The quintessential dish of Uzbekistan, with as many variants as there are people who cook it. This Samarkand version is a little lighter than most traditional Uzbek plovs, where pools of lamb tail fat provide the dominant flavour. It can be made with lamb or beef and is distinctive for being cooked and served in layers.
Plov should be eaten from one large dish placed on the table to share, each diner digging in their fork. It is said people form mutual love from a communal plate and the joy of eating plov.
450g basmati rice
600g blade stewing steak, diced
150ml clarified butter or sunflower oil
4 onions, cut into wedges
2 bay leaves
4 yellow and 2 orange carrots (or use 6 orange), cut into thick matchsticks
1 teaspoon cumin seed
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon paprika
12 garlic cloves, unpeeled
12 hard-boiled quail’s eggs, peeled
salt and freshly ground black pepper
You’ll need a good, heavy-bottomed pan with a close-fitting lid to make plov. In Uzbekistan a cast-iron kazan is used; a large cast-iron casserole makes the perfect substitute.
Rinse the rice and put into a large bowl of cold water to soak while you start the recipe. Season the beef with salt and pepper.
Heat the clarified butter in the kazan until hot and foaming. Brown the beef over a medium-high heat, in batches if necessary, then remove from the pan with a slotted spoon leaving the butter behind. Lower the heat to medium and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden. Return the beef to the pan with any collected juices, the bay leaves and a small cupful of water. Bring to the bubble then turn the heat down very low, cover the pan and gently simmer for 1 hour until the meat is tender.
Spread over the carrot matchsticks but don’t stir as you want to keep the separate layers. Scatter over the spices, and cover and cook for a further 10 minutes.
Drain the rice and layer it on top of the carrots. Poke the whole garlic cloves into the rice and flatten the top with the back of a spoon. Season very generously with salt and slowly pour over enough boiling water to just cover the top of the rice. Increase the heat and let the water start to boil away.
When the liquid has cooked off, make six holes in the rice with the handle of a wooden spoon to help the steam escape. Cover the pan and cook at a low simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat without removing the lid and leave the dish to steam undisturbed for a further 10 minutes. If the rice isn’t cooked, add a splash more boiling water and cover again.
Serve the layers in reverse, first spooning the rice onto the platter, then the carrots and finally the tender chunks of meat on the top. Circle the hard-boiled quail’s eggs around the edge. A juicy tomato salad is the perfect accompaniment.