Biryani – Uzbek style

In June 2007, I visited St. Petersburg, Russia. This is a three-week period known as “white nights,” undoubtedly one of the best times to visit St. Petersburg.  The city was abuzz, restaurants were open late, and I could barely keep track of time because there was still sunlight as it got close to midnight. In Russia I got my first taste of Uzbek cuisine at a restaurant. I ate plov, which is a very tasty rice and meat dish. The rice was flavored with a few spices, meat and had a fatty coating, which I later discovered was lamb fat.

Plov is a very tasty rice and meat dish. Image courtesy Debika Pal

Plov can loosely be compared to pilaf, pulao and biryani. Like the others, it is a mixture of rice, vegetables, spices and/or meat, cooked together in the same pot. However, Plov’s distinct flavor is in the animal fat used to cook it.

Here is my recreation of plov. This isn’t quite an authentic Uzbek plov, but it is inspired by the plov I had in St. Petersburg. It is a simple recipe and rather delicious. I used a braising pan to make this dish, but you can use a Dutch oven, or any heavy pan with a lid.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
190 grams/7 oz/1 cup rice
450 grams/1 lb leg of lamb, cut into little cubes. Be sure to keep some of the fat on the lamb.
100 grams/4 oz/3 slices of thick cut bacon or pancetta cut into little pieces
200 grams/7 oz/ one medium yellow onion, finely diced
150 grams/5½ oz/3 carrots, grated
1 - 1½ cups of vegetable stock, or water if you don’t have stock
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1½ teaspoons cumin seeds
1½ teaspoons coriander seeds
3 dried red chilies
Salt

1.      Wash the rice 3-4 times. Soak the rice in water for 15 minutes. Drain. Boil 3 cups of water in a pot. When it comes to a boil, add in the rice for 5 minutes. Drain and remove from the pot. Set aside. Rinse out the pot.

2.      In the same pot, heat the stock but don’t bring it to a boil.

3.      Prepare the spice mix. One at a time, dry roast the peppercorns, cumin seeds, and coriander seeds. Crush all three spices along with the dried red chilies in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

4.      Heat up a clean pan for a few minutes at medium heat. Add the bacon. A minute later, add the little cubes of lamb. Stir frequently and cook until the lamb cubes have browned. Take all the meat out on a plate and cover to keep warm. If there are any juices left in the pan, pour the juices into a separate bowl.

5.      In the same pan, add in the onions and stir for a few minutes. You might need to add some oil if the pan is too dry. Just when the onions start to brown, add the carrots and cook for a few minutes. Add the crushed spices and salt. Stir. Now add the lamb, bacon, and rice. If there were juices left from cooking the lamb, add them in. Stir.

6.      Now add your heated stock to the pan. It is best to add one cup, and if necessary, more.

7.      Just when the stock comes to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and let the plov cook until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is done. If the rice is not entirely cooked, add another half cup of stock and cover. Cook until the rice is done.