Citizens – of the literally thousands of recipes I’ve created over the years – this one is in the top 10.
It’s that good.
The following recipe is from Uzbekistan and is for Lamb Pilaf, or Plov in Uzbek – it is their national dish and justly famous in that region of the world for its savor and deliciousness.
But just TRY and find a good and authentic recipe for it – the few that I’ve found do absolutely NO justice to the dish and some are actual travesties. Uzbek Pilaf masters (and only men are traditionally allowed to make this dish) do NOT like to share their secrets!.
Frustrated, and after much painful research, I created my own version that I believe is faithful to the sprit of the original as served by Uzbeks, for Uzbeks.
I hope you enjoy it – one change I made to the canonical ingredient list was using the Georgian hot spice paste Adzhika in the recipe instead of red pepper flakes, as it adds both necessary heat and complexity to the Pilaf.
You don’t need to use it – but I think it adds more than the basic hot red pepper flakes normally used in the dish. 🙂
I found specific directions on an Uzbeki food blog on how to make the dish properly. I recount it here in its entirety, should you choose to make the recipe as a true Uzbek (my simpler cooking directions are in the recipe below):
TECHNIQUE: There are two steps in making plov. The first is called zirvak. In this step you brown the onion, carrot, and meat in lots of oil in a heavy pot like a kazan. After browning then you add water and spices. Only use half of the salt. Commonly used spices include caraway seeds, cumin, pepper, and red pepper pods. You can also use anise and barberries. For American kitchens, salt and pepper will work just fine. You cook the zirvak until the vegetables are cooked well.
The second step is the tricky step. This is the rice step. First you must soak the rice in salted water for 30 minutes. This is very important. After the zirvak is done, place the rice in a flat layer, and pour over hot water. Add salt and bring to boil. Keep the heat on high until all of the water evaporates. Then gather the rice (DO NOT MIX THE RICE WITH THE ZIRVAK!!) to the middle of the pot. (use a kazan or heavy pot if you have one.) Pierce holes in the rice all the way to the bottom with a spoon and lower the heat.
Cover rice with a plate and then put the pot cover on. SIMMER. You should hear a “goop goop” sound as the moisture is mixed into the rice. Keep a close eye on it or it will burn. The goal is to get ALL of the fluid whether in water of zirvak evaporated and cooked into the rice. NUMBER ONE RULE — Do not mix the rice and the zirvak.
When serving, carefully put the rice on the bottom of the plate. Then top with the zirvak.
Serve liberally garnished with paper-thin slices of raw onion (traditional, but optional) and with small bowls of ground sumac and ground cumin on the side for each diner to add to their taste. For a complete Uzbek feast, serve with Indian Onion Naan bread (very close to the Uzbek Non onion flat bread) and Moroccan mint tea, which is very good with lamb pilaf.
For dessert, find the tastiest melon you can (Uzbekistan is world-famous for its melons) and serve it as a centerpiece surrounded by fresh fruits. Note that in Uzbekistan, only the hands are used in eating – no utensils! It’s up to you as to how authentic you want to go for your feast.
Battle on – The Generalissimo
2 pounds boneless shoulder or leg of lamb, with a goodly amount of fat (the fat lends a wonderful flavor to the dish and is a sign of both good manners to your guests and a symbol of bounty in Uzbekistan – in other words, DON’T leave the fat out)
¼ cup peanut oil + 2 tablespoons sesame oil
3 very large onions, julienned
3 large carrots, julienned
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, ground to powder in a spice grinder
5 cloves, ground to powder in a spice grinder
Seeds from 5 cardamom pods, ground to powder in a spice grinder
½ head garlic, cloves peeled and diced
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
sprinkling of cayenne
2 ½ cups raw rice
2 ½ cups boiling chicken stock
1 teaspoon adzhika paste, or use crushed red pepper
3 teaspoons kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon crumbled saffron, stepped in 2 tablespoons boiling water for 10 minutes
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 entire head of roasted garlic (Optional Garnish But Strongly Recommended)
Raw onion, sliced paper-thin (Optional Garnish)
Ground sumac and ground cumin on the side – and no, this is NOT poison Sumac, but a purple berry much used in the middle east and central asia to add a pleasant sour note – the original Uzbek Pilaf is made with whole barberries, which are virtually impossible to find in the states. However, I believe this is an equally authentic way to add a sour note, and to each diner’s preference. It’s easily found on Amazon.
Soak the rice in salted water for 30 minutes, then drain and reserve.
Cut the lamb into medium chunks. Heat the oil over high heat in a large Dutch oven, then stir in the lamb and brown on all sides, remove lamb to a plate and keep warm in a 200 degree oven – remove most of the oil.
Stir onions, garlic and carrots into the fat remaining in the pan. Cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes until tender but not browned. Return the lamb to the pot and add the raw rice. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the rice begins to turn golden brown. Then pour in the boiling stock, stirring to mix well.
Add the adzhika (or red pepper), salt, spices, saffron tea and black pepper. Cover and cook over low heat for 25 minutes, or until rice is done. Remove from heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes, then serve at once with the optional onion garnish and the roasted garlic head on the top of the plov.