Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Mughlai Lamb Biriani

There are times when I just want to create a meal using what I have to hand in the kitchen, or what looks particularly good when I am out food shopping. But I also enjoy following the instructions of a well written recipe, especially if it is something I would have never been able to come up with myself without guidance. Of course any 'original' recipe that I make now will have been shaped by reading cookery books, and making recipes from times and cultures that are unfamiliar to my own. Layering up the rice and spicy lamb for this biriani and letting it steam reminded me of making an Iranian polo, reminding me of how little is new in cooking, but constantly borrowed and adapted.

My parent's copy of Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cookery is a long standing favourite for me, everything I have made from there has been a delicious success. We have had it for as long as I can remember, and I have finally made the lamb biriani, a recipe that takes about 6 hours to make, but is worth every minute.

425g basmati rice
6 litres water
3 tbsp salt
1 tsp saffron threads
2 tbsp warm milk
3 medium onions, peeled
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1” fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
13 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp sultanas
4 tbsp sliced almonds
1 kg  boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2-3cm cubes
250 ml plain yoghurt ( I used Greek)
5-6 whole cloves
½ tsp black peppercorns
½ tsp cardamom seeds (from about 6-8 pods)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
3cm cinnamon stick
1/6 nutmeg, grated (probably about ¼ tsp)
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 oz/ 25 g unsalted buttercut into 8 pieces
3 hard boiled eggs

 Wash the rice in several changes of water, until the water runs clear. Drain and put into a large bowl. Add approximately 2 litres of wate. Add 1 tbsp salt to the water. Mix and leave to soak for 3 hours.
Now 'toast' the saffron threads over a medium heat in an oil-free frying pan. After about a minute or two, they will darken slightly. Remove from the pan, and set aside. Heat the milk to lukewarm- this is probably easiest to do in a microwave. Crumble the saffron threads into the milk, and leave to infuse.

Now we prepare the garnish. Cut two of the onions in half lengthwise, and finely slice into half moons. Put 6 tbsp of oil in a frying pan over a medium high heat. Add the onion rings, and fry until they are crisp and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon onto some kitchen towel to absorb any excess oil. Put the sultanas in the same pan, until the puff up. This won't take very long at all. Remove, setting on some more kitchen towel. Finally, add the almonds, and cook until they are golden. Put with the onions and sultanas.You can set the garnish ingredients aside now in a container while you continue with the rest of the recipe.

Chop the remaining onion coarsely. Put chopped onion, garlic, ginger, 2 tbsp of sliced almonds and 3 tbsp water into a blender or food processor and blend until you have a very smooth paste. Set aside.

In a heavy bottomed casserole, sear the lamb in batches so it is properly browned (not just greyed). As you finish each batch, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. When all the lamb is done, add a few more tbsp of oil to the pan, and fry the curry paste for about 3 minutes. If it sticks, add a little water. Return the lamb and any accumulated meat juices to the casserole. Add the yogurt, one tablespoon at a time, until it is all incorporated. Add a teaspoon of salt and 150ml water. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover, and turn the heat down to a low setting, leaving to cook for 30 minutes.

Using a spice grinder, or a pestle and morter with a lot of strength, grind the cloves, peppercorns, coriander seeds and cinnamon stick. Add the grated nutmeg.
After the lamb's 30 minute cooking time, add the ground spices to the pan along with the cayenne pepper. Remove the lid and increase the heat to a medium setting. Let the sauce thicken and reduce to about 300ml, stirring to prevent sticking. Turn off the heat. If needed, skim off any excess fat.

Preheat the oven to 150°C.  Bring 3.6 litres of water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Add 1 tbsp salt. Drain the rice that’s been soaking for 3 hours and rinse under cold running water. Slowly scatter the rice into the boiling water. Once all the rice has been added, bring the water back to a boil and cook for exactly 6 minutes. Drain.

Put the rice on top of the meat, piling it high in the center, like a hill. Take a chopstick or the handle of a long spoon and make a 1” wide hole in the center of the peak, like a well, right down to the bottom of the pan. Drizzle the saffron milk in streaks along the sides of the hill. Lay the pats of butter on the sides as well and scatter 2 tbsp of the browned onions over it all.

Cover with aluminum foil, sealing the edges well. Bake in the oven for 1 hour.

Towards the end of cooking time, peel and quarter lengthwise the hard boiled eggs.

To serve, gently mix the rice and lamb together. Decorate with the almonds, onions and sultanas, and hard boiled eggs.


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