Lamb with dried fruit and nuts recipe (archa-doshama)

Lamb with dried fruit and nutsParcha-doshama (parça döşəmə)is an Azerbaijani pilaf in which the meat and fruit are cooked in one pan together with the rice.

However, the ingredients are not mixed together, but kept in separate layers. A recipe for lamb parcha doshama is given below, but this pilaf can be equally tasty with chicken. The basic cooking method for rice is to parboil it and then steam it. The meat and fruit are added at the steaming stage. Azerbaijani rice should never be sticky. Qazmaq, a crust made at the bottom of the pan when the rice is steamed, is highly prized and is served in pieces with the rice or on a separate plate. Azerbaijancuisine.com is grateful to Gullu Cahangir for allowing us to use her parcha doshama recipe and photograph, taken from her informative website Azerifood.com.

Preparation time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 1 hour
Serves: 3-4

Ingredients

For the qazmaq-crust
1 egg and 1-2 tbspns yoghurt
OR 200 g/8oz plain flour
OR 1 large potato
450 g/1lb 2 oz lamb or mutton
300 g/12 oz basmati rice
100 g/4 oz butter (clarified butter is best)
50 g/2 oz raisins
50 g/2 oz dried apricots
50 g/2 oz dates
100 g/4 oz chestnuts
pinch of saffron
salt & pepper

Preparation

Put a few threads of saffron in a cup and add boiling water. Cover and leave to infuse.
Break the lamb into pieces and put into a pan. Cover with water and simmer for 30 minutes or so if the lamb is young (or longer if you are using mutton). Do not simmer the meat until fully cooked, or it will be overcooked in the finished pilaf. Remove the meat from the pan with a slotted spoon and pat dry.
Pierce the chestnuts. Cover with water in a pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the water and shell. Don’t take all the chestnuts out of the water at once, as they are difficult to shell when dry.
Rinse the dried fruit and steep in boiling water for 2 minutes.
Rinse the rice.
Fill a large, heavy saucepan with water and add salt. Bring to the boil. Add the rice to the boiling water. Turn the heat down slightly but cook at a rapid boil for 5 to 10 minutes. Be careful not to cook for too long or the finished rice will be sticky. To see if the rice is ready, take a couple of grains out of the pot and test them on your wet finger. The grain should be soft on the outside but still firm on the inside. When you bite into the grain or break it with a finger nail, the hard white interior should still be visible. Strain the rice through a rice colander.
Prepare the crust or qazmaq: 3 varieties are given here. a) Mix together 1 egg, 4 tablespoons of the parboiled rice and 1-2 tablespoons of yogurt. Add some of the infused saffron water or a pinch of turmeric. OR b) For lavash qazmaq, make lavash by mixing together 1 glass (200 g/8 oz) of flour and a little water and butter. (Add 1 egg to the dough if you want an eggy flavour to the qazmaq.) Knead the dough until it is soft and roll out to a thickness of 3mm/0.2 inches. OR c) peel one large potato and slice into rounds, roughly 1 cm thick.
Rinse and dry the rice pan. Return it to the heat and melt a generous knob of butter. Spread the qazmaq mixture, lavash or potato rounds over the bottom of the pan and fry for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add one layer of the parboiled rice, spooning it gently into the pan to avoid breaking the grains.
Place the lamb pieces on top of the layer of rice.
Place the dried fruit and chestnuts on top of the lamb. Cover with a layer of muslin to keep the rice separate from the fruit.
Add the rest of the rice to the pan. Put several knobs of butter on top. Make holes in the rice with the handle of a wooden spoon to allow the steam to escape. Place a well-fitting lid on top of the saucepan, covered underneath with a clean tea towel. The towel helps to absorb the steam. Once the rice is steaming, turn down the heat and leave to continue steaming for 45 minutes to 1 hour. This pilaf tends to take longer to cook than other pilafs. The rice can be left to steam for longer without coming to any harm.
Halfway through the cooking, add the saffron infusion to the rice, then replace the lid and tea towel.
When the pilaf is cooked, carefully remove the rice from the pan, then the fruit, meat, rice and qazmaq. The rice and qazmaq are served on one plate, the fruit on another and the meat on a third.

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