Below is my tried & true recipe for plov, the national dish of Uzbekistan that combines rice, lamb, carrots, garlic, and cumin for an unforgettable meal. The method I've developed below uses traditional elements of centuries-old plov techniques from Uzbekistan while making certain adaptations for modern cooking equipment and ease of preparation for cooks new to plov making. Enjoy!
1000 grams Carolina brand enriched long-grain rice
40 grams salt for soaking rice
1250 grams lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes. Shoulder preferred, leg acceptable
833 grams carrots, cut into sticks that are .25 x .25 x 3 inches
125 grams onion, sliced into .25 inch slices
275 ml cooking oil
40 grams salt for zirvak (use smoked sea salt if available to reproduce the smokiness of plov cooked over a wood fire)
2 tablespoons cumin (zira)
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons dried barberries
2 whole heads of garlic, unpeeled
2 whole fresh or dried chile peppers
1450 ml boiling water for Carolina rice
Quail eggs (optional)
Important recipe notes
If you're brand new to making plov, it’s actually pretty important that you use the Carolina brand enriched long grain rice that I specify in the recipe. Why is that? For starters, it is very similar in texture to the “lazar” long grain rice used by many in Uzbekistan for plov, and it’s available in every grocery store in the USA. But more importantly, I’ve done a lot of experiments and ruined many batches of plov figuring out the right amount of water to use in this recipe. Different varieties of rice absorb significantly different quantities of water, but getting the rice to water ratio correct is the key to a plov that is not too wet/mush or too dry/crunchy. The ratios in this recipe work well with Carolina rice and take into account the water absorbed in the soaking stage. With experimentation and experience, you can try other varieties of rice (as long as they’re non-sticky varieties) but be prepared for some underperforming batches.
Purists may argue that the final cooking step of putting the whole pot into the oven at the end is not traditional, and they’re correct – sort of. That final stage of cooking (after the water is absorbed) has to be done on really low heat, otherwise the plov will burn. A traditional cooking setup for a kazan usually features the kazan set all the way into a barrel (as in the photo) or circular hole in an enclosed oven. So, the low heat from the dying embers actually envelops the whole of the rounded kazan walls, heating the steaming rice inside gently and all the way through. If you’re cooking plov at home, putting the pot in the oven is actually a better approximation of this setup than steaming the rice over a low flame on the cooktop. And, more importantly, it’s less likely to burn the bottom.
Put rice in a large bowl and fill with the hottest water you can get from the tap. 140 degrees Fahrenheit is optimum. Add 40 grams of salt to the soaking water and set it aside.
Add oil to a 5-quart (minimum) cast iron Dutch oven, heavy cooking pot, or Uzbek kazan and heat until it shimmers.
Add the lamb to the pot and fry until browned. It will take a while for all the moisture in the meat to boil off and actually start to caramelize the outside of the lamb pieces. Be patient.
Add onions to the pot and fry until golden.
Add half the carrots and fry until they’re a bit droopy.
Lay remaining carrots on top and add all of the boiling cooking water.
Add cumin, barberries, and additional salt (40 g) to the pot. Add the garlic heads and peppers and nestle them down into the broth, which is called “zirvak.”
Reduce heat to low so that the zirvak is at a bare simmer. Leave it uncovered and set a timer for 20 minutes. At the end of the simmering period, taste the salt again and add some if necessary according to your tastes - it should taste like slightly over-salted soup. You should also remove the garlic and chiles at this point but set them aside for later.
When the timer goes off, it’s time to begin washing the rice. Use hot water to wash the rice, adding water and draining multiple times until the drained water runs clear. This usually takes about 8-10 rinses. Be gentle as you agitate the rice with your hands during washing – it is fragile and can break easily. When finished drain the rice well.
Preheat your oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit at this point.
Use a slotted spoon or spatula to gently place the rice on top of the zirvak in an even layer, being careful not to mix the rice into the zirvak or into the meat/vegetables below.
Turn the heat up and bring the pot to a rapid boil. As the level of the water starts to go down, you can start GENTLY moving rice around from the sides to the center and vice versa. You can also mix the rice lower in the pot with the rice on top, but it’s important not to disturb the layer of meat/veggies below. The purpose of this gentle mixing is to help all the rice absorb the water evenly.
In a few minutes you will have noticed that the level of the water has gone down quite a bit – below the rice level, and down somewhere in the meat layer. Turn the heat down to medium to avoid scorching. By now the rice should have swelled up and absorbed a good deal of water, though it will still be opaque and a little crunchy. When you reach this stage, start gathering the rice into a mound in the center of the pot, still avoiding mixing any meat/carrots into the rice. At the base of the mountain where the rice meets the edge of the pot, there should only be oil bubbling away – no water.
Use the long handle of a wooden spoon or other utensil to make a hole in the center of the mound that extends all the way to the bottom of the pot. Take a peek down in the hole, and look at the handle when you pull it out. If it looks like there’s still water boiling away down there (or if there’s definitely soupy broth on the spoon handle), lower the heat some more and let it keep cooking until all the water has boiled off. Keep plumbing the depths until the water is gone, but don’t let it cook dry for very long or you’ll burn the bottom.
Once the water is evaporated, turn off the burner. Make several additional holes around the mountain of rice, extending all the way to the bottom of the pot. Nestle the garlic and chiles back into the mountain. Cover the mountain with a ceramic plate or bowl, and then cover the cooking pot with its lid.
Put the whole pot into the oven and let it steam for 30 minutes. Or, if cooking over a burner turn the heat as low as it will go.
When the time is up, uncover the pot, setting aside the garlic and chiles again. Gently mix the rice with the meat/carrots in the pot (try not to break up the carrots if you can avoid it). Taste the rice – if it’s still undercooked, put the lid back on and let it continue steaming for another 15-20 minutes.
Shovel your plov onto a large serving platter, topping it with the heads of garlic and chiles. Garnish with hard cooked quail eggs (optional) Serve and enjoy!