Palov or Plov
Uzbek national dish
In almost every part of the world, in little towns and large cities, one can try the special Uzbek dish, Plov. In this article I won't tell you how to cook this masterpiece. Moreover, the recipe is as easy as the recipe of Michelangelo: get some marble and carve everything that is needed out of it. It is far more convenient for us to talk about how to eat plov and what to drink with it. To be more precise, our tale will be about real men's plov.
There are so many ways to cook plov; some say there are 200, and others, 1200. But the main ingredients, such as meat, rice, onions, carrots and oil, remain unchanged. Then, fantasy sets in: plov with quince, with Turkish peas, barberries, eggs and pomegranates. Classic plov can be light in color (sometimes called Samarkand plov) and dark (Ferghana). The second one is heavier, but the taste! By the way, real men's plov can only be dark.
You should never drink vodka after plov. You can drink it before, but under no circumstances afterwards. Only green tea and such is the tradition; a very sensible tradition, mind you, since only a very healthy person can drink a 40% alcoholic drink after a heavy plov. In Central Asia, if not every person, then every second can cook plov, some better, and some worse. But when it is necessary to feed a whole crowd of guests, for example at a wedding, you'd better call an oshpaz. The work of this master will cost a fortune and he essentially doesn't cook himself, but coordinates with his assistants.
When an oshpaz goes to buy ingredients for plov, it is a comedy, in which every person is ready to come and see what will happen. I once witnessed how one oshpaz, surrounded by an army of his assistants, was choosing rice. He slowly moved from one seller to another in the market, holding a bit of rice, smelling it, saying something to himself, and then throwing it back. All the vendors were very nervous; they were hiding things under their tents and putting their best products on display. If an oshpaz buys rice at one place, it is the best advertisement they could wish for, and this seller will have success in trading for some time, it is important to remember that a good plov can be made only from recently harvested rice, if it's from last year, then you may only cook something that looks like plov.
If you have never lived in Central Asia, I need to explain what "gap" means, it's translated from Uzbek as "talk", but it has a slang meaning - chat. However, in Central Asia this word is used to define a small friendly party held for any reason. A "gap" is an event for men and usually it takes place not in houses but in chaykhanas (tea houses) or some other place. Plov at a "gap" is cooked by the participants themselves and not by a master.
Some of my foreign friends who live in Uzbekistan recall how they cooked men's plov: while the person appointed as the chief cook was preparing the meat, all the others were cutting onions, carrots and Namangan radish. The secret of men's plov is: when the cook takes out the cracklings from the kazan, there is still a little bone left cooking in the kazan. This bone gives plov that noble yellow-brownish color and the taste of real men's food. Now everything is ready and we are ready to taste the plov. The cook has to accomplish some magic tricks and this is the most difficult moment. Firstly, because the others will be giving him vodka to drink and if he partakes he will spoil the plov. Secondly, all the drinking people are eager to steal a piece of onion or meat, and he is waving his Kapkir (skimmer) at them, yelling that no good plov can be prepared this way.
"Oshi Nahor" - morning plov, is one of the elements of Central Asian family tradition. There are millions of guests invited, and the tables usually are set inside the house and not in the courtyard. The activity takes place from about 6 to 9 a.m. New guests are seated right away on free seats by young helpers. After three minutes you will see green tea at your table, and after another five, plov. However, if you refuse to come to the "oshi nahor" the hosts will think that you don't respect them; in the wedding season, you might receive a number of invitations for "oshi nahor" in a single day.
Again, one of my American friends told me how he had four invitations. All of them were in different parts of the city. He started traveling from 5:30am and by eight he had already eaten 2 courses of plov. At the third helping of plov, he couldn't eat any more and just sat there quietly drinking tea. But someone noticed that he wasn't eating and told the master. The master appeared next to him. He was forced to eat. It was real torture for him to think about the fourth plov, but knowing Uzbek tradition and respecting the people who invited him, he finally acquiesced. He forced himself to eat the fourth plov. "I thought I would die, or that I even wouldn't be able to stand up and get to the car" - says Michael. But somehow he managed to get to the car and asked the driver to turn the air conditioner on. Slowly, he arrived at his work. During the day, one of his colleagues came in saying: It's my father's jubilee today and he is cooking lots of plov. Please, come to my place today!
Recipes for cooking the Uzbek National dish
Palov (plov) is the most widespread and favorite dish of Uzbekistan. It is cooked during both weekdays and holidays. The main ingredients of Plov are rice, fat (oil), onions and carrots, as Plov can be cooked without meat as well. Beef - 750 g Rice - 900 g Fat tail of sheep - 300 g (oil may be substituted) Carrots - 900 g (very thinly sliced) Onion - 600 g 3-4 pods of bitter red pepper 1-2 bulbs garlic Salt and Spices to taste
This kind of Plov has a saturated brown color. Bitter pepper in pods gives sharpness to the Plov and this is a specialty of the Tashkent region.
Melt the fat of the sheep's tail, cut into small cubes, remove fried pieces. Fry some bones, cleaned of meat, and the onions and pieces of carrot in this fat, the color becomes brownish, and the taste and aroma improve.
Cut an onion into rings, fry to a golden brown color. Then add meat cut into cubes and keep frying for 15-20 minutes. Add sliced carrots and brown with the meat until its mass decreases by 40-50%.
Pour some water over these ingredients; add part of the salt, the whole pods of red hot peppers, garlic and spices and, after bringing to boil, keep over a slow fire until carrots are ready. Pierce the peppers in several places while boiling.
Sort the rice, wash well and steep with salt for 30-40 minutes. Then place it in a flat layer, pour hot water over it to a depth of 1.5-2 cm, add the rest of the salt and rapidly bring to a boil. Keep a strong fire until the whole liquid soaks into the rice. Then gather the Plov with a skimmer to the middle of the pot, pierce it in some places (with knife or spoon) to allow the steam to exit. Afterwards, put the lid on the pot until done, over a low fire.
Before serving, mix the plov carefully and shape on the dish, top with meat, meat bones, garlic and pepper pods.