Dum Pukht is a style of cooking common in Indian and Pakistani cuisine in which meats and other ingredients are slowly cooked in a sealed pot. An Indian clay pot known as a handi, a thick, deep pot with a wide-mouthed opening, is the most common Dum Pukht vessel, but meals can be made in the dum style in a variety of different cookware. The most important things are that the contents are sealed and not disturbed during cooking, and that they are slowly simmered over low heat.
A great many dishes can be made in Dum Pukht style. Most involve meats, particularly meats with the bone still in. When simmered over low heat, the marrow will slowly cook, leeching its flavor and juices into the meat and the larger dish. Cooks often also add vegetables, and use fresh herbs and spices as seasoning.
In most cases, Dum Pukht dishes are less spicy than many other meals popular in Indian and Pakistani cooking. They are almost always made strictly with available ingredients, and only rarely include the dried spice rubs, chilies, or more concentrated heat so common in other meals. The goal is usually a very organic, fresh-tasting dish that has a lot of flavor. Local tastes and textures are often more prized in this preparation than are spices or heat.
There are usually three phases to cooking in Dum Pukht. First, cooks will oil or grease the handi, then briefly saute the ingredients. The main idea here is to warm up the pot, and to ensure that raw meats have a chance to briefly brown on the outside. Once everything is warmed, cooks reduce the temperature to low, and seal the top of the handi.
Simply placing a lid atop the handi’s mouth forms a rudimentary seal, but steam can usually still escape. The most traditional way to seal the pot completely is to use wet dough. Cooks prepare the dough from as little as wheat flour and water, then press it all along the edge of the pot before placing a lid or tight-fitting saucer on top. The dough will collect a lot of the moisture from the food as it cooks, and also creates an airtight seal. Usually, the seal bakes into a sort of bread which is served alongside the dish.
Serving is the third and final step of dum pukht preparation. Most of the time, the entire sealed handi is brought directly to the table from the fire or stove. The lid is not removed until just before serving and eating, and when it is, the results are usually dramatic. Unsealing the pot releases a rush of steam, as well as the aroma of the just-cooked meal. The intensity of that smell is described by many as the most important part of the experience.
Cooks without access to a handi can still emulate many of the key cooking techniques in either a slow cooker or a sealed bean pot. The results will not be identical, but are often recognizable, especially when paired with quality ingredients and fresh spices. Many aspects of Indian cooking are easy to imitate with alternative equipment and ingredients. Dum pukht is no exception.