In Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital, the streets are lined with paddle-wielding chefs called oshpaz who expertly tend to the sizzling contents of enormous cauldron-like pans. The air fills with aromas of frying meat and vegetables, all blanketed in rice that steams atop the other ingredients.
This is plov, a hearty pilaf that is the national food. It’s also much more. “Cooked correctly, plov is beautifully aromatic, steaming and almost melting in the mouth,” says Caroline Eden, author of books including “Samarkand” and “Red Sands,” both of which document her travels through Uzbekistan.
The dish is assembled and cooked in layers: Browned meat is topped with sautéed aromatics and carrot, then with rice. But before any of that, the rice is rinsed, then soaked to rid the grains of excess starch and ensure they cook up fluffy and tender.
In our book “Cook What You Have,” which draws on pantry staples to assemble easy, delicious meals, we simplify the recipe for a weeknight. Though lamb or beef are traditional, our version features chicken thighs.
Both the meat and the cumin — a key seasoning for plov — are first browned to develop deep, rich flavor. Sliced carrots and raisins add sweet pops of texture and flavor.
Be sure to soak and rinse the rice before adding it to the pot; this ensures that the grains cook up light and separate.Plov with Chicken
Start to finish: 1 hour 20 minutes (30 minutes active)
■1 cup basmati rice ■Kosher salt and ground black pepper ■1½ tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil ■1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces ■2 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced on the diagonal ■1 medium yellow onion, halved and sliced ½ inch thick ■2 teaspoons cumin seeds OR ground cumin ■6 medium garlic cloves, peeled ■¼ cup raisins OR golden raisins OR dried currants
In a medium bowl, combine the rice and 1½ teaspoons salt. Add water to cover by 1 inch, then stir; set aside.
In a large pot over medium-high, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the chicken and cook, turning as needed, until browned all over, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the carrots, onion, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to soften, 3 to 5 minutes.
Add 2 cups water and bring to a simmer, scraping up the browned bits. Add the garlic, then reduce to medium-low. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are tender, about 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the raisins.
Drain the rice in a fine-mesh strainer, then rinse under cool running water and drain again. Sprinkle the rice in an even layer over the chicken mixture. Bring to a boil over medium-high, then cover, reduce to low and cook without stirring until all of the water has been absorbed, 30 to 35 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Using a fork, fluff the rice, then stir to incorporate the chicken mixture. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Optional garnish: Pomegranate seeds OR chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley OR both
For more recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at 177milkstreet.com/ap