A Mouthful Of History

Updated: Jul 13 2003, 05:30am hrs
Now heres a dish that has lasted a couple of millennia and is still being savoured by gourmets the world over. The Sikandri Raan was first known to have been prepared for Alexander of Macedonias wedding feast when he married Roxanne, daughter of Oxyrates, a king of the Hindu Kush region, which Alexander (or Sikander) had just conquered. The leg of lamb preparation was also eaten at the battlefield banquet held to celebrate the now legendary friendship of the great conqueror with King Porus of Takshila.

Ever since, eating the Sikandri Raan has become a symbol of friendship and binding ties. We serve it as a dish for two, says Chef Manjit S Gill, corporate leader, QualityFood Production, at ITC Welcomgroup. Chef Manjit is the brand custodian of Bukhara and Peshawri, ITCs bestselling North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) cuisine restaurants. Of course, in those days, the preparation was a much simpler affair. Citrus fruit juices were used as a marinade with a dash of salt and pepper. The lamb leg was then spit roasted and that was it.

That free and easy approach would not be quite the thing at a five-star restaurant in the 21st century. So Chef Manjit has transformed the rough and ready Sikandri Raan into a delightful recipe that is rightfully the Bukharas signature dish. It was served to President Bill Clinton when he visited Delhi, and now forms part of the restaurants Presidential Platter (Rs 1,600). It goes well with the tough, macho image that underlies the Bukhara concept, the chef says with a grin, and proceeds to show us how he gets the Raan to your table.

Chef Manjit is exacting in his demands of the leg of lamb. The goat should not be more than nine months old. Only hind legs, please, for they are weightier and contain more fat. Each leg should weigh 1.2-1.5 kilos.

Once he is satisfied with the leg of lamb in his hand, he rubs it vigorously with red chilli powder, salt and fresh ginger-garlic paste. The leg is then braised for two-three hours in a mixture of malt vinegar and water in equal parts and cinnamon, bay leaf and cummin. It is left to air dry for five-six hours and, when an order comes in, barbecued in the Tandoor. So, should you order the Sikandri Raan for your meal, you can hope to have it on your table in a max of 20 minutes. Chef Manjit says he gets an order for the Raan every 15-20 minutes, thats how popular it is!

The Sikandri Raan is heavy, so it is better eaten at dinner. Unless, of course, you can afford a post-prandial nap. How do you check your Raan is perfectly done It must be well seasonedideally, you should not need a chutney with it. The texture of the meat should be just rightit should dissolve neither too fast nor too slowly in your mouth. And there should be no trace of blood on it.

Order a Dal Bukhara (Rs 260) and Tandoori Rotis (Rs 85 each) with your Sikandri Raan (Rs 975). Its a meal by itself, you dont need anything else, says the chef, and we can vouch for that. The Raan comes with salad, papad and chutney, but we didnt need any of that except perhaps some of the sliced onion.

You can order a couple of pegs of Scotch while you wait for meal, but dont down so many Scotches that you are unable to appreciate the finer nuances of the Raan. With your meal, try a mature, full-bodied red winea French or Chilean wine, for our Indian reds are too young. Choose from a Chateau Lafite Rothschild (Rs 42,500 per bottle), a Chateau Neuf Du Pape (Rs 6,800) or a Moulin A Vent (Rs 3,500) from France or a Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon (Rs 5,300) from Chile, in that order of preference. (These wines are available only by the bottle, not by glass.) If youre teetotaller, a fresh lime soda (Rs 90) would go down well.

After the Raan, try a Phirni (Rs 220), which is one of the few Indian desserts in which the sugar can be controlled. Not that youre really counting calories at a dinner like this. The Sikandri Raan meal, incidentally, tots up 700-800 calories per person. A plain filter coffee or a light Darjeeling tea (Rs 95 each) is the perfect way to round off your meal.

One last bit of advice from the chef before he moves off to his daily chores. Dont bother with a knife and fork! The Raan tastes so much better eaten with your fingers.

All prices given here are exclusive of taxes.