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Kitchen Language: What Is Dum Pukht?

This traditional slow-cooking technique allows the dish to breathe and seals in all the flavours.
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Brush up on your food terminology with us, from commonplace colloquialisms to obscure obsessions, as we demystify culinary lingo in our Kitchen Language column. In this edition is a traditional Indian slow-cooking technique called dum pukht that seals in all the flavour of the dish.

If you’ve ever had dum biryani, you’d have experienced how the cooking technique of dum pukht imparts such incredible flavour and aromas to a simple dish of spiced rice. Tear open the layer of dough and you would have been greeted by steaming aromatics and fluffy rice redolent of herbs and spices.
Dough-covered dum biryani at Zaffron Kitchen (Pic: Zaffron Kitchen)
Dough-covered dum biryani at Zaffron Kitchen (Pic: Zaffron Kitchen)
Dum pukht is a traditional cooking method that can be traced to the royal kitchens of the Awadh region in India and the words “dum” and “pukht” mean to breathe and to cook, respectively. This technique involves placing the food in a heavy-bottomed brass or clay pot called a handi, sealing it tightly with dough and cooking it over a low flame.
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“Dum pukht is more of an elaborate cooking style,” says chef Milind Sovani of Michelin-plated fine dining Indian restaurant, Rang Mahal, who trained under dum pukht chefs early in his career.

Food, especially meat, is cooked this way, usually with the bone on and with very few spices.“The slow cooking ensures that all the flavours are slowly released. The marrow from the bone forms a nice gravy and because of the tight lid, all the flavours are sealed inside the vessel and absorbed by the food,” the chef explains.
There are two main aspects to this style of cooking. Using a thick-bottomed handi and cooking food over a low flame, gently coax the ingredients and spices to release their maximum flavour. Covering the handi with cooking dough allows the food to breathe in its own aromas and seals in all the flavours. Upon cooking, the dough becomes a bread or pastry and the dish is served in its cooking vessel. The bread seal is broken at the table and eaten together with the dish as it would have also absorbed the flavours of the dish.
A traditional heavy-bottomed brass handi (Pic: ShutterStock)
A traditional heavy-bottomed brass handi (Pic: ShutterStock)

While it is mostly meat dishes that are cooked dum pukht style, all manner of biryanis and some tougher vegetables like cauliflower can be cooked using this method. At Rang Mahal, Sovani’s signature dish of Lucknowi Nalli Ghosht, or braised lamb shanks in rosewater and fragrant spiced curry, is cooked using the dum pukht method.

Here are a list of Michelin-recommended establishments you can go for a taste of fragrant dum pukht-style dishes:

Rang Mahal (Michelin Plate, 2018)
The Song of India (One Michelin star, 2018)
Bismillah Biryani (Bib Gourmand, 2018)
Anglo Indian (Michelin Plate, 2018)
Zaffron Kitchen (Bib Gourmand, 2018)
Muthu’s Curry (Bib Gourmand, 2018)

SEE ALSO: What is sous vide?

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