The cuisine and food habits of the Indians, especially in the north of India, were vastly influenced by the Mughal (read Muslim) invaders. The origins of Yakhni Pulao lie apparently in Persia and it was introduced to us Indians by the Mughal rulers.
Yakhni basically is a yogurt saffron based mutton broth. The broth/ stock is made using mutton and aromatics aka whole garam masala which is tied in a bouquet garni. Aromatic spices are the essence of this pulao or pilaf. Primarily these include fennel seeds, dry ginger powder, cinnamon, cloves, black and green cardamom. Yogurt is another ingredients which is the key to bringing all these flavours together and giving this pulao its unique flavour. For the Yakhni Pulao, rice is cooked in the mutton broth along with the par cooked mutton.
However, one does find variations of it such as mutton kofta yakhni, vegetable kofta yakhni, chicken yakhni and even paneer yakhni i.e. Indian cottage cheese. To balance out the heat of the spices used in the pulao, it is often served with a cooling raita. Yakhni is an integral part of the Kashmiri cuisine in India though Pakistanis and Afghanis also stake a claim on it which is fair enough since Pakistan was a part of India before partition and Afghanistan was the gateway for the Mughal invaders to reach India and an outpost for the Mughal empire.
This pulao is not to be confused with the biryani. Biryanis are technically meat or vegetables and rice cooked separately, then layered and cooked on dum. For dum cooking the pot in which the rice and meat are layered is covered with a lid and the rim of the lid and pot are sealed with dough to keep all the steam and flavours of the meat inside the pot. The result is an aromatic biryani. Also, biryani has more intensely flavored meat and rice.
Here is the list of ingredients that go into this delicate & aromatic pulao. Do not be intimidated by their number and amount. Most of them are going to go into the bouquet garni i.e. we will put all the ingredients inside a cheesecloth and tie the top into a knot and simply pop it into the cooking pot. Simple as that!
500 gm Lamb meat (cut into 1 - 1½ inch pieces)
1 glass Basmati Rice (225 gm approx)
2 glasses Water (if pressure cooking, else 3-4 glasses)
2 tbsp Yogurt
1 generous pinch Saffron
1 tbsp Ghee
2 Black Cardamom
1 tsp Cumin
1½ - 2 tsp Black Pepper Corn
2 small Bay Leaf
2 X 2" cinnamon
1½ tsp Fennel Powder
2 tsp Dry Ginger Powder (if you don't have this, use 1 inch whole root ginger and pop it in the pot along with bouquet garni)
5 - 6 cloves Garlic (whole)
1 generous pinch cardamom powder
1 medium onion (whole) + 1 medium onion (sliced)
2 - 3 tbsp oil
Salt to taste
Wash the rice well and let it soak for at least half an hour.
Make a dry rub for the meat with a little salt, 2 tsp of oil, dry ginger powder, fennel powder, cardamom powder and marinate the meat with it. Keep in it the refrigerator for an hour.
For the bouquet garni take a cheese cloth of ample size (i used 10 inches) and put cardamom, black cardamom, cumin seeds, black pepper corns, bay leaf, cloves and cinnamon into it. Tie the top of the cheese cloth into a knot. The garni is ready. Keep it aside.
Heat a heavy bottom pan and add 2-3 tsp oil. Swirl it around to coat the base. Add the marinated meat and sear on high heat for 3-4 minutes. Add yogurt and stir it so that it does not curdle. Let it cook on a medium so that it forms a nice gravy with the meat. (1-2 minutes)
Add water, whole onion, garlic, bouquet garni, salt, and cook the mutton till nearly done but ensure it is not falling off the bones since it will be cooking further along with rice. (I pressure cooked it as i don't have the patience to watch over the meat cook for an hour and a half!)
Once the mutton is done, remove the bouquet garni, onion, root ginger (if using). Mash the garlic into the mutton broth. Measure the broth. At this stage the amount of broth should be two glasses.
In a heavy bottom pan, pour the rest of the oil and fry the sliced onions till they become brown in color. Add the drained rice along with the mutton and broth and cook on high heat till the rice starts to bubble.
Lower the heat to its minimum and add saffron and drizzle ghee. Cover the pot with a kitchen paper towel or a tea cloth and cover with lid. Let it simmer for approx 15-20 minutes resisting the temptation to open the lid.
Switch off the heat and let the pulao rest for 15-20 minutes. Pop open the lid, fluff up the rice and serve hot with raita or plain curd, chutney or a curry dish of your choice. Dig in!
Note: Measure the broth. It should be 2 glasses. If not, add more water to bring it up to 2 glasses.
Note: Making bouquet garni is optional. It helps avoid picking out all the whole garam masala spices from the broth.
Note: Traditionally the lamb/mutton is not seared in Yakhni Pulao. However, I like to marinate and sear it coz it traps all those wonderful flavors inside the meat and what you get is a aromatic bite each time you dig into a succulent piece.
Post linked to Melissa's Linky Party.