Slow cooking – the magic of NihariPosted by spiceman on Feb 8, 2012 in spicetacular | Comments Off
There are some dishes in this world which, come what may, we always return to. Someone, I can’t remember who, described nostalgia as partly a longing for home, and the smells and tastes of the food we ate there. That seems a bit rose-tinted, but there’s no denying that certain dishes are permanently filed away in our collective imagination and memory, never to be deleted. Is it just coincidence that very many of these dishes are basically cooked in one pot and, in many cases, slowly cooked as part of the ritual? I think it goes to the heart and origins of many food cultures globally. A fire, a pot, water, ingredients and time. Britain and Ireland have their hotpots and stews, Italy has peposo notturno, France it’s pot-au-feus, cassoulet, daubes. Pakistan and India have nihari, the best slowly cooked dish I’ve ever tasted.
That these dishes endure, is testimony to our need to sometimes engage with food at another level other than the essentials of sustenance and nourishment. They provide plenty of that, but also occupy that space where food and culture meet, and there is no greater example of this than nihari. There are many devotees of this wonderful dish and I am one. Its originates in the Mughal cookery of Lucknow migrating to Pakistan from Delhi after partition and now considered to be the national dish of that country, where establishments such as Javed Nihari and Sabri Nihari keep the fires burning. Sometimes described as the breakfast dish of Delhi I’m not sure I’d have it for breakfast but I’m very happy to have it for dinner. I’ve not eaten nihari in a restaurant in the UK as it rarely appears on a menu.There are restaurants which serve it such as Lasan in Birmingham and Lahore in East London (Wednesday – Sunday). If you know a good one let me know. As with hotpots, stews and casseroles there are many variations of nihari. What is common to them all though, is a meltingly tender beef or lamb shank, smothered in a wonderful rich sauce which has been thickened with bone marrow and flour and finished with fine strips of ginger, coriander and slices of lime. Thats how I like it. It’s winter, if your batteries are a bit low or you need a friend, cook this, go outside and grab the first person you like the look of and share this with them. They will be your friend for a long time – unless they are vegetarian, in which case give them a drink anyway.
To beef or not to beef? That’s the question. The recipe here uses lamb shanks. That’s because portion wise they’re easier to plan. They provide the bone marrow so essential to this dish and they are also easier to get. It’s unusual to see a great inexpensive cut, like shin of beef in a supermarket these days, – in my local anyway. Beef shank (or shin as we know it in the UK) is perfect for this dish and I believe it’s the preferance in Pakistan, whereas lamb is favoured in India. Because that part of the animal does a lot of work, it is tough and has a lot of connective tissue, which melts and tenderizes over a long cooking period. It is also full of flavour. If you have a butcher nearby they should be able to give you 4 decent slices of beef shank. Make sure the bone is in. Also ask your butcher for some extra marrow bones. The more marrow the merrier. Many recipes use ghee (clarified butter) here I’ve used sunflower oil. It is a special dish which can get quite involved and I cook it occasionally so if ghee is your thing don’t let me stop you. Just substitute the same amount of ghee for oil. I’ve never used a crockpot (slow cooker) for this dish but I think nihari would be fine using one. Now the one component which may be in shorter supply is time. If using beef shank think 5-6 hours at gas mark 3. If lamb then 4 hours at least. My sister cooks it overnight at gas mark 2 for about 6-8 hours which guarantees tender meat falling from the bone. The first part of the recipe involves grinding the masala and to save time many use the proprietary nihari masala mixes commonly available in good Asian supply stores. I use Shan nihari mix and there are others. These are good and it’s up to you which route to go. I’ve used both methods and both produce an excellent dish. Here are some interesting videos about nihari.
To serve 4
3 tsp fennel seeds
3 cardamom pods, seeds
2 whole black cardamom pods
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaf
1⁄4 tsp Nutmeg
For the curry
4 lamb shanks
some small marrow bones (optional)
4 tbsp sunflower oil
1 large onion (thinly sliced and chopped)
2 tbsp garlic/ginger paste
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp ground black pepper
1-2 tsp red chilli powder
3 tbsp flour
1⁄2 cup of plain yogurt (150ml)
salt to taste
coriander, ginger sticks and lime wedges for garnish.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil add the shanks and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Drain completely and trim any excess fat. Set aside.
If you are making your own masala grind all of the whole spices (the masala mix) finely and put aside.
In a large heavy pot, heat the ghee or sunflower oil. Once the oil gets hot add the diced onion. Turn the heat down to medium. Fry the onions until they are golden brown.
Add the garlic/ginger paste, frying gently for 2-3 minutes then add the yoghurt. Cook for a few more minutes until the oil starts to separate.
Add the nihari masala mix, salt, red chilli powder, coriander powder,black pepper and turmeric powder, mix well stirring continuously, then add the meat.
Add enough water to cover the meat and get everything simmering gently. If you are using bones for extra marrow pop them in as well. Cover the pot with tin foil, put the lid on and place in an oven at gas mark 3 for 4 hours (longer for beef shank).
You can check occasionally how things are going and when the meat is very tender remove the bones, mix the flour with 1⁄2 a cup of water and add to the liquid in the pot stirring and mixing well.
At this stage I finish the nihari on top for 10-15 minutes, maybe reducing the sauce a little and checking the seasoning.
For garnish I cut some lime wedges which add a lovely tartness, finely sliced little sticks of fresh ginger and fresh coriander leaves.
Put individual portions into bowls with lots of sauce and serve. Set out the garnish for people to help themselves.
All you will need to accompany the nihari is a plate of fluffy naans, or chapatis to soak up that wonderful sauce.