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Real Uzbek Plov

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Uzbekistan's national dish, plov, is a hearty cousin of Pakistani pulaos and Persian rices dishes. Watch me make it like Uzbek mamas do!

Plov [plohf] is a cult dish not only in its homeland Uzbekistan, but all over the former Soviet Republics and Russia. A hearty one-pot rice dish cooked in lamb fat with onions and carrots, it has many variations. Russian men often cook plov for parties with the same me-put-food-on-this-table showmanship displayed by American husbands around their grills.

Here is plov just as it is cooked in Uzbekistan.

Uzbek Plov
For 4 as a main course
2 cups long grain parboiled rice
5 large carrots
2 large onions
400 gr cubed leg of lamb
100 gr lamb fat
Vegetable or lamb broth
1 tsp peppercorns
2 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp cumin seeds
1/2 cup barberries (see Persian Jeweled Rice)

 

Even if you loathe garlic I recommend you give it another chance for this dish. This garlic is oven-roasted during one hour and looses all pungency. The roasting transforms the cloves in a candy-liked sweet brownish paste - a treat. You won't have stomach aches and very little garlic breath, but the following night don't sleep near an open flame and evacuate any pets from your bedroom.

Decapitate one garlic head per guest, sprinkle a teaspoon olive oil on top and wrap in foil.

Roast in a medium-hot oven (180°C) for about an hour.

The garlic flesh should be soft and brownish when done.

 

Many cooks will use water or dehydrated broth or even stock cubes for a plov, but a homemade broth will greatly improve the taste. A vegetable broth, for instance, takes only about 7 more minutes work. Use your favorite recipe or chop a leek, an onion, a potato, a couple garlic cloves (picture of ingredients), cover with water and simmer for about 45 minutes. You can salt the broth, but remember not to salt your plov.

 

Peel and cut two large onions in half, then thinly slice crosswise. Peel and coarsely grate 6 large carrots.

Soak the barberries in a little water.

 

Clockwise from bottom right : 1 tbsp peppercorns, 2 tbsp cumin seeds and 2 tbsp coriander seeds.

Some cooks use coriander seeds and some don't, but all agree on cumin seeds. There are many types of cumin and I experimented with a number of different seeds from Uzbekistan. My conclusion is that you'd better use quality whole cumin seeds from any provenance rather than using more fancy but old cumin seeds.

Grind the spices in a mortar or lelectric spice grinder to a fine powder.

 

Prepare your workspace with the broth or hot water behind, a large Dutch oven in front and the ingredients on the side. Set two plates aside to reserve the meat and lamb fat.

 

Uzbek mamas and respectable cooks only make plov using lamb fat. Who can argue? Lamb fat is tasty and the calories would be lost otherwise. In Uzbekistan they use lamb tail fat, called kudryuka (picture) but I've never been able to find it even in Russia. Use the white patches found on leg of lambs or at the bottom of the rack of lamb - both converge to the tail. Russian cooks normally use enormous amounts of industrial vegetable fat - instead. I know in the West we try to get rid of as much fat as possible, but in this dish lamb fat is key to the proper taste.

Melt the fat in the Dutch oven over high temperature and use a potato purée tool (picture) to get as much liquid fat out as you can.

Remove the remaining patches of fat and discard.

 

Uzbek recipes always insist on using not just any lamb but Uzbek lamb. They probably have a point but where can you find it? Just use the best lamb you can. I use leg of lamb.

Heat the lamb fat in the Dutch oven until it smokes. That's right, light grey fumes like boiling water. Don't let it burn though.

Quickly fry the the lamb cubes on all sides until nicely browned. You may have to do two batches. The point is that the temperature remains high and that any liquid released by the meat cubes is immediately vaporised, otherwise it would decrease the temperature and the browning or Maillard reactions would not work. That would mean lost taste.

Reserve the meat and cover so it won't get cold or infested with bacteria.

 

Heat the lamb fat remaining in the Dutch oven and pour in the sliced onions, turning frequently until soft and light brown, about 6-8 minutes. Add the ground spices and mix well for 1 more minute. Add the grated carrots and cook for 3 more minutes or until carrots are soft.

Add the reserved meat and any meat juices that escaped.