Oh yes, it’s true.
We fell in love one warm, monsoon weekend, nearly 13 years ago. I can’t forget those furtive touches, spice-laden caresses and the grand finale that steamed up my glasses.
Down, all of you.
That’s what the ancient Indian art of dum or sealed, steam cooking does to me. My friends always did question the ecstasies that food sparked in me, but their fears that I would spend my life divided between writing and the kitchen dissolved when a woman wriggled her way into my attentions.
Still, dum cooking and I brook no distraction. When I put something on dum, my eyes tend to glaze over as I spend my time tending to the details and getting excited about the possibilities.
Photo: Samar Halarnkar
I’ve always attempted dum cooking on a weekend, when I have time on my hands: This is not something that should be rushed. Dum is the ancient Indian method of steaming or stewing food in its own juices—doesn’t that sound exciting already?—in a vessel or pan, sealed with dough. You can also use a foil, or use a foil instead of a lid and then seal it with dough.
Purists will tell you that you need to use a spherical clay pot, a handi. That would be ideal. But I’ve never gone beyond a battered aluminium pan and a worn non-stick vessel. It works.
Dum is particularly good when you’re having guests because (a) it’s an easy method to cook for many and (b) it looks cool, doesn’t it, to cut through the dough and let them inhale that flavour-laden steam.
There’s a reason, beyond looking regal, that the Mughal empire was so taken with dum cooking. It’s just the best way to retain the flavours of your meats and spices.
I don’t really have a favourite dum recipe. You can throw in any combination of spices and meats—don’t try fish unless you want a soupy mess. I’m a firm believer in experiments in the kitchen. When I first tried my version of dum cooking 13 years ago, it worked immediately. I do remember that the gravy was watery, possibly because I had not dried the chicken well.
The recipe I’m offering you is my take on something I read somewhere as a Kashmiri Pandit dish. Of course, the Pandits never used olive oil or rosemary.
My colleague Ashutosh Sapru tells me Pandits generally cooked mutton and fish, not chicken—like their Muslim cousins. Chicken was first cooked in his home only in the 1980s. Till the day she died, his grandmother refused to eat it.
Photo: Samar Halarnkar
Kashmiri Dum Chicken with Rosemary
1 tbsp olive oil
3 sprigs of rosemary
For the marinade
1 tsp ginger powder (sonth)
3 tsp saunf powder
2 tsp deghi mirch
1.5 cups curd
Salt to taste
A few strands of saffron
For the sealing dough
Roughly prepare chapatidough with flour and water. Roll out into two-three baton-size noodles.
Wash and clean the chicken. Drain all the water. Mix all the ingredients of the marinade well, apply on chicken and set aside for at least an hour (5-6 hours is best). Take a medium non-stick vessel. Heat olive oil. Don’t let the oil smoke. When hot, pour in the marinated chicken. Increase heat and turn over for 5-10 minutes. Lower heat, place vessel on a tawa (iron griddle) so that it does not get direct heat. Close lid and start sealing, pressing the dough down on the lid and on the side of the vessel. Take care, the vessel will be hot.
With the gas on simmer, allow the chicken to steam in its own juices for about 70 minutes. Patch up the seal with dough if you spot leaks. After 70 minutes, cut open the seal with a knife. Sprinkle rosemary over the chicken. Serve hot with an accompanying raita (recipe follows). Best with plain, steamed rice.
After opening the seal, sprinkle home-made garam masala (from the seeds of 2 black cardamom pods, a 1-inch piece of cinnamon, 7-8 cloves and 9-10 black peppers)
5-6 small red radishes, or 1/2 a large radish, grated
2 green chillies, deseeded and chopped
Half a handful of parsley (or coriander), washed and chopped
1.5 cups of yogurt
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
Whip the yogurt till smooth. Fold in the grated radish and half the coriander. Now, prepare the seasoning (tadka). Add mustard seeds to half-a-teaspoon of hot olive oil. When the seeds start to pop, add the chillies and clove. Let the tadka cool before pouring over the raita. Decorate with the remaining parsley.
Chickenin a pot:
1. Marinate the chicken for at least an hour; 2. seal the vessel with chapati dough; and 3. garnish with rosemary once the chicken is cooked.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes a blog, Our Daily Bread, at Htblogs.com. He is the managing editor of the Hindustan Times.
Write to Samar at email@example.com