(DAWN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - If you are a true Karachiite, you know Sabri/Zahid/Javed/Waheed nihari like you do the Arabian Sea. Actually, possibly more.
Ah nihari! What can I tell you about its magic that you do not already know - its flavour, texture, aroma, colour and, yes, the magic. How did it come to be and why do we love it so?
In my love affair with food and writing, I have come to understand that slow-cooked foods have an enhanced flavour and tenderness unlike the everyday fare at our meal tables, and there is a science behind it.
The silkiness and shine of nihari is not happenstance, it is the deliberate slow-cooking that enhances the hidden composition of the cut of meat used in nihari, and the sheen of melted collagen, which mostly goes unnoticed when cooked as a part of quick, everyday meals.
Tenderness in meat is the result of the melting of collagen, which is the connective tissue protein present in meat. Once it melts, it turns to gelatin, a rich liquid that gives meat a lot of flavour and shine as well as the silky texture.
However, for collagen to completely melt, it must not only be heated, but also cooked at low temperatures for an extended length of time, ensuring that slow-cooked meats have a unique and unmistakable tenderness and flavour - rich, deep and soul-stirring, much like our delectable nihari.
Slow-cooking works best with fatty, tough cuts of meat - such as beef shoulder, round or leg - and when exposed to low heat. The cooking method of preparing nihari is ancient and remains unchanged. The lid of the heavy-based deg is sealed to maintain maximum heat and steam for slow-cooking. The meat is braised and then left to simmer in the aromatic and delightfully spicy essence of masala. Gently, the meat would soak the flavour of the spices as they infused the heartiness of the meat and melted in the heat of the moment. It is almost like one is seducing the other to create the magic of nihari.
Nihari is considered a heavy dish to digest, hence it is best eaten early in the morning, so the entire day is available to the body for digestion. For this reason, the dish was christened nihari, a derivation of the Arab word nihar, meaning early morning. Needless to say, it is a favourite of the masses and elite classes.
Making nihari can seem like a daunting task, but anyone can make it as long as the recipe is right and he is passionate about cooking.
1¼ cup oil
2.3kg veal or beef shank with bone
Salt to taste
3 tsp garam masala powder
3 tsp red chili powder
4 tsp coriander powder
1½ Tbsp ginger
1½ Tbsp garlic
1½ tsp turmeric powder
6 Tbsp white flour
2 medium onions, sliced (1/4 to 1/3 cup oil for frying onions)
Nihari Masala (grind all these to a fine powder)
2 sticks pipli (long pepper)
2 ½ Tbsp coriander seeds
½ tsp mace powder
½ tsp nutmeg powder
2 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
4 black cardamoms
10 green cardamoms
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp black peppercorns
4 Tbsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp anise seeds
Fresh green chillies
- Heat oil, braise meat evenly on high heat for a few minutes.
- Add "Masala" ingredients to the meat, with the exception of flour and onions, and cook on high heat until meat is evenly coated.
- Pour 10 glasses of water on the meat, dissolve the flour in four glasses of water and add to the meat, ensuring the meat is covered with water, adding more if required and bringing to a boil.
- Add finely powdered "Nihari Masala" to the boiling mix. Lower heat to medium and let the nihari simmer for six to seven hours.
- Fry onions until golden brown, add to the nihari and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes. Garnish and serve with hot naan.
Serves 10 to 12