The magic of dum

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Published: October 11, 2015 12:03:00 AM

Masterchef Gulam Qureshi of the iconic Dum Pukht restaurant retells the story of how dum biryani came into being

CHEF GULAM Qureshi, brand custodian at the Dum Pukht restaurant of ITC’s Maurya hotel in the capital, captures the beauty of cooking by dum rather poetically. “Parde ki kimat hai. Parda utha do to sab khatam.” One would probably construe this as the mystique of a beautiful woman behind a veil, but Qureshi is talking about the delicate flavours and aromas that a delicious dum biryani could offer. Parda for him means the dough used to cover biryani when it is cooked in dum (sealing a container before cooking so that the food cooks in its own steam without losing any flavours), a technique without which he can’t imagine cooking a biryani.

His version of how the dum biryani originated is fascinating. It goes like this: In 1784, a famine struck the Kingdom of Awadh, so Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah initiated a food-for-work programme, employing thousands in the construction of the Bara Imambara. The workers were fed only once a day, and to provide them all nutrition, and avoid cooking several dishes, large cauldrons were filled with rice, meat, vegetables and spices, and sealed to make a simple, one-dish meal. The cauldrons were sealed and the food left on slow fires to cook. One day, the Nawab caught a whiff of the aromas emanating from a cauldron and wanted to sample the dish. Later refinements to the dish resulted in the biryani, fit for the royal nawabs.

Today, those biryanis are reproduced in many kitchens. Qureshi, on his part, achieves a beautiful balance of flavours in the various biryanis that Dum Pukht offers. Not that it’s easy. Cooks anywhere in the world have this constant tip: keep tasting your food while it cooks. But this advice fails when it comes to cooking by dum, where pots once sealed are opened only at the table. “That is the expertise of the chef. You have to know exactly what measures to put in to achieve a perfect, final balance,” says Qureshi. Given what comes out of his kitchen day after day, he has his measures just right.

He also has the right genes. The son-in-law of masterchef Imtiaz Qureshi, Gulam Qureshi is carrying forward the legacy of his father-in-law, who is credited with bringing the dum tradition of cooking to Delhi, and ITC Hotels. As Dum Pukht celebrates 25 years of its existence, Qureshi has been carrying the baton forward with the recipes passed on from the Qureshi clan.

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