Ma came from a family of artists , in that her older sister and her younger sister were artists . The most she came to drawing was sketching "daw", a crow, for us when we were tots and babushka type women on our fingers and thumbs . But that's not to say she wasnt an artist - her embroidery was superb, she was a great dressmaker and she knitted fabulous woollens for all of us . Her greatest forte was cooking - an art which is sadly lacking in us since both my sister and I are great slapdash cooks but ask us to spend time in preparing intricate dishes and we're both out of the window before you can even draw your gun out .
Watching her cook was like watching an artist draw a masterpiece - the right ingredients , the right temperature , the right flavours - whether it was plain machher jhol , or doi machh , the humble chorchori , mutton, kababs, the great Bengali mangsher chop and mangsher shingara, a cake or a pudding . Since we grew up majorly outside Bengal ,cuisine from the North also crept in as did cakes and stuff gleaned from cook books . So we grew up to be great khaata peeta girls - yes I have lost a lot of weight since then , but sadly enough the joy of eating a variety of well cooked barir ranna has gone out of our lives and I realise that no food in the world is better than the stuff one's Ma cooked .
Today , being a Saturday and outside food being a no no during the rains , I have decided , after a lot of thought and research to make a biryani. As I am posting this the yakhni or stock is bubbling on the stove . I have put in 2 large cardamons , two sticks of Kochi cinnamon, four cloves , peppercorn, shahjeera , haldi, onion and ginger juliennes and salt. The chicken has been marinated in an onion garlic ginger paste with turmeric, cumin powder, a dash of chilli powder and two tablespoons of oil. I have also grated some nutmeg to add after the biryani is cooked. All this is very good . The trick however lies in marrying the rice and the meat together so that the flavours are melded and the rice grains are separate and light and infused with the taste of all the spices that have gone into it and the meat melts in your mouth
Oh and lets not forget the salt. I'm a whiz at forgetting to put in salt and my daughters are always apprehensive .
If it looks nice yep , there has to be a catch somewhere - Ma has forgotten to put the salt in.So theyre always ready with the salt shaker .
Boro Mashi was a great cook. She kept herself very far from all domestic procedures which were efficiently handled by the redoubtable Kanan . But she unbent as far as biryani was concerned and her biryani was acclaimed far and wide . The secret was in cooking the meat and rice separately- the meat till it was soft and dry and the rice cooked through . Before serving she would mix the two up in a large handi and voila Mashi's biryani was ready .
No apprehensions about overdone rice and underdone meat .