateful of biriyani, this will contain all the 6 layers, of potato, rice, meat, rice meat and rice.
37 . Slide the biriyani on to a serving rice-dish in such a manner that all the layers are discernible.
NOTE: The Ustad with all his assistants takes around 15 to 18 hours to cook this biriyani at a leisurely pace. The recipe requires a fair amount of time management, so follow the steps in the order outlined above and you will not require more than 1 hour of preparation time and 2 hours of cooking. Rightly and carefully made, it is an epicure's ecstasy.
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed