Signature Cooking Styles of Awadh
Volume: 11, No: 09 ; September-2017
Dum Pukht or Larhmeen or slow sealed cooking process is a technique In which vegetables and meat are cooked over very low flame in the sealed containers with a few spices. This technique may be based on earlier Persian cooking methods but introduced in the sub-continent by the Nawabs who originally belonged to Persia and were brought by the Mughals. Though Dum Pukht technique of cooking was Persian in origin, but later it became an inseparable part of the Awadhi cuisine and in fact a highlight of this cuisine.
Preparation of Dum Pukht:
Dum literally means ‘breathe in’ and pukht means ‘to cook’. In this process, cooking is done in a heavy bottomed round pot, often referred as ‘handi’ or also at times in clay pots in which the pot is sealed tightly and to slow cook the food over slow fire. The semi-cooked ingredients are put in a handi or a deg and the utensil is then sealed with the flour dough to avoid escape of aroma and evaporation of juices. The posts are then placed on slow charcoal fire and live burning charcoal pieces are placed on top of the lid to provide equal heat to ingredients. The Persian influence though is most evident in this method of cooking, this style in Awadh has acquired its own distinct character and has become an essential style of Awadhi cooking.
There are two different steps to this style of cooking. ‘Bhunao’ and ‘Dum’, ‘bhunao’ means roasting and ‘dum’ is about maturing of almost prepared dish. In this style of cuisine, spices and herbs play a vital role. The process of roasting slowly ensures the maximum release of flavours and sealing the juices of meat too, while the seal on the lid of handi with dough matures a dish. Most important of all, cooking slowly in its own juices, retains the entire natural aroma and the richness of flavours that distinguishes the dish.
Sealing of container with wheat dough is called pardah (veil), but in the cooking process it becomes bread that absorbs all the flavours of the food and often the two are best eaten together. In a nutshell, dum-pukht food is all about retained aroma. The beauty of the dish is in opening the seal of the pot when the entire room is filled with distinct aroma. Fresh Awadhi herbs and spices are used for flavouring and seasoning. The flavour and texture that results from slow cooking is quite distinct and differentiates the dishes to be placed on the higher level of culinary traditions.
This method is followed for a number of delicacies including Pulao, Biryani and Shab Degh.
What Legends Says ?
According to a legend, when Nawab Asif-ud-Dualah was on the throne and the Kingdom of Awadh was in the grip of famine, he started a food-for-work program. Thousands of subjects of Awadh were employed in the construction of Bada Imambara shrine. Large containers were filled with meat, rice, vegetables, spices and then sealed to make a simple single dish meal made available to the workers day and night. These pots were sealed for the purpose of not allowing the moisture or its aroma to escape and were placed on slow fire so as to avoid burning of the food and sustaining it for long time till served. One day, the Nawab on the inspection visit, caught the whiff of aroma just when the pots were opened, to be served to the workers. It was then that the Nawab ordered this process to be adapted for all the cooking in his royal kitchens.
There are other sources that state, Dum Pukht is also based on the traditional Peshawari method of cooking dishes buried in sand with fire that equate with Zamin-Doz, explained later. Or that this came with Mughals to India and with other tribes from Central Asia who were warrior clans. They would use this technique of cooking when going to war-fields in the mornings. They would seal the pots with all ingredients, place it on slow fire and leave for the war. In the evening by the time they returned the food was ready to be served. On return they were so tiered or at times injured that they never wanted to cook, so this method came to their rescue of getting a ready meal for dinner.
Other Awadhi Styles of Cooking…
This is a quick smoke procedure, where smoke is used to flavour a meat dishes, dals (lentils) or even raita (whipped yogurt). The smoke permeates the ingredients and imparts a subtle aroma that enhances the quality of dish. Not sure if this is something close to umami, the fifth taste or call it the just dhungar, the sixth taste.
In this method, a shallow utensil or lagan is used in which meat or mince is marinated. A small bay is made at the center of the dish and a pan (betel) leaf, onion skin, clay bowl or just a small steel katori (bowl) is placed. In it a piece of live burning coal is placed and then melted ghee (clarified butter) is poured over the burning coal to create smoke, also sometimes ghee is mixed with aromatic herbs or spices, the moment it smokes a lid is placed on the utensil, covering it with towel to further prevent the escape of smoke. After sometime, the coal is removed from the utensil and the dish is put through further cooking processes as required.
Nawabs were not only connoisseurs of taste but also fancied food that involved less of chewing and difficulty in eating. Kebabs from central Asia or meat dishes in other cuisines are often not so well done. Lucknow in particular fancied well-done meat dishes and it was an insult of a guest if the host served anything that was hard to eat or involved any chewing. Thus the Kebabs that you find in Awadhi cuisine, such as Galawat or Kakori or Pasanda all are so tender. Even the curry dishes or the meat chunks used in Pullao or Biryani are soft and tender, unlike in Mughalai or Hyderbadi cuisine that are cousins of Awadhi Cuisine. Galavat is a process where meat is tenderised to perfection with agents like papain from the raw papaya or kalmi shora as tenderizing agents. Often yogurt to is used to make a marinade that also acts as a great tenderiser of tough meat.
This is a method that is used for tempering a dish with ghee or butter (ghee – clarified butter) and spices. It may be done either at the beginning of the cooking as in curries or at the end as for the lentils and pulses. In the former, the fat is heated in a ladle (shallow small pan made for this very purpose) to a smoking point and after reducing the flame, spices (at times garlic too) are then added to it. When they begin to crackle, the ladle is immersed in the cooked dish and the main dish is immediately covered with a lid, so that the aroma and the flavours of flavoured hot ghee are retained in the main dish giving it a unique flavour.
This too is a very unique style of cooking, where a pit is dug in the ground and charcoal or cow-dung fire is placed in the pit. Over this fire sealed pot with ingredients is placed, usually fish or chicken dishes are a part of this style of cooking. On the top of the dish too fire is placed and the process takes about six to eight hours to cook, depending on the weather. Zamin-Doz Machli (fish) is one dish where an exclusive clay utensil is used in the shape of a fish, so as to place the full fish into it.
Awadhi cooking undoubtedly is about sixth taste that comes from the unique style of cooking methods often inspired by Persian style and styles of Central Asia. The styles adopted were further refined to perfection in the royal kitchens of Awadh, where Nawabs were not only connoisseurs of great tastes but also appreciated experimentation and innovations.
Tornos offers some well researched and curated home dining experiences at homes that are rooted to their culinary traditions. Their family cooks are also their priced inheritance and the ancestors of these cooks have been serving these families since their being in Awadh. Check out dining opportunities at Kotwara House, Mahmudabad House and The Sheesh Mahal. Or for that matter learn some of these unique cooking techniques at Coquina.