With no fishing these last two weeks due to the poor weather, I had another bash at making nihari (transliteration of South Asian languages into Roman script is always difficult; you may also see it written as nehari or neyari). Thanks to the really nice folk at Kobe Halal Foods I obtained some beef shank, this time with no bone so the nihari would have to be without nilla. I don’t think I have ever seen this dish on offer in restaurants back home in the UK, despite the profusion of north-west Indian dishes (or at least, inspired or bastardised derivatives of them) and the fact I am sure it would be very popular. Curiously enough, the cut of meat is rather similar to what the Japanese butcher would refer to as suji or ‘lines’. Like nihari it is often considered a poor man’s dish (usually served up in cheap izakaya bars) and the meat is braised for eight hours or blasted in a pressure cooker, seasoned with soy sauce and mixed with potatoes, onions and konnyaku.
Anyway, I did my best (this time I used mace, and thickened the sauce a touch with atta nicely browned over the stove) and the result was spectacular. Whilst visually not really appealing – being essentially just a brown chunk of meat sat in some gravy – it was so tender as to be almost falling apart (although searing the shanks helps keep them in one piece), and the high proportion of cartilage and connective tissue really kept it juicy and moist despite the long cooking time (I simmered this one on the stove for about a day!). On the side I had chapattis, which by now I can make on the stove without a tava and they never fail to puff up and pick up nice brown spots, and of course the requisite slivers of ginger, red chilli (essential for me, I used about a cup of cayenne pepper in the cooking and it still wasn’t hot enough) and juicy lime wedges. Also, I am sure Lahoris would probably be shocked by the lack of a nice half inch-thick red chilli-oil tarka floating on top of their nihari, but as the dish is already very rich and I am carrying far too many pounds on my abdomen already, I skimmed off almost all of the fat from the dish and let the spiced sauce do the talking. It is quite tasty without the oil and there is still plenty of sauce to mop up with ripped shreds of bread, and in the later stages of eating, ones fingers. In fact, rather than the thin, unsalted, grilled chapatti I found a thicker, oven-cooked bread went with the nihari better, and I understand is more traditional. In its natural habitat nihari is a breakfast dish to be eaten before a day’s hard work, but I found it more suited to brunch on a weekend or even supper. Next time I will use more chilli, and hopefully be able to buy some nice chunks of beef bone to add extra flavour and the hallowed nilla to the dish. Those Japanese guests of mine to whom I served the dish all found it surprisingly accessible and tasty; made without garlic or those regular spices like clove, turmeric, elachi, cumin or coriander seed, its taste is unique and not to be found in the Indian restaurants you get here in Tokyo. As the basis of my nihari, I used Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe, but you can easily find a dozen or more recipes online if you want to give it a try.