There are two main versions of Aloo Dum – the Kashmiri version, and a Punjabi version which is generally less spicy than the Kashmiri version.
Dum style cooking is a slow cooking style which allows the ingredients to cook in their own juices and any added sauce. When the lid of the pot is sealed to prevent any steam from escaping it is called dum pukht – dum meaning breathe in and pukht meaning to cook. Dum lets the dish breathe in or steam slowly in its own juices, absorbing the delicate flavour of the spices and herbs. You can still see large cooking pots that are sealed with dough or cloth to trap the steam, cooking the vegetables or rice until tender. It is used most commonly when cooking biryani, and is a technique that is more than 400 years old.
Traditionally only a handful of Indian spices were used for flavour, but with time many more ingredients were added to suit different taste preferences. The dough seal is only opened once the dish was ready to serve to retain maximum flavour. A heavy bottomed clay pot is said to work the best as it releases heat slowly (maintaining the temperature inside) and prevents the fire from burning the bottom of the dish.
While Dum dishes were cooked over open fires with coals added to the top of the pot, today the oven provides a way of maintaining a low heat, and a pot can be sealed with kitchen foil if a dough seal is out of the question. On a stove top a heat diffuser can be used to keep the heat low so that longer cooking is possible. This allows greater infusion of the flavours into the potatoes.
As usual, my recipe for Aloo Dum is one of the simpler ones, home-cooking style, but with extraordinary flavours. You may have Greek or French clay pots, or lovely Indian terracotta ones. I lost my Indian pots when I shifted (they break easily) so sometimes I will use a Chinese clay pot for dishes such as this. The advantage is that it comes with a lid that can be easily sealed with foil, although the sealing isn’t strictly necessary these days for this dish.
Most of the times it is brought directly to the table and then the lid is opened. The result is dramatic, with the rich aroma that comes with the escaping steam is always considered an important part of the experience of a Dum cooked dish. They say that Dum cooking takes years to perfect. The good news is that every trial dish, while not perfect, is jolly jolly good. Just cook with deep respect for the ancient technique, with patience, with love, and with home-made garam masala.
This dish is a little different to those you might see elsewhere. It is Kashmiri rather than from other parts of India. It’s sauce is yoghurt based and does not include onions or tomatoes. Cashews are not added. It it is simply yoghurt and spices, very traditional. The potatoes are first deep fried. This gives them a lovely brown colour and also a crisp coating that prevents them falling apart when they are cooking in the yoghurt sauce. The crispness is lost during cooking in the sauce and they become beautifully infused and soft. Before frying, the potatoes are pricked all over to allow the infusion of flavours.
Similar dishes include Dum Aloo, Potato Fry, Aloo in Aloo, Potato with Onions, and Aloo Gobi.
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