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Dum pukht (Persian: دمپخت, "slow oven") has become one of the most refined forms of cooking in India and Pakistan, even though the technique is no more than 200 years old. Slow oven means cooking on very low flame, mostly in sealed containers, allowing the meats to cook, as much as possible, in their own juices and bone-marrow.
Less spices are used than in traditional Indian cooking, with fresh spices and herbs for flavouring. In some cases, cooking dough is spread over the container, like a lid, to seal the foods.
This is known as purdah (veil), but on cooking becomes a bread which has absorbed the flavours of the food and the two are best eaten together. In the end, dum pukht food is about aroma, when the seal is broken on the table and the fragrance of an Avadhi repast floats in the air.
Dum means to ‘breathe in’ and pukht to 'cook'. Dum Pukht cooking uses a round, heavy – bottomed pot, a handi, in which food is tightly sealed and cooked over a slow fire. There are two main aspects to this style of cooking; bhunao and Dum, or ‘roasting’ and ‘maturing’ of a prepared dish. In this style of cuisine, herbs and spices play an extremely critical role. The process of slow roasting gently persuades each to release maximum flavor. And the sealing of the lid; the sealing of the lid of the handi with dough achieves maturing. Cooking slowly in its juices, the food retains all its natural aromas and becomes imbued with the richness of flavors that distinguishes the cuisines.
History remembers the Nawabs of Awadh for their love of music and dance, epicurean delights and grand gestures. When Nawab Asaf-ud-daulah, found his Kingdom in the grip of famine, he initiated a food for work programme, employing thousands in the construction of the exquisite Bada Imambara. Large cauldrons were filled with rice, meat, vegetables and spices and sealed to make a simple, one- dish meal that was available to workers day and night. Then, one day, the Nawab caught a whiff of the aromas emanating from the cauldron and the royal kitchen was ordered to serve the dish.
Gradually refined to please the royal palate, dum pukht cooking soon spread to other Indian courts of Hyderabad, Kashmir and Bhopal. In each, the maestros that supervised the kitchen added their own distinctive magic. Apart from this, dum pukht also has the distinction of ushering in the art of Indian fine dining in the Indian cuisine scenario.
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