It was a special session with Chef Nisar – Corporate Chef; between us we had talked quite a bit on Biryani but this time it was on creating the biryani with an approach, which should not be a fusion. Chef through his research and digging into the Historical documents – ‘Nimat nama’ and ‘Nuskha-e-Shahjahani’ has really managed a unique recipe which I think is the best available in Bhubaneswar.For the epicureans who are particular for aroma and flavour then this dish is the best bet. The chef has introduced this in Bhubaneswar ‘Nakli Dhaba’ – Mayfair Lagoon.Before we go into the details of his recipe would like giving a prelude to a brief background of ‘Biryani’The Biryani has too many intricate stories and fables to share. The single pot dish seems to have originated in Persia. The word has been derived from “Biryan” meaning fried before cooking. The nomads of Persia would bury the pot with rice, meat and aromatic spices in the fire pit and take it out after few hours to be devoured with. Couple of stories have it that “Biryani” saw the shores of India by – ‘Taimur lame’ the founder of Taimuri Empire in Persia and Central Asia (1336-1405). Or may be by the Arabs when they started trading via sea to Calicut.
Another story attributes that it was been a one pot concocted meal developed by ‘Mumtaz Mahal’. Nizam-ul-mulk was responsible in developing the Hyderabadi Biryani and the Arcot Biryani. This spread to Mysore courtesy been Tipu Sultan. The Hindu bookkeepers specially the ‘Kayasta’ gave a different twist by making it a vegetarian affair. The Awadhi variant was the Lucknow style the name came in, as during the Mughal period Lucknow was known as Awadh.
India the land of plenty has quite a variant of Biryanis to offer, some are locally flavoured and some are improvised. Each has its own flavour and taste: preparation differs from each other but it amazes you with taste and flavour.
In general there are two types of Biriyani;
1. Kaachi Biryani: The meat is layered with raw rice in a handi (a thick bottomed pot) and cooked.
2. Pakki Biryani: It is cooked meat and rice layered in a handi, where they come together with intermingling of flavours.
The evolution of Biryani has come across many centuries, many cultures and many cooking styles. The variant is from an Army Dish to a Royal Dish. In India each part of the country comes up with a special type and variant. Wherever you eat Biryani, that special emotional connect is there.
THE HYBRIDISATION OF BIRIYANI ACROSS INDIA
Biryani is single pot evergreen dish and a mouth watering too. India has quite a variant, some are locally flavoured and few are improvised versions of other. Each has its own special way of preparing and the taste amazes us. Few of the variant take the exception of been improvised and have taken the centre stage. Few of the broad categories of Biryanis are: ‘Lucknowi Biryani’: less spicy with those a milder palate, ‘Mughlai Biriyan’: meat cooked in rich spices, ‘Kolkota Biriyani’: the use of potato, ‘Bombay Biriyani’: typically sweeter, ‘Hyderabadi Biriyani’: extremely spicy, ‘Bengaluru Biriyani’: cooked with coriander and mint leaves, ‘Dindigul Biriyani’: unique taste with spicy aroma, and ‘Malabar Biriyani’: light and aromatic.
Going back into the history we find that our recipes were tucked in Nimat nama. The Nimat nama is perhaps the most comprehensive recipe book known to us from medieval Indian history and it is currently housed in the India Office Collections of the British Library. This illustrated manuscript containing recipes for food, aphrodisiacs, and perfumes:it is credited to Ghiyas Shah, the king of Malwa (in present-day Madhya Pradesh) who famously abdicated his throne. One imagines that the research and the writing of a book such as the Nimat nama would call for absolute focus. Ghiyas Shah researched every pleasure of the body and put to paper a prescription. Later his son Naseer Shah made additions to the book.
While the Nimat nama mentions several rice recipes, the pulao or biryani does not feature anywhere. Historians often trace the pulao’s origin to Central Asia. But this one-pot dish likely developed in several regions at the same time. It is probable that lazy cooks and harassed daughters-in-law everywhere were throwing rice and vegetables or meat in the same pot so that they could get about their lives more peacefully.
