I first came across Nihari at the Pakistani Curry houses of Los Angeles. True hole in the wall joints whose smokey tandoori ovens would set me off in a spiced meat frenzy. Fragrant biriyanis, the paella of the Indian subcontinent, and haleem are specialties here, the latter being a porridge of wheat, meat and fragrant spices. Just as stand out is Nihari, one of the best beef curries of all time, the G.O.A.T of beef curries if you will.
I had this brisket lying around and well, it got me thinking . . .
Before you freak out at the ingredient list, keep in mind all you are doing with the masala is making a spice rub. The key to any curry in my opinion is making a specialized curry powder suited to the dish. Just pony up and make the masala.
If you caught my braised brisket recipe I posted in December, you might recognize the USDA Prime brisket. I saved the flat cut and kept it in the freezer. I decided to be “good” and trimmed off the excess fat. In hindsight I am of mixed mind on it. Nihari should have pools of rendered fat and mine came out on the “healthier” side. I’ll leave it up to you but for this version, I trimmed off the fat.
Pre heat your oven to 300 degrees.
I started off by searing the brisket heavily on both sides. Traditional recipes call for the meat to be cut into cubes first but this is brisket and I wanted to go for a braised effect: sear first followed by a slow simmer in the oven. After searing the meat, I added the ginger and garlic.
You might notice something is missing: onions. Some recipes call for them but a Pakistani food writer suggested I omit. I usually add onion to all my curries but sometimes it’s what doesn’t goes in that makes a difference. Once the garlic and ginger developed some color, I added the masala(spices).
I returned the brisket back to the pot. From there I added enough water to almost cover the meat entirely. Also I added the yogurt. The idea of adding yogurt at this early stage was not intuitive. I dug up a few recipes when trying to tame brisket in Nihari form, and came across this one which called for adding the yogurt now as opposed to when the dish was almost finished. Cool site too . . . I might be pulling more recipes from here as well as this one.
Once I added the water, I brought the pot to a vigorous simmer and placed it into a preheated 300 degree oven.
I was doing a podcast while this was cooking and was banking on the Nihari being done when I was done. 2 hours in and things were far from tender. This is brisket after all and the cut takes time. Patience, friends, patience.
So about three hours in and I started to jab at the brisket to see if it was getting tender. A pull here and there and the brisket started to really break apart. I got a little over zealous here and ended up with a texture closer to Ropa Vieja. But hey, there are worse things, like tough meat.
Take a peak at the upper left hand corner. I made a roux with the three tablespoons of flour and some of the skim from the pot. You start little by little with the liquid from the top and the three tablespoons of flour. It’s kinda crazy to think about something as American as gravy in a Pakistani curry, but if you like it thick, it works. This move was also from the Nihari recipe I found online.
I skipped out on the cayenne in the masala, so I needed to add some heat at the end. This way allows me to make milder version for my kid while I can get my spice on. What’s interesting is that when I shredded the brisket, a lot of the sauce got absorbed in the meat. This makes it great for tacos but I miss the extra sauce for the rice. Next time I might add little more water at the end for volume. Or keep the fat on the brisket.
Regardless, this came out as delicious as it looks. My only change(apart from adding more water) would be to skip the shred, let everything cool and serve the next day. On that following day, I would carve the brisket into thick slabs or chunks, bring the sauce up to temp and let the meat simmer in all that goodness. Nihari really tastes better the next day.
Whether you’re craving Nihari or looking for a new way to cook brisket, give this a go and let me know what you think!
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