20 October 2012

Plov


Almost every part of the world has some sort of meat and rice dish.  Pilafs are common throughout the middle east, jambalaya is popular among Cajuns and pulao and biryani are well-known dishes from South Asia.    

But most places that various pilafs seem to originate from are regions where rice is grown.  So why is plov so popular in Russia?  Rice doesn't grow well in the cold, northern climates.  Actually, plov comes from the southern republics that used to be part of the Soviet Union.  Apparently, the first documentation of how plov should be properly made is found among the medical texts written by the 'Father of Modern Medicine', Abu Ali Ibn Sina.  Ibn Sina was a tenth century Persian scholar who was born in what is now Uzbekistan.  So it's understandable why Russians consider plov to be an Uzbek dish!  To this day, Uzbekistan is famed for its various types of plov, which is quite possibly the most famous part of their cuisine.  Each region of Uzbekistan has its own variation of plov, and each family has its own unique recipe.

Traditionally, plov is a dish that is prepared by the men in the family.  Yes, the women do know how to do it, and may be quite good at it.  But normally, the plov cooking is reserved for the men.  Sounds good to me!  Also, the pot that plov is made in is of vital importance.  The best pot for it is a heavy cast iron dutch oven - the bigger the better!  Ours is a 7 quart pot, and it seems to do quite well.  For this recipe, I would not recommend using a pot that is any smaller than that, as ours is filled to the brim.

In following that tradition, the plov in our house is made by my husband and brother.  And they do a wonderful job!  Soslan has taken a pretty basic plov recipe and added a few things to make it his own, including adding chick peas and jalapenos.

Ingredients
815 g or 1 3/4 lbs medium grain rice
10 large carrots, julienned
3 large onions, halved and sliced
1500 g or 3 1/2 lbs well-marbled chuck roast or lamb shoulder (lamb is traditional, but sometimes hard to find or cost-prohibitive)
1 15-oz can chick peas
Olive oil
1.7 L hot water, plus extra to cover the rice
1/4 C barberries
2 pkg plov spices
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
3-4 whole dried cayenne peppers (or 2 tbsp crushed red pepper)
Salt and black pepper to taste
4 wholegarlic heads (outer papery layers removed)
4 whole jalapenos

So the first step is to get all the carrots and onions cut up.  This is the most tedious job, and it's nice to get it done.  If you notice on the picture, nothing is cut very thin.  This is because of the long cooking time.  Cut the carrot and onion strips long and just thick enough that they will still be visible in the finished dish.




Next, remove any excess fat from around the meat.  Cut into large (approximately 2-3 inch) chunks and set aside.
Ok, now that the prep is out of the way, heat about 1/4 cup of oil over medium high heat in the dutch oven.  When the oil begins to shimmer, add all the onions.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until they brown and begin to caramelize at the edges.  None of the normal translucent stuff here!  We want them really brown.  Add more oil if necessary to keep them from burning before they get to this step.


Remove the onions from the hot oil using a slotted spoon.  We will use the now onion-flavored oil to brown the meat in the next step.






Now add the meat to the hot oil.  Be careful, as it probably will splatter some.  Stir occasionally, until the meat is browned on all sides.

When the meat has browned nicely, reduce the heat to medium low and spread the carrots over the meat.  



Cover the pot and let the carrots steam for about 10 minutes.  While that is cooking, bring your water to boil.




This steaming step helps to prevent the carrots breaking.  If you were to stir in crisp, raw carrots with the heavier meat, the chances of the julienned strips snapping in half is much higher.











When the carrots are slightly softened, stir them into the meat and add salt (more or less to taste), barberries, coriander seeds, spices, dried chilies, jalapenos, browned onions and garlic heads.  Long list, but it all has to go in now!  Add water to cover, stir gently and put the lid on.  Simmer covered for 15-20 minutes.





Using a slotted spoon, remove the garlic and jalapenos to a shallow bowl or plate.  Add the chick peas now (despite what you see on the pictures - we forgot to put them in at this stage and layered them over the rice, but it really works better to stir them into the meat mixture before the rice is added).





Now for the rice!  Rinse the rice to remove some of the starch.

Spread it evenly over the stew-y part of the plov.  It's fine if some of the liquid from underneath soaks through to the top.




Next, nestle the garlic head and jalapenos gently into the rice.  Only the tops of the garlic should be visible.













Now we need to pour hot water very gently over the rice to cover it by about 1 cm or 1/2 inch.   I have been told that some Uzbek families use a special slotted spoon to disperse the water evenly as they pour it.  I've never seen Soslan go to that length, but he does pour it gently and evenly.  If you want to try the slotted spoon method, by all means go for it - just be careful!





Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low.  Cook for about 30 minutes (and just like any time that you are cooking rice, resist the temptation to take a peek - the steam created inside the pot helps to cook the rice evenly).







After 30 minutes, check the rice.  If the top grains are done, the plov should be done.














Remove the garlic and jalapenos.

Only now can the rice be stirred into the meat.  Do this carefully, since the pot is very full and the contents very hot!








Transfer the plov to a serving platter, top with the garlic heads and jalapenos and serve!  Plov is usually accompanied by flatbread and a simple salad of sliced tomatoes, onions and sunflower oil.