Food Talk
Kashmiri classic

We miss the taste of good, old, deep-fried spare ribs after a while, says Pushpesh Pant

SPARE ribs are a cut of meat not equally popular everywhere. The French who can dress up everything so stylishly term the pork version cartouchierre—the bullet belt, and who can deny that the resemblance is striking. In the US, the spare ribs are enjoyed marinated and grilled. Lovers of Chinese cuisine, too, are not unfamiliar with the pleasures of the fleshy and fatty porcine ribcage. In India it is only the Kashmiris who have crafted from their beloved dumba a comparable classic tabaq maaz.

Our own experience with tabaq maaz seems to demonstrate that there are some delicacies that are certainly an acquired taste. There was no love at first sight. On the contrary, there were even some reservations about trying it the second time.

TABAK MAAZ

Ingredients

Rib cage (only the the unseparated ribs, not the chops) 1kg
Garlic paste 2 tbsp
Salt 2 tsp
Dried ginger powder 2 tsp
Cloves 8-10
Black cardamoms 8-10
Turmeric powder 2 tbsp
Ghee 500 ml

Method

Boil the ribs in a large pan of water, removing the scum until the water is clear and till the ribs are half done.

Stir in the garlic and boil for another 15 minutes. Add the salt and boil covered, continuously, until the membrane between the ribs can be pierced with fingers. Remove the pan from the heat and drain the water. Cool the ribs and wash thoroughly, and then keep them aside. Do not discard this water.

Separate the ribs with a heavy, sharp knife into 8 rectangular pieces.

Boil the water in which the ribs were washed. Add the chopped ribs, salt, dry ginger powder, cloves, black cardamoms and turmeric powder. Mix well. Let it boil until the bones can be extracted from the membrane easily. Remove the pan from the heat and take out the ribs with a slotted spoon. Keep aside.

Arrange the ribs in a large frying pan (ensuring that they do not overlap), pour ghee over these and fry turning gently until they are evenly browned. Drain out the excess fat before serving.

The place was, one distinctly recalls, Chor Bizzare in the twilight zone of the city where the old meets the new and Rohit Khattar runs this delightful eatery. Jiggs kept insisting that this was the original Kashmiri kebab and another ‘know it all’ guest was trying to tell us that it is also known as qabargah in the Muslim wazwan and the authentic recipe involves boiling the spare ribs in saffron-laced milk for tedious hours.

All this hype and hoopla put us off what was put in the plate. The pieces of meat delicate to look at were visibly enriched with natural fat then deep-fried. The friend sitting next, a hypochondriac, slyly transferred his share conveniently on to our plate pleading a high cholesterol count. But, then as time passed and we had occasions to sample it sans distraction of a pedantic commentary the recipe began to work its unfailing age-old magic and a life-long relationship was forged.

Today we have reached a stage where we begin to miss the good, old, deep-fried aromatic spare ribs when they have not been served for a while and this prompts us to ‘fish for’ invitations at Kashmiri friends’ homes. The problem is that in these pseudo health-conscious days even the true inheritors, the sons and daughters of the soil, consume this delicacy sparingly.

Rashmi Dar, gifted cook and generous hostess, has treated us not only to this memorable dish whenever she has found us in a drooling state but also shared its recipe. We have great pleasure in spreading the simple yet elegant nusqha around.

HOME