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While making biryani I find a lot of hype surrounding the "dum" cooking process. This involves:

  • Pre-cooking the meat and rice separately.
  • Mixing them together at the last minute into a container
  • Sealing the container with dough or some other way to set a "dum".

Basially putting the rice + meat in a sealed container over low heat. This restricts and concentrates the steam within the container which is supposed to "enhance" the taste.

While this technique has been practiced for centuries in Biryani making, I find myself wondering if it truly makes a significant difference in the final outcome or if it is merely a tradition upheld without any questioning.

To delve deeper into this topic, I would appreciate insights into the following aspects:

Taste: Are there any discernible differences in the taste of dum-cooked dishes compared to using conventional methods? If so, what contributes to these flavor variations? Are there specific ingredients or cooking conditions that interact uniquely in the dum process, resulting in distinct flavors?

Texture: Does the dum cooking process have a noticeable impact on the texture of the prepared food? Are the textures altered in a way that cannot be replicated through alternative cooking methods? How do factors such as heat, pressure, and moisture play a role in determining the final texture?

Scientific rationale: Are there any scientific explanations for the success and prevalence of the dum cooking method? Can the slow, sealed cooking process be justified in terms of its effects on taste, texture, or other culinary aspects? Alternatively, is it possible that the dum method has persisted primarily due to cultural or historical reasons, without any inherent benefits?

I am eager to learn whether the dum cooking process is supported by empirical evidence or if it falls under the realm of culinary traditions that continue despite a lack of scientific justification. Please provide any relevant observations, experiments, or explanations to shed light on this intriguing cooking technique.

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  • 1
    Why not test this yourself? It feels like a fun weekend experiment.
    – FuzzyChef
    May 28, 2023 at 18:30
  • @FuzzyChef I don't think there's anything wrong if I try to collaborate with other chefs and post a question here. Do you have a problem if I post a question here?
    – Mugen
    Jun 20, 2023 at 14:32
  • I'm pointing out that you're more likely to find the answer you want by experimenting yourself. The lack of answers to this question kinda bear that out.
    – FuzzyChef
    Jun 20, 2023 at 17:08
  • @Mugen dang bro they're not telling you off for posting lol, plus it is fun to cook and find out Jul 18, 2023 at 8:49
  • I don’t have exact experience with this, but low and slow protein cooking is common in lots of cultures for really tender meat (hence the prevalence of slow cookers and stewing in general) Giving rice a chance to finish by steaming is also common in japanese cooking. Even if it does improve taste or texture, that may be a secondary consideration; it’s original intent may have been to save fuel, reduce the risk of ruining (burning or overcooking) the food, or simply to shift time (do more of the work earlier, then have time to make fresh roti as you get near the meal time)
    – Joe
    Oct 28, 2023 at 13:15

2 Answers 2

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I can’t say with any certainty, but similar aspects of the cooking techniques exist in other cultures.

Packing stews or braises into pots sealed with dough is also practiced in Alpine regions. Wives would then drop the pots off at the town baker so the meal would cook in the cooling ovens while they did their washing or other tasks that would keep them from being able to tend to a cooking fire.

Some regions of Italy will finish cooking pasta in the sauce to let it take on more flavor; many places cook rice with other stuff to let the flavors permeate (pilaf/plov/pilau/paella), but those typically start with uncooked rice.

Starting starches at high heat then finishing by steaming is typical with Japanese rice, and with some cultures that eat couscous.

It’s honestly difficult to say if the technique was originally to improve texture or taste; this technique may have done that, or it may be that after the technique was developed, ingredients were altered to stuff that particularly took well to this treatment (or didn’t work so well with others). It’s also important to note that meat varies by animal breed and method raised, so today’s meat might be more tender than what the recipe was original developed with.

So the question comes— is the extra work worth it to you? And for that, you’ll have to try cooking it with shortcuts, and decide if the time savings result in an acceptable dish. I personally make lots of non-traditional variations of food that I grew up with, because I know that much of the food that I grew up with expected there to be someone home all day to do the cooking, and it’s a choice between not having it or having a shortcut version.

And there may have been other aspects of the technique that weren’t specifically taste or texture… if you didn’t know when the whole family would get home, switching to slow cooking allowed you to hold the meal to serve as soon as everyone returned. It also freed up your time to work on other accompanying dishes that needed to be prepared at the last minute.

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Rice 1/4 cooked and meat 3/4 cooked before starting the dum process. Dum completes the cooking process by steaming which makes rice and meat melt in mouth and keeping it from drying out.

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