What comes to your mind when you think of Mutton Pulao?
For many, you’d imagine tender, melt-in-your-mouth pieces of mutton perfectly browned, the aroma of cardamom, coriander and cumin, pillowy soft basmati rice all laced together with sweet slivers of fried onion.
But for me, I feel a sense of comfort, warmth and happiness when I think of Mutton Pulao.
Comfort, knowing I can always turn to this recipe like a faithful, old friend who forever has my back.
Warmth, knowing this is a delicious meal my family will always love and enjoy, no failures and no hassle.
Happiness, remembering all the good times I’ve made this for family, friends, to contribute at a dinner, or just for my husband and daughter.
For me, Mutton Pulao means so much more than just a tasty rice dish.
It’s the pride when my Mother asks me to help out for the dawat she’s hosting tonight by making Mutton Pulao, or when my husband tells his family ‘Fatima bohot acha pulao banati hai’.
It’s the reassuring aroma of cinnamon, cardamom and cumin wafting around the kitchen and making its way into the living room.
It’s my Chachi stirring a giant pot the size of her entire hob, sauteing mutton to serve Pulao to our entire family for Eid ul-Adha.
Excuse me for being a bit cliche, but Mutton Pulao is love.
What makes a delicious Pulao?
Mutton Pulao is cooked just like other Pulaos, by simmering up a broth (called yakhni in Urdu/Hindi) using the meat and a variety of aromatic whole spices. The beauty of a Mutton Pulao is that since it takes up to 2hrs to cook, it gets an opportunity to simmer for longer and develop a much deeper flavour. This is significantly longer than a Chicken Pulao, which only needs half an hour. Any cook worth their skill will know a slow and long simmer is key to releasing all those delicious juices and flavours.
I personally find the long, slow simmer therapeutic. Sensing the aroma in the kitchen develop, watching the broth simmer away knowing our families favourite is in the makes – it’s a very comforting feeling.
In additional to the long simmer, the combination of the whole spices is what really elevates any Pulao. Without the spices, any Pulao is incomplete. I use a combination of aromatic whole spices, ginger and garlic for my yakhni. The long list may seem daunting for someone who isn’t very familiar with them. But please, don’t be daunted. They are all used in a small quantity and they all come together to form the wonderful flavour we’re on the look-out (or should I say cook-out?) for.
How To Cook Mutton Pulao
In my Chicken Pulao recipe, I’ve used the typical and traditional method of making a Yakhni Pulao, which involves simmering a broth with the meat and spices, straining the meat and spices out whilst reserving the water, and then frying onions in a separate pot, adding the chicken, stock and rice in and cooking till complete.
Time, experience and motherhood has definitely helped evolve my Pulao making practice. My more common method now, which I utilise for this Lamb Pulao recipe, is a one-pot method which involves frying onions in a pot and then going on to cook the yakhni in the same pot with all the whole spices tied in a permeable cloth (called a potli). Once the meat is cooked, you can remove the potli and add the rice, cook, and your Pulao is ready with no need to strain anything out. The yakhni tastes the same since it has been simmered with all the same spices and meat for the same amount of time it would have in the first method – just all in one pot.
This method makes a Mutton Pulao much more approachable for me, as a busy Mother who really doesn’t need extra hassle or dishes to deal with, but still wants to cook a family favourite.
Picking The Best Mutton For Your Pulao
As for all kinds of meat and produce, you want to pick the freshest mutton you can find.
When I post anything related to mutton on my Instagram, I often receive a message or so asking me how to get rid of the ‘bad’ smell of mutton which makes it off-putting. My good fortune in this regard is that I come from a family with a chain of meat and grocery stores in London, therefore I am always able to get my hands on the freshest, best quality meat. Often, the meat is so fresh from the slaughter it’s still warm. So in this regard, my best advice is to get your hands on fresh meat. Ask your local butcher at what day and time their fresh batch of meat will be coming in, and go in and order from that.
In terms of what part of mutton to use, we always prefer a shoulder cut. The cut of mutton you prefer will be largely down to your own personal preference – many people much prefer leg over shoulder.
What Should I Serve With Mutton Pulao?
A good, standard method of serving any sort of Pulao is alongside a raita (a yogurt based sauce, spiced with salt and cumin), a kachumber salad (simply onions, tomatoes, cucumbers cut in small cubes). This serves the purpose of adding a refreshing, crunchy and cool hint to the warm and tender Pulao rice and meat.
On occasion, Shami Kebabs (I don’t have a recipe for Shami Kebabs myself, but here is one) are also served alongside Pulao. If you aren’t up for the effort that Shami Kebabs require, I find Aloo Tikkis are a fine substitute.
I personally feel like this is a perfect combination and doesn’t need any more additions. For more lavish dinners and parties however, it definitely may feel like a Mutton Pulao isn’t enough (sadly!). In this case, I’d like to opt to serve this alongside a non-red meat based shorba, such as this Chicken Shorba which you can cook with peas, boiled eggs or potatoes to add some extra oomph. Chicken Koftas would also be a great idea too!
On to the recipe! If you make this, I’d love to see a picture of the outcome! Tag me on Instagram @fatima.cooks – seeing your recreations is one of my most favourite things!
- 4tbsp oil
- 2tbsp whole cumin seeds
- 3 onions, sliced (not chopped)
- 10 cloves garlic (can be whole, chopped or minced)
- 2tbsp ginger, minced
- 750g mutton, bone in
- 4tsp salt, or to taste
- 3 cups white basmati rice (soaked for a min 30 mins in cold water before using)
Whole Spices to Wrap in Cloth (Potli)
- 2.5tbsp coriander seeds
- 3tbsp black peppercorns
- 1 bayleaf
- 10 green cardamoms
- 2 black cardamom
- 0.5 star anise
- 7 cloves
- 1 medium sized stick cinnamon
- Heat the oil in a deep pot. Add the sliced onions and saute well, stirring often so the onions brown evenly
- Once the onions and a deep golden brow, add the garlic, ginger, whole cumin seeds and mutton. Saute this well, stirring often and ensuring the mutton gets good contact with the base of the pot which will help it to brown well
- Tie all the whole spices in your cloth and tie well. Add this to your pot, alongside the salt and 7 cups of water
- Allow this to simmer covered on low for about 1hr 15mins. If the mutton isn't cooked through by this point, simmer for a further 15 minutes, continuing to do so until the mutton is cooked but not tender/breaking to the touch
- Add in the pre-soaked rice. You'll need to check there is enough water in your pot - the way I do this is I put my finger in so the tip of my finger touches the rice. The water should be coming up to the first line on my finger. If there is too little, add some more water in till it reaches that level. If there is too much, scoop a bit out using a cup (but avoid this because you're scooping out flavour!)
- Cook this on high, stirring the sides with once or twice in between to ensure the rice isn't sticking (careful not to break the rice! No stirring please!)
- Once the majority of the water has evaporated but the rice still looks moist, turn the flame down to the lowest possible setting, cover tightly and allow the rice to steam cook (known as dum in urdu) for a minimum of ten minutes and for up to 20 minutes
- Lift the lid and fluff up the rice using a slotted spoon or fork. This helps prevent the rice from sticking together or clumping, especially if you don't plan on serving immediately.
- My pulao never contains any heat because I prefer it that way. If you want to add some spice into this, feel free to add some green chillis at the same time you add the whole spices. You can put the green chillis into the cloth if you don't want whole pieces of chilli in your rice.
- The garlic pieces should disintegrate into the broth as it is cooking. If you find large chunks of garlic in your broth after cooking it, you can mash them easily with the back of a fork.
- You can garnish this with crunchy fried onions - it goes wonderfully!