Slow-Cooked Biryani – Anissa Helou

Dumpukht Biryani


Dumpukhtin Lucknow or dumpokhtin Hyderabad describes a way of slow ­cooking in an airtight pot (handi), which can be earthenware or metal, covering the pot with a sealed lid or a sheet of pastry (as in the photo). The word dumpukhtcomes from the Persian – dummeaning ‘breathe in’ and pukhtmeaning ‘to cook’. The method is traditionally associated with the Awadh region of India, once ruled by the Muslim Nawabs, with the origins of dumpukhtassigned to the reign of Nawab Asaf Udd-­Daulah, who ruled from 1748 to 1797.

I learned to make this biryani in the garden of Begum Mirza (Begum is a title given to noblewomen deriving from the word Bey, the title given to noblemen) in Hyderabad, and even though the Begum was quite old and not so mobile, she had organised a perfect mise en place and was very precise and attentive to details as she proceeded through each step of the biryani.

Begum Mirza used mutton, which means goat in India, saying it is the preferred meat there; but goat in India seems to be a lot more tender than goat in England or even America, so I am suggesting lamb. As I watched the Begum cover the raw marinated meat with the uncooked rice, I wondered how the meat was going to cook in the same time as the rice. She assured me it would, explaining that the green papaya she had added to the meat marinade was a natural tenderiser.

The Begum also did something very interesting at the very end. She took a piece of charcoal and held it with tongs over the gas fire. When it started turning into a glowing ember, she put it in with the rice to give it a smoky flavour. I had never seen anything like it done before. She didn’t leave it for too long, just a few minutes to smoke the biryani. As she scooped the biryani out of the pot and on to the serving platter, I was surprised to see that both rice and meat had cooked perfectly. Then, when I started eating, I found the meat to be very tender and the rice wonderfully fragrant, having absorbed the flavours of the subtle marinade as well as the smoky flavour of the burning piece of charcoal. Perfectly exquisite.

Serves 6 to 8

For the marinated meat

  • 4 small onions (about 400g in total), finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped green papaya (optional)
  • Seeds from 2 black cardamom pods
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 6 whole cloves
  • Good pinch of saffron threads
  • 1kg boneless shoulder or leg of lamb, cut into medium chunks
  • Sea salt
  • 500g plain yogurt

For the biryani

    • 500g long-­grain rice, soaked in lightly salted water for 15 minutes
    • 500g plain yogurt
    • Sea salt
    • 150g ghee or unsalted butter, melted
    • 125ml organic whole milk, infused with a good pinch of saffron threads

To marinate the meat, mix together the onions, green papaya and spices in a large bowl. Add the meat and season with salt to taste. Mix well. Add the yogurt and mix again, then leave to marinate for at least 2 hours, preferably longer.

To make the biryani, drain and rinse the rice and put into another bowl. Add the yogurt, 160ml water and salt to taste.

Put the marinated meat into the bottom of a large pot. Pour 125g melted ghee or butter over the meat. Add the rice mixture and 250ml water. Wrap the lid with a clean kitchen towel and place over the pot (wrapping the lid stops the steam from the rice from falling back, which keeps the rice fluffy and the grains separate). Place the pot over medium­high heat and bring to the boil, which should take about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Uncover the pan and sprinkle the remaining melted ghee or butter over the rice, along with the saffron milk. Place the lid back over the pan and cook for a further

15 minutes, or until the meat is completely tender and the rice has absorbed all the liquid and is tender and fluffy. Serve immediately.


Recipes and images from Feast by Anissa Helou, Bloomsbury, RRP $39.99

Feast – Anissa Helou

Anissa’s book delves into the heart of the Islamic world and you can devour it like a novel. It’s filled with explanations on the origins of people and the recipes they’ve created, their histories, how they’ve evolved, and what cultures have influenced them over the years. Anissa walks us through the Islamic world as a whole, way back to the beginning of the seventh century when Islam was born. She explores the important occasions like Ramadan, and celebrations for the birth of a child to the death of a loved one and the traditional dishes they prepare for these occasions.

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