Many stories even attribute one-pot dishes like the halim to Sufi wanderers who depended on food from others — light a fire, put in whatever was received into a pot and let it cook while the fakir said his prayers. Divine intervention, one would assume, transformed this mishmash into what we now know as the halim.
The Mughals, however, took the pulao and made it an art. The Nuskha-e-Shahjahani, or recipes from Shah Jahan’s kitchen, features no less than 40 varieties. Mughal cooks competed to invent new variations. One of them invented a pulao in which each grain of rice would be half-ruby-red and half-gleaming-white. Another came up with the Navratan pulao, which we now find in restaurants (with more vegetables than can be considered decent for any dish to have). The original Navratan pulao featured rice in nine different colours. One may be assured that these colours were entirely organic, considering these were folks who killed musk deer and sperm whales to source the most natural fragrances for their kitchens. The Moti pulao involved beating nearly a quarter kilo of silver and gold foil into a single egg yolk and cooking the mixture inside a chicken. The bright silver-gold pearls were then removed from the chicken and the meat and rice mixed together. The sweet pulaos, except for the muzafar, have largely exited the scene. And when it does make an appearance, the muzafar is sans the meat that it once used to contain. Its recipe in the Nuskha-e-Shahjahani resaid:
“Tear open a chicken and fill it with almonds and raisins. First mix the meat, onions, coriander and ginger, and cook. Take out the piece of meat and filter the broth (yakhni) through a piece of cloth and season it with star anise. Add sugar to the broth and simmer. Stir in saffron and keep aside. Put the meat in the lidded pot and sauté. Add two ladles of the yakhni to the meat and put it on fire until the yakhni dries out. Parboil rice, flatten it and smear oil on top. Cook the rice with the meat. Fry dry fruits in oil. When the rice is done, garnish with the fried dry fruits and serve.”
The description from all the sources reveals that Biryani is a single pot dish and some of the variants are the hybridisation along with creativity and innovation taken from the ancient scripts of Nimat nama and Nuskha-e-Shahjahani.
While having a tee-a-tee with Chef Nisar, his take on the Biriyani was quite different, the recipe is meticulously followed which he has been experimenting with the culinary creativity from the days of his outlet in PragatiMaidan Delhi. In Mayfair it is a different take. The way he has created the process is quite an epicurean delight. He has mixed the best of Northern style and the Southern style. The secret of his Biriyani is the use of yakhni or the stock, which is the base for the mutton, chicken and vegetables. It is in this base the ingredients are cooked in. For the mutton the yakhni is prepared by boiling the shanks bone for around fourteen hours, the chicken bones are boiled for around four hours and for the vegetables it boiled for around two hours. Except for the vegetable stock, the mutton and chicken stock takes the form of viscous liquid a state before it is in the form of jelly. Thus the flavour along with the protein one gets the unique taste. To make it more of the northern style all the spices – cardamom (black and green) mace and nutmeg and to have the south Indian touch the use of mint, cinnamon and green chillies are used.
For the three variant – mutton, chicken and vegetables, these are sautéed in ginger garlic paste with fried onion paste. The stock or the yakhnialong with water is used and it is left simmering for thirty to forty minutes till it becomes tender be it mutton chicken or vegetables. The dishes are then strained so that the juice or gravy does not give the roughness of the spices. The dish is then given the dum, which is cooked with milk and saffron. While the dum is given care is taken while layering of the rice with clarified butter, curd, and the gravy or ‘jhol’ be it for mutton, chicken or vegetable.
This Biryani has made a mark in the restaurant – Nakli Dhaba. When we tasted it what made it unique was – it had the best of taste from south and north style of Biriyani. No wonder the dish has become very popular among the guests. In simple way the Biryani is not heavy, had the best of the best flavour, was tastier and suiting to everyone’s palate.
Kudos Chef Nisar:no wonder the Biryani is an epicurean delight.
Source: BBC, The Hindu, Chef Nisar and Satyanarayan Mohapatra