ALBLESS Stew — A Parsi Stew for the Early Monsoons
Albless Stew, an old Parsi Recipe, is virtually obsolete . Rarely, if ever, cooked and eaten today, how many of us have heard of the ‘Albless’ which is not a wedding venue?! Try ‘Albless’ on the internet and one will only meet with the Baug or the hospital. The famous tasty Albless Stew is missing, altogether.
Despite it being very popular at the turn of the 20th century, Albless Stew is today merely a name in the annals of Parsi cuisine. This tender , succulent dish is almost lost to us. I bring this delicacy out to preserve the unusual recipe and to rejuvenate it, if possible. Unusual in the ingredients (vegetables) used; the Albless does not cater to the jaded tastes for the standard stew vegetables of potatoes, onions, carrots, peas and cauliflower and unusual again in its method of cooking. in fact these vegetables except the Parsi favourite ‘Papeto’, are missing altogether. The Albless stew is delicious, delicate and wholly enticing.
Despite appearances, the Albless stew is very easy to make and takes the normal amount of time to cook. Once started, the cooking flows at the usual pace and time.
Albless needs to be made from tender meat of an adult male animal but not a full grown old one. The meat of the male goat is lean while that of the female goat tends to be fat.
From the ingredients, Albless stew is easily seen to be a recipe for the late summer- early monsoon in India (late may to mid-July) when the required seasonal vegetables grow and the young kids born of goats in late winter early summer (January/early February) are beginning to grow into adults. Albless is a delicious stew recipe for the settlers in the village who kept a few dairy animals, fowl and grew their own seasonal vegetables in their backyards. Today we can use tinned or vegetables easily available and sold in the open bazaars.
In places where these vegetables are not available, one may use tender baby cucumber, zucchini instead of Ridge Gourd (Indian name Turai/Turiya), of course the brinjals/aubergines cannot be replaced as there is no vegetable remotely related of which I am aware.
The Albless though a popular delicacy at the turn of the last century, was at that time, a long and difficult treat to prepare; it needed great care to cook an Albless Stew.
At the time this recipe was recorded for our family, before the oven became commonplace in the villages of our country, the Parsis of India cooked the dish in copper vessel coated with zinc or in an enameled vessel. An enameled box with an air tight lid was placed in the midst of hot ash and embers of a wood stove were placed on top and around the container.
After two hours of such cooking, the contents of Albless was rotated, top layers sent down and vice versa, and then returned to the embers.
This process was not just hazardous but extremely difficult; to extract the hot box from the embers without harm to one’s face and hands, open the box thus suddenly releasing the steam, stir the contents steaming from pressure and high temperature, and then close and return the box well sealed to the embers and hot ash for cook for a further hour or more until done. In the present day this process would be akin to opening a pressure cooker without releasing the steam. Imagine the disaster.
Today, modern amenities like the gas stove and ovens have made this Stew a dream to prepare and ingest.
I) 1 kg tender, on bone, meat of a young male goat (not kid) or lamb,
2 ½ kg layer with bones (Chicken/Duck/any fowl still young enough to lay eggs);
II) 500 Gms Onions (preferably red);
III) 750 Gms Ghee
IV ) 50 Gms each of:
IV a) Root Vegetables: Potato, Sweet Potato, Yam (Suran), Purple Yam (Rataloo/ Kamodio Kan),
IV b) Beans: flat beans /Papdi Na Dana, (Scientific name Dolichos lablab.), green peas, double beans, Bitter Vaal (Lima beans/ Field beans)
IV c) *Vegetables: small tender tomatoes (you may use cherry or plum tomatoes but the recipe really requires tomatoes that have just turned red), tender baby brinjals /aubergine/egg plant (preferably the long variety ) which have not yet begun to grow seeds within, young tender Ridge Gourd which have not yet begun to grow seeds within.
V) 5 gms salt or to your taste;
VI) Leaves of 4 bunch of fresh green coriander;
VII) 4 green chilies(large, not too hot);
VIII) 1 teaspoon fresh celery,
IX) 1 teaspoon fresh parsley,
X) 20 leaves of fresh mint;
XI) 1 inch piece of ginger;
XII) 2 tablespoons of Garlic juice (if not available, crush,
steep in 2 tbsp warm water for few minutes, drain and press garlic to draw out the juice. Use all the liquid.);
XIII) 1 teaspoon of black pepper powder;
XIV) 1 level teaspoon turmeric powder.
- Cut the meat into large pieces.
2) Marinate the meat for two hours in a marinade of all the:
Turmeric, black pepper, salt, garlic juice, and
Finely cut: coriander leaves, green chillies, celery, parsley, peeled Ginger and mint.
3) Cover the marinating meat and herbs with cheese cloth or a net and put aside.
4) Peel and dice the *vegetables into inch long pieces.
4a) Peel and cut/ dice very small half the quantity of onions, and mix with all the other vegetables and all the Beans and put aside.
5) Cut the rest of onions into halves and slice very fine horizontally;
5a) Fry till brown, the finely sliced onions; on very low fire but in hot oil, stirring constantly. Do not let the onions burn.
6) After the meat is well marinated for 2 hours take a vessel that closes tight and layer the meat and vegetables alternately in the vessel. 7) 7) Sprinkle the fried onions as the last layer on top and close the vessel making it air tight , if necessary seal with some dough.
8) Place The vessel in a ** hot oven/ dry pressure cooker for an hour.
**If in an OVEN, without disturbing the contents, let it cook for an hour or until the meat is cooked and tender. The meat should be soft, ready to fall off the bone.
9) If in a COOKER, you need to open the cooker after an hour and mix the contents with a large, preferably wooden spoon, bringing the bottom layers to the top; to ensure even cooking.
10) Return to stove and Cook for another hour or till meat is well cooked.
WARNING : Open COOKER very carefully. BEWARE OF STEAM BURNS OR COOKER BLOW UP.
IT WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA TO WEAR OVEN GLOVES AND STAND MORE THAN A FOOT FROM THE COOKER; AND THEN LIFT SLIGHTLY THE ‘METAL WEIGHT’/ ‘WHISTLE’ WITH A LONG WOODEN SPOON TO LET THE STEAM ESCAPE SLOWLY. ONCE ALL THE STEAM HAS ESCAPED AND THE ‘METAL WEIGHT’/ ‘WHISTLE’ STOPS HISSING, LET THE COOKER STAND FOR A FEW MINUTES AND THEN OPEN. IF YOU FEEL ANY RESISTANCE WHEN TWISTING OPEN THE COOKER’S LID, PLEASE WAIT A LITTLE LONGER BEFORE OPENING THE COOKER AND ROTATING THE LAYERS OF THE CONTENTS OF THE ALBLESS.
11) IF preferred sweet, hot and sour, after the dish is ready, add 1 ½ tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce or as per your taste and a bit of sugar. This is purely optional but enhances the taste.