Travelers to Uyghur cultural zones of Xinjiang will be familiar with the Uyghur staple flatbread (aka nan) and its many uses at the table. It is served alongside tea, dried fruits and nuts for breakfast and afternoon tea. At kawap (kebab) and laghman (pulled noodle) restaurants, nan is often served as a plate for the intensely seasoned bites of meat.
It is also served in restaurants in another way, as a base sponge for a savory stew. The bread is generally cut into triangles before a stew is dumped on top. In the US This might strike us as odd perhaps only because it otherwise closely resembles pizza, and as a pizza it would be difficult to pull out a slice with stew on top. Despite that, the combination really works. The coal or wood-fire bread is often baked with onion, and the smokiness and onion add a beautiful dimension to the stew. Additionally, Uyghur nan are generally made from much stiffer doughs (than say, a pizza dough). The consistency is closer to that of a bagel, with around 60% hydration. This helps it stay together, even under a stew.
The climate of the Tarim Basin is very dry. Breads tend to completely dry out not long after being baked. Culturally and historically speaking this has an important advantage. Dry bread basically lasts forever. Just add tea/soup/stew. That is likely closer to how this sort of presentation evolved as a bread-under-stew. In any case, the bread adds attractive texture and flavor components, and there is an added benefit of a dramatic presentation. This is something you should experience–it might change your concept of “bread bowl”.
Recipe: Uyghur-style chicken qoruma over nan نان-توخۇ قورۇمىسى
As was previously mentioned, In arid climates nan can dry out fairly quickly after baking. In cases of further cooking in Uyghur households, this is not a problem at all as the bread readily welcomes broth/tea/stew. Personally, I’ve been getting a lot better at baking nan at home, and I am getting closer to a “tonur”-style nan (see here for a past post relating to that oven) by using a combination of a baking steel and my broiler. Although my bread recipe has evolved since last year to a stiffer dough, my past post on nan and stew has several key bits of information for those interested in baking Uyghur-style nan at home.
This is a simple qoruma-style stew. My recipe is built largely on one from Mexmetjan Rozi’s 2007 cookbook in the “Uyghur food and drink culture series” Toxu goshi qorumiliri (chicken roasts and stirfrys) from Xinjiang People’s Press.
1. Chop up the chicken, bones, skin and all. Trim skin and fat if you need to. Coarsely chop ginger, chiles, and leek.
2. Start frying the chicken pieces in a pot, pan, or wok. Toss in leek, ginger, chile, star anise, and cassia bark. Season with salt, soy sauce, white pepper.
3. Add water to cover. Boil until chicken is cooked and tender. If you use a tougher bird like the one above, you’ll need to boil for a lot longer.
4. Chop about 1/2 a cup of cilantro to include at the end of cooking.
5. Cut nan into triangle pieces and ladle stew over the top.