Dum Pukht brings you the intense flavours and leisurely luxury of slow cooked food. Dum means to ‘breathe in’ and pukht to 'cook'. Dum Pukht cooking uses a round, heavy – bottomed pot, a handi, in which food is tightly sealed and cooked over a slow fire. There are two main aspects to this style of cooking; bhunao and Dum, or ‘roasting’ and ‘maturing’ of a prepared dish. In this style of cuisine, Herbs and spices play an extremely critical role. The process of slow roasting gently persuades each to release maximum flavor. And the sealing of the lid; the sealing of the lid of the handi with dough achieves maturing. Cooking slowly in its juices, the food retains all its natural aromas and becomes imbued with the richness of flavors that distinguishes the cuisines.
History remembers the Nawabs of Awadh for their love of music and dance, epicurean delights and grand gestures. When Nawab Asaf-ud-daulah, found his Kingdom in the grip of food crisis, he initiated a food for workers, employing thousands in the building of the beautiful Bada Imambara. Large cauldrons (iron pots) were filled with rice, meat, vegetables and spices and sealed to make a simple, one- dish meal that was available to workers day and night. Then, one day, the Nawab caught an aroma of the spices coming from the cauldron and the royal kitchen was ordered to serve the dish.
Gradually refined to satisfy the royal taste, dum pukht cooking, soon extended to other Indian courts of Hyderabad, Kashmir and Bhopal. In each, the maestros that control the kitchen added their own distinctive magic. Apart from this, dum pukht also has the distinction of ushering in the art of Indian fine dining in the Indian cuisine scenario.
A great many dishes can be made in Dum Pukht style. Most involve meats, particularly meats with the bones still in. When simmered over low heat, the core will slowly cook, absorbing its flavor and juices into the meat and the larger dish. Cooks often also add vegetables, and use fresh herbs and spices as seasoning.
There are usually three phases to cooking in Dum Pukht. First, cooks will oil or grease the handi, then briefly sauté the ingredients. The main idea here is to warm up the pot, and to ensure that raw meats have a chance to briefly brown on the outside. Once everything is warmed, cooks reduce the temperature to low, and seal the top of the handi.
Simply placing a lid atop the handi’s mouth forms a basic seal, but steam can usually still escape. The most traditional way to seal the pot completely is to use wet dough. Cooks prepare the dough from as little as wheat flour and water, then press it all along the edge of the pot before placing a lid or tight-fitting saucer on top. The dough will collect a lot of the moisture from the food as it cooks, and also creates an air-tight seal. Usually, the seal bakes into a sort of bread which is served alongside the dish.
How to serve:
Serving is the third and final step of dum pukht preparation. Most of the time, the entire sealed handi is brought directly to the table from the fire or stove. The lid is not removed until just before serving and eating, and when it is, the results are usually dramatic. Unsealing the pot releases a rush of steam, as well as the aroma of the just-cooked meal. The intensity of that smell is described by many as the most important part of the experience.
Cooks without a handi can still be followed however the results will not be the same, but are often familiar, especially when paired with quality ingredients and fresh spices. Many aspects of Indian cooking are easy to imitate with alternative equipment and ingredients. Dum pukht is no exception.
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