Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Lamb Biryani is a Royal Treat

I seem to be on an Indian trend of late. There are some few other things I have made, but outside of quick standards like chili, pizza or soup, Indian has been it. Part of this is just that we love Indian flavors. Part of this is that I have found some interesting recipes that intrigued me. Part of it is that we held an Indian dinner for some friends. And now, we are hosting another Indian dinner with the same friends and some new ones. This dinner will be November 3rd. 
Kachche Gosht Biryani
Kachche Gosht Biryani

With this in mind, and the strictures of no nuts and no mushrooms, I have been working to piece together a meal that makes some kind of sense - both from my standpoint as hostess and cook, as well as from the standpoint of how an Indian dinner might be served. I had originally thought to make Korma, either chicken or lamb. However Kormas use nuts, almonds and or cashews, as a ground up thickener to the sauce. A no-go.

Most of my Indian meals have had a sauce, curry style. This has been mainly as my husband doesn't care for plain rice, nor does he care for runny foods. If I serve white rice, or saffron rice, something gravy-like has to be poured over it to make it palatable for him. 

Still, he does like things like Chinese fried rice, with a lot of things added in, so in planning for this upcoming Indian meal, Biryani occurred to me. Biryani is most often a special-occasion dish, often a royal dish, kind of an all-in-one, where the meat and rice are combined in savory harmony with a lot of spices and fried onions and such. Saffron is a must. In photos from Indian cookbooks, it is often shown served with dots of silver leaf. Royal, indeed.

Kachche Gosht Biryani
Kachche Gosht Biryani
In doing research on just how to assemble this amazing dish, I came across a word I had not seen before. The name of the Lamb and Rice Biryani is "Gosht" (Lamb) Biryani. In front of the word Gosht was the word "Kachche". I wondered what this might mean, so I went looking and finally found out that this means that the dish is made with the meat still raw. The meat (usually marinated) is set into the bottom of a pot and the partially cooked rice is poured over top. Liquid is added and then the dish is cooked either stovetop or in the oven. I wondered how the dish would taste, and if the meat would be cooked through properly. I found that the flavor was excellent and it was certainly cooked through and tender.

The alternative is called "Pakki" Biryani and this means the meat cubes are fried before adding to the pot. It appears that the most authentic method is with the meat still raw. That answered my question and also gave me incentive to try the dish out and ascertain if it worked, if the flavors were good and if the meat cooked properly. I made the dish yesterday and found the answer to all three questions was a resounding "YES!" You might see cashews in the photos, and yes, I added them to the trial dish, just to see how the flavors and steps went. I left them out of the dish for the guests with nut allergies.

That said, there are a LOT of steps to the dish. It seemed unduly complicated, or maybe just clumsy in the directions. I looked up various recipes online, as well as in some cookbooks of my own. Comparing styles and ingredients, I made what I felt to be a good approximation, but all my own. I cannot know ahead of time if it will all work out or not, but once I work on a dish like this, I can see where any difficulties lie, and correct them or facilitate them. One thing in particular was getting the onions fried early enough to have them for use IN the dish and not just as a decoration for on top of the finished product. The recipe calls for 4 onions to be sliced and then sauteed until well-browned and crisped but not burnt! To get that many onions to cook down to browned and caramelized takes a good half hour, stirring quite often. I was running the ragged edge on timing for the assembly and the onions were still nowhere near caramelized. I will keep that in mind for making it next time, possibly making this step earlier in the day rather than so close to assembly.

While there are a lot of steps and a lot of ingredients and different methods of prep work involved, this makes a large amount, suitable for quite a few people. The fact that it is baked for about 45 minutes frees one up for other last minute tasks while the pot is in the oven. All in all, it is a supremely worthwhile dish and a total delight to eat.

Kachche Gosht Biryani
Kachche Gosht Biryani

Kachche Gosht Biryani

(Lamb Biryani Cooked with Raw Meat)

Serves 6 to 8

1½ pounds lamb, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ teaspoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons oil or ghee
4 large onions sliced, quartered
½ cup sultanas
½ cup whole raw cashews
1½ cups basmati rice
3½ teaspoons salt, divided
1 tablespoon garam masala powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 cup yogurt
½ cup fresh mint, chopped
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon saffron 
¼ teaspoon kewra water, optional
¼ teaspoon rose water, optional

3 green cardamom slightly crushed
1 inch stick cinnamon
3 whole cloves
1 black cardamom, slightly crushed
1 large tej patta leaf ("Indian Bay Leaf")

½ teaspoon black cumin (shahi jeera) lightly ground
2 inch piece ginger cut into thin strips
3 tablespoons melted ghee
1 cup water
½ cup milk

Cilantro leaves for garnish

Early in the day, place the lamb in a deep bowl, add the minced ginger and garlic. Mix well so that all the lamb pieces are covered. Cover the bowl with cling film and place the bowl in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours.

Earlier in the afternoon, heat oil or ghee in a large skillet, add the onions and sprinkle on ½ teaspoon of the salt, then fry till well browned and caramelized. Drain on absorbent paper.

In the same skillet, still with some ghee or oil in it, sauté the sultanas and cashews for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the raisins puff and change color and the cashews begin to look golden. Turn out into a bowl and reserve for serving.

Set rice in large container with water to cover by at least 1 inch. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Take the lamb out of the refrigerator. Stir together 1½ teaspoons of salt, the garam masala, black pepper and turmeric, then add to the meat along with the yogurt, a third of the fried onions, half the fresh mint, half the cilantro and mix very well. Cover the bowl with plastic film and set aside to marinate for at least thirty minutes.

In a small bowl, dissolve saffron in warm milk. Add in the kewra water and rose water; set aside. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Drain the rice, then put it into a saucepan with plenty of water and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to boil and cook till half done, about 6 minutes. Drain well, returning the rice to its pan. Stir in the saffron-milk mixture, then stir in the whole masala spices, another third of the fried onions and the remaining mint and cilantro.

Take a heavy duty pot such as enameled cast iron or a heavy braising pot with tight fitting lid and add in the melted ghee to cover the bottom. Spread the marinated lamb into the pot and top it with the rice mixture. Sprinkle the black cumin seeds and the ginger strips over the rice press in. Combine the water and milk and pour overall. Cover the pan with a lid. Set on a hot burner for a few minutes to take the chill off the mixture, then place the pot in the oven and time for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees and time for a further 20 to 25 minutes. Check that the liquids are all absorbed, then set the covered pot aside until ready to serve.

To serve, pour the rice and meat onto a large patter. Scatter over the top the remaining fried onions and the reserved fried sultanas and cashews. Garnish with a few sprigs of cilantro.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.