RECIPES

Ferghana-style plov

(Adapted from the work of Stalik Khankishiev)

 

Ingredients:

 

  • 800 grams Carolina brand enriched long-grain rice (see note below)

  • 1000 grams lamb shoulder, cubed

  • 667 grams carrots, cut into sticks that are .25 x .25 x 3 inches

  • 100 grams onion, sliced into .25 inch slices

  • 233 ml cooking oil

  • 4 tsp cumin

  • 4 tsb dried barberries (optional)

  • 2 whole heads of garlic, unpeeled

  • 2 whole fresh or dried chile peppers

  • 1267 ml boiling water for cooking (measure this ahead of time!)

Directions:

  1. Put rice in a large bowl and fill with the hottest water you can get from the tap.  60c is optimum.  Add 1 TBS salt to the soaking water and set it aside.

  2. Add oil to a 5-quart (minimum) cast iron dutch oven, cooking pot, or kazan and heat until it shimmers.

  3. Add onions to the pot and fry until golden.  Don’t overdo it – they will continue to darken as you brown the meat.

  4. Add the lamb to the pot and fry until well 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.

  5. Add the carrots and fry until they’re a bit droopy.

  6. Bring the cooking water to a boil and add enough to the pot to just cover the carrots.  Set aside the remaining cooking water.

  7. Add cumin, barberries, and salt to the pot.  You want it to have the salinity of a slightly over-salted soup.  Add the garlic heads and peppers and nestle them down into the broth, which is called “zirvak.”

  8. Reduce heat to low so that the zirvak is at a bare simmer.  Leave it uncovered and set a timer for 30 minutes.  At the end of the simmering period, taste the salt again and add some if necessary according to your tastes.  You should also remove the garlic and chiles at this point but set them aside for later.

  9. 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.

  10. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees at this point.

  11. 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.

  12. Carefully pour the remainder of the cooking water (re-boiled just prior) into the pot, taking care that you don’t dump the water in and disturb the layers.  You can pour it “through” your slotted spatula to help prevent this.  The water and the layer of oil floating on top should just cover the surface of the rice.

  13. Turn the heat to high 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.

  14. 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.  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.

  15. 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), 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.

  16. 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.

  17. Put the whole pot into the oven and let it cook for 45 minutes.

  18. Remove the pot from the oven and open it up, setting aside the garlic and chiles again.  Since this is a Ferghana plov, it’s acceptable to now 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 (it shouldn’t be), put the lid back on and let it continue steaming outside the oven for another 15-20 minutes.

  19. Shovel your plov onto a large serving platter, topping it with the heads of garlic and chiles.  Serve and enjoy!

 

IMPORTANT RECIPE NOTES:

 

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 perfectly 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 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. 

© 2018 by Robert Person.  The views expressed on this website are my own and do not represent the official policy of the U.S. Army, Department of Defense, or U.S. Government.