In a small shop in Srinagar, Kashmir, chef Muhmmad Ashraf Bhat is up at four in the morning, finishing his mutton harissa, a traditional comfort food for the cold winter months. He’s awake at this hour, pulling bones out of an underground oven, because one of the key elements to successfully making dish is putting in time. The mutton has been cooking since 8 p.m. the previous day.
“Machines make mutton useless,” he explains, as he laboriously chops mutton with a large knife, and pounds rice and herbs with a massive mallet. “You need patience.” While most people now make the dish in a pressure cooker, Ashraf Bhat prepares everything by hand, and cooks it in several special underground wood-fired ovens over a 24-hour period. He’s one of the few remaining Kashmiri chefs to use this method when preparing the dish of slow cooked and mashed meat, rice, coriander, fried shallots, fried garlic, and other spices.
“I left my studies and joined this. I was a kid back then. My father and grandfather were into this. I dedicated my childhood to it,” says Ashraf Bhat of his experience learning the nuances of making each part of the harissa from two other generations of chefs. “I have a 50 year degree in it.”
Check out the video to see more about the process, and how the Kashmiri dish comes together and is served