Chef Akhtar of the Islamabad Marriot's Dum Pukht Restaurant has been trained in the art of Mughlai style of cooking. This particular cuisine focuses on flavor development using nuts, creams, cheeses, fruits, and spices. Staying true to its origins in preparation, execution and presentation, he doesn't stray much from the authenticity of these dishes.
Chef Akhtar kept me busy for two days, showing me the Ins and Outs of his meticulously organized kitchen. We explored everything from grilled seafood to biryani, and with no culinary stone unturned, chef Akhtar kept me intrigued by his unique and in depth approach to flavor development without an overwhelming use of spice common in other south asian cuisine.
Next on the list was Lababi Kabab, a Mughlai signature style kebab. The base for this kebab is a mutton mince combined with cottage cheese and other aromatic spices. Once all the ingredients are combined, the tricky part is actually skewering the meet, which requires a certain level of skill and technique. It can be time consuming, because it is always done by hand, and it must be equally dispersed from top to bottom for the most even cooking. Chef Akhtar is so seasoned, he could probably do it blind folded, and even informed me, that during banquet and wedding season, they make thousands of these a day!!!
Here we have one of my favorites I learned on this cooking lesson, a dish fit for kings called Raseley Jheengey. This particular dish is unique because of the sauce it's served in. A white sauce made with sesame, white onion, and cashews which are slow cooked for an hour then pureed with a touch of milk into a creamy delicious base. The Shrimp are quickly poached in a lime and ginger and then added to the sauce which is sauteed with ajwain, ginger and garlic, chili flakes and finished off with lemon. A flavorful and rich dish suitable for special occasions!
Last but not least, the infamous biryani, which every ethnic contingent in the region claims as their own. Chef Aktar prepared the Sindhi style of Biryani, which is a balance of sweet and savory using dried plums, cashew nuts, saffron, and chillies. The biryani he prepared today used a special type of rice known as *Sella, which adds a beautiful color and aroma to the dish. This had to be one of the tastiest and most aromatic biryanis I have ever enjoyed. Thanks to Chef Akhtar who stayed true to the dish, and showed me the real way to make such an authentic delicacy.
*Many a people have the misconception that Sella Rice is a different variety of Rice. This is not so, Sella is a Rice Milled differently i.e. the Paddy (Raw Material) is steamed and then dried for milling. The yellow color, which it adapts, is because of this process. The color can be also be darkened according to the requirements. Any rice can be milled with this process basmati or non- basmati rice. The advantage of this rice is that on post cooking each grain separates out perfectly hence it is widely used in preparing Biryani or Pulao (http://www.sonisgroup.com/what_is_basmati.htm)
The Dum Pukht restaurant is a landmark at the Marriott and Pearl Continental hotels in Pakistan. It produces a variety of tasty dishes with a range of flavors, ingredients and textures. The chefs are not only trained, but have competed against India in the Food-istan challenge, making their country proud. If you ever take a trip to Pakistan, no matter which city you visit, you will have access to this unique cuisine. Come and check it out.