Beautiful things in life are often simple and elegant. There is beauty in simplicity, just like this Yakhni pulao, simple and pale but highly fragrant and full of flavours. Meat with bone in are marinated for long hours in yogurt and then boiled in enough water with variety of whole spices. The word Yakhni is derived from “akhin” which means broth or stock or shorba. The rice was then cooked in that fragrant broth together with the tender meat and together they makes a marriage made in heaven. Deliciousness uncorrupted. Pure, simple and heavenly. The pale color of the dish is very deceptive, not photogenic enough, hence it never share the same limelight like biryanis, never got that royal treatment it deserves so much.
From the kitchens in Persia where it was originated and primarily the daily food for hardened nomadic shepherds, it has transformed as it traveled across the borders, lure the prince and kings of the courts of caliph, crossing the dunes and seas it has embraced lots of flavors and spices en route.
With Babar it has reached to the subcontinent, the simple pulao that was fundamental repertoire of any Central Asian kitchen has now met with fiery Indian spices, giving an offshoot to its close cousin called Biryani. While biryani is more robust in nature, the sophistication of this pulao lies in its subtlety of flavours, the floral essence of rice was enhanced by fennel and coriander seeds to which later cardamoms was added too. Nawabs the last scion of Mughals inherited it from the court of Mughals, and rest is history.
With Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, who is well known for his love for food and poetry, the yakhni pulao entered the deltaic plains of Ganges. As supply of meat was not enough to feed the entire royal clan, khansama or the cooks began to add potatoes to it. While potato found no mention in the Awadhi version of yakhni pulao, the Calcutta version of it has potatoes in it just like its biryanis.
While the Bengali household was happy with its regular dal corchori routine, pulao finds a special corner in Bengali cuisine, the dish fit for special occasions and other festivities.
I have never seen my naani (maternal grandma) cooking a huge cauldron of yakhni pulao to feed her entire clan, but I have heard stories from my Ma. How goat meat was marinated overnight with yogurt and four spices, namely black cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and black peppercorn, to which whole onions, ginger roots and bulb of garlic used to be added. Rice was washed thoroughly and sun dried so that not a single trace of moisture lingers to the grains, and once it was fluffed through the yakhni stock, a heavy lid covers the pot to trap the steam and thus finishing the dish with utmost finesse. The real oomph of this dish however comes from the yakhni or the meat stock which was cooked in slow heat for hours till the meat becomes tender and then the stock was strained through Dhaka muslin cloth. That is how the narration goes on. The spices was tied in muslin cloth and the potli or the bouquet gurney was added to the boiling meat. It makes the work easier as to drain the huge cauldron of yakhni is bit laboursome but in our refined and nuclear family you can easily skip the step and can drain the stock leaving some whole spices clings to the meat pieces. It only adds to the flavour and nothing else.
- Mutton : 500 gm
- Onion : 2 (medium size bulb)
- Garlic : 1 bulb
- Ginger root : 2 inch piece
- Bay leaves : 1 or 2
- Yogurt : 1 cup
- Unripe grated papaya : 2 tbsp
- Black cardamom : 4-5
- Cinnamon stick : 1 inch
- Black peppercorn : 10 -12
- Cloves : 6-7
- Mace : 1
- Nutmeg: a quart
- Fennel seeds : 1tsp
- Coriander seeds : 1 tsp
- Ghee : 2-3 tbsp
- Basmati rice : 3 cups
- Sugar : 1 tsp
- Saffron : a large pinch
- Red chilli powder to taste
- Salt to taste
- Fried onion slices : ½ cup
- Wash the mutton thoroughly. In a large glass bowl, marinade the mutton with all the ingredient listed under marinade section. Roughly crush the onions, garlic an ginger to release some of its flavour to the meat.
- Keep it for 6-7 hours or overnight.
- Wash the rice with 4-5 changes of water until the water runs clear.
- Spread the rice evenly on a flat thali or plate or on newspaper. Let the rice dries out completely.
- Once it is dried out mix a tablespoon of ghee and sugar and keep aside.
- In a large container preferably with a lid, cook the mutton with its marinade. To that add around 8 cups of water and cook the mutton on low heat till it is partially cooked.
- Wrap all the spices in a muslin or cotton cheese cloth and tied tightly and drop it in the boiling mutton stock. or else you can directly drop the whole spices into it.
- Once the stock is reduced enough and you get almost 6 cups of stock, stop cooking the mutton.
- Slot the mutton pieces out of it. Drain the stock or yakhni and reserve it.
- In a separate pan, heat the ghee and lightly fry the mutton pieces till it turns into a nice brown hue.
- Return to your heavy pot with lid, warm the remaining ghee, add the mutton, rice and mix it well.
- Add salt, red chilli powder, saffron soaked in warm water or milk and give it a stir.
- Add the yakhni or stock and cover the mutton and rice well. If you run short of yakhni, then you can add warm water also.
- Cover the lid and cook on low heat till done. Once the rice is fluffed through the yakhni, cook no more. switch off the heat and cover the pot with heavy lid, trap the steam . Let it be like tgis for a while. Finish the remaining cooking like this and rice grains will be fluffy and not sticky.
- Before serving stir in the fried slices of onion and serve warm.
Please use ghee in this recipe and not oil.
In those days cooking was mostly done on charcoal or woods for long hours and that enhances the flavour of the meat. However in modern days fuel has become one of the prized commodity and thus long hours of cooking is nothing but wastage of both time, money and natural resources. So to shorten the time of cooking, I took some liberty and has added unripe grated papaya in the marinade. Unripe papaya is a wonderful meat tenderizer and at the same time it is neutral to both flavour and taste of the meat. Thus cutting the cooking time to almost half. The same can be achieved through using pressure cooker but it greatly compromise the taste of the meat, so definitely not on my recommended list.
Mutton yakhni pulao is a complete meal in itself. Enjoy it warm and please resist the temptation to serve the yakhni pulao with any spicy curry or other accompaniments like raita. At the most some sliced raw onions and cucumber can be accommodated as a side and anything else will seriously ruin the dish.