I rattle off the steps once again in my head.
Remember to marinate the meat overnight.
Cook the meat. Low flame. Do not rush.
Cook the rice. Just partially. (And for heavens sake do not indulge in a call with your best mate while that pot of rice is simmering away. You need to get it off the stove at just the right time. Timing is of paramount importance !!!)
(And it shall be blasphemy if you forget the potatoes if any of your guests has Kolkata connections, he / she shall not forgive you for this unpardonable slip for a long time to come !!)
Make disciplined layers of meat and rice.
Drizzle that saffron-perfumed milk over the rice.
Keora water and ittar, if you fancy. Just a few drops.
Seal the pot with dough.
Place the pot on dum.
Wait for that ultimate moment of truth !!
And yet, despite the countless number of festive occasions when my pakki biryani has proudly been the piece de resistance at the table, I feel a stab of un-restful diffidence this morning as I wait my biryani to be ready.
Well, the reason for this nervousness is not altogether incomprehensible – today marks my enterprising foray into the arcane realm of kachhi biryanis. Cooking a perfect kacchi biryani, there’s no denying, is an art, a yogic equilibrium of components, a balance so delicate that the most gentle whiff of breeze can get the house of cards tumbling down.
I wonder if at all it was prudent to try something so novel as a Dhakai Kachhi Biryani when you had friends over for lunch.
What happens if the experiment is a disaster ? I muse. Would I really have time to whip up an alternative meal ? Or do I have to resort to a home delivery ? Far from desirable, I fret, but what choices would I really have ?
The two hours that follow are agonisingly long.
I brew myself endless cups of Darjeeling, try focusing on the latest Sujata Massey thriller, switch on the mundane morning news, play Joan Baez, but keep returning religiously to my watch, nothing seems to pacify those apprehensive nerves.
And then that moment finally arrives.
The dough is cracked, the lid lifted, just so slightly. And an explosion of fragrance greets the air. Hypnotic. Seductive. The genie trapped inside the pot is released to diffuse into the balmy surroundings.
Well, the Dhakai Kacchi Biryani turned out to be sublime. Yes, small niggles that subsequent endeavours helped perfect, but far from the catastrophe I had almost expected as inevitable.
The smiles around the table said it all.
This is the story of my Dhakai Kacchi Biryani. A melange of rice, meat and spices, cooked in unison over a fatigued fire – pearls of rice, succulent cuts of meat, an ensemble of spices, fried onion that’s caramelised to decadence, dollops of ghee and a splash of milk, tempting strands of golden saffron playing bo-peep amidst the rice and an indulgence of kewra, rose water and ittar. All cooked to luxuriant perfection.