Tis the season to be jolly fa la la la la la la. Ok, so I don’t celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving, but all the red, green and gold does put me in a very festive mood, and I do celebrate turkey- all year round. Full disclosure: I hate roast turkey. To be fair though, I also loathe roast chicken. I’m someone who likes her birds super tender and super juicy, and I find that to be a rare feat when it comes to roasts. I did want to be a sport and make some turkey, and since it’s a tougher bird than chicken, I knew it had to be a recipe that went well with slow cooking. Lo and behold, but of course- it had to be turkey Nihari!
Nihari, a slow-cooked stew is an indulgent breakfast item and is traditionally made with beef, and especially enjoyable at breakfast time, when the air is extra chilly. The broth is a viscous soup thickened with wheat flour, and is extremely flavorful as the bones and meat slow cook for hours and the broth is also somewhat naturally thickened by the marrow. The rich dish is a breakfast favorite in Pakistan to such an extent that it is often referred to as their National Dish.
I made my turkey Nihari the traditional way: heavily spiced. Once it’s done cooking, it is served with a garnish of julienned ginger, fresh coriander, crispy fried onions, a squeeze of lime, a sprinkle of allspice powder and -if you have the stomach for it- chopped fresh green chilies too. Warm, oven-fresh Naan bread is used to soak up the Nihari and scoop up the meat, and then you lick your fingers clean because it’s just that good.
Now this was my first time making turkey at home, and believe it or not, this was my first time cutting a bird of any sort. I mean, I’ve cut up a chicken breast dozens of times, but that’s about it. This is mainly because I like to eat only lean meat, and end up buying only chicken breasts. Recently, however, I realized that my grandma is right, and that the flavor that comes from the bones can never be replicated by any number of spices, herbs or bouillons. Also, turkey > chicken because it only has 3% body fat.
This wasn’t reason enough for me to feel brave enough to take on a cutting up a turkey on my own though, because (a) I lack the necessary tools and core strength to take a turkey apart and (b) I had no desire to go elbow-deep into it’s cavity and pull out gross giblets. No problem, I had a plan: leave turkey in kitchen sink over night and allow to defrost, then take to the butcher first thing in the morning. Easy peasy, right? Wrong. Mr.Butcher turned me down.
So, with defeated spirits, I returned home, had a low key panic attack and rolled my sleeves up. First off, I was relieved, because the giblets had already been removed from the turkey already (this was a 3600 gram Doux turkey, in case you’re wondering) and kept inside the cavity in neat little packages, in case anyone wanted to use them. This was great, because I actually did want to cook the neck.
An hour and stronger biceps later, we were in business. I used the two turkey legs, thighs, and neck to make my Turkey Nihari that has since become the talk of the town and cause for much excited commotion.
Here’s the recipe for my Turkey Nihari, but you can alter the quantities as per your preferences and how heavily or mildly you want it to be spiced:
Feelin’ Festive with Turkey Nihari
- 2 Turkey legs
- 1 Turkey neck
- 2 Turkey thighs
- Turkey torso (optional, otherwise you can also add turkey stock)
- 3-4 tbs wheat flour (for thickening the soup)
- 1 tsp garlic paste
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 2 pods Black cardamom
- 1/2 tsp Turmeric
- 1 tsp Red chili powder
- 2 tsp Coriander seeds
- 3 Bay leaves
- 1 stick Cinnamon
- 4 pods Cardamom
- 8 Cloves
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/2 tsp Ajwain seeds
- Salt as required.
- Crispy fried onions
- Julienned ginger
- Fresh coriander
- Fresh, chopped green chilies
- Allspice powder
- Toast all the whole spices for a minute in a hot pan, and then grind them to a powder. You could totally just use a Shan Masala Nihari spice mix, and it would work just as fine, really.
- Heat oil in a large pot, and add all the ingredients in, in one go.
- Once you feel that the turkey’s own water has dried up completely and you can clearly see the oil again, then add 3 liters of water.
- Once the water comes to a boil, lower heat to the lowest setting and allow the contents of the pot to simmer for 2-3 hours.
- The meat from the torso should have fallen off and into the broth by now. Remove the bones.
- Mix the wheat flour in 1 cup water, then stir it into the broth. Bring to a boil.
- Taste and adjust salt accordingly.
- Garnish the Turkey Nihari with as much and as many of the garnishes you want. I strongly urge a squeeze of lime and sprinkle of julienned ginger and fried onions at the very least.
- Serve with warm, soft Naan, or -if you want to cut down on refined carbs- go for brown brown pita.
The best thing about Nihari is that is tastes even better the next day, when the meat is practically falling off the bones. The warmth of the spices and depth of the bone broth and marrow makes this dish absolutely perfect for the coldest of winters.