I have heard of Azerbaijan but until last year I did not know where it was. I have to admit a private (yet embarrassing) passion. Eurovision. Yes, that boom-bang-a-banging song contest is a yearly feature on my life. Last year it was held in Azerbaijan and the now clubbing anthem of 2012 ‘Euphoria’ was the winner in the contest held in the capital Baku. That’s all I know about Azerbaijan. Rather, officially it’s the Republic of Azerbaijan. It’s between Eastern Europe and Western Asia with Russia to the North and Iran to the South.
Yup. Easy, the restaurant is called Baku and is a stone through from Divertimenti in Knightsbridge. Chef King Dey meets us and starts to tell us all about Azerbaijani food. It’s about pancakes, soups, stews and breads with meat and poultry, dried fruits, pulses and fresh herbs making up the predominant flavours in the cuisine all washed down with a sweet black tea.
The restaurant is bright and to explain the food I’m shown the menu on an iPad. In my job I have the odd dinner or two out in fancy restaurants, but I have never seen such an innovative approach to the menu before. King explains the flavours and cooking techniques and asks me what I would like to film. I see words in the menu I recognize like Halva but to do this project I really want to get to the heart of the cuisines across the world. He tells me about a dish that he can easily cook for me as he offers me some of the sweet black tea. Piti he calls it. I had never heard of it before and as he explains he’s standing beside a huge pit of hot charcoal. He assembles the ingredients together and simply places them into a small terracotta pot with the lid on top and sets it into the hot charcoal. I’m a bit taken back when he pours more of the tea and says, “it will take 6 hours to cook”, but in true Blue Peter fashion…
We did cheat with this filming; the cooked food was not the one we started cooking. As King opens the terracotta pot to add the saffron the smells emanating are fresh and exotic. One of the ingredients was dried barberries, they looked like dried pomegranate seeds and had a sharp yet aromatic flavour. If this was a British casserole / stew / soup we would most probably just pour it into a bowl and eat it. King however poured it into a pestle and mortar and ground it up slightly before serving.
Watching this native dish to Azerbaijan being cooked it reminded me about the AGA and how fantastically divine casseroles cook in it, the long slow cooks that the AGA Simmering Oven can produce. Place a casserole on to cook in the morning and it will cook slowly and let the flavours infuse all day.
Back to Divertimenti and as I walk through I see no end to the options for terracotta cooking vessels to make the Piti in all shapes and sizes in various colours and patterns. I’ve always heard Divertimenti described as an ‘Aladdin’s cave of cookware’, and dealing with Azerbaijan, we were not that far from Arabia.
To answer a previous question, yes Azerbaijan is near the sea, the land locked Caspian Sea and like the flavours in Piti, it sounds idyllic.
My journey through the world in one city continues.
Restaurant: Baku London
Address: 164-165 Sloane Street, London, SW1X 9QB
A Traditional Azerbaijani Lamb Stew
200g boneless lamb (mutton) shoulder, cut into 2cm cubes
2 peeled chestnuts
½ tsp dried plum
1 tsp dried barberries
1 white onion, peeled and cut in quarters
1 tbsp chickpeas
300ml lamb stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Place all of the ingredients into a 1.5L AGA Casserole except for the saffron, place the lid on top.
- Bring to the boil on the Boiling Plate and then place into the Simmering Oven for 6 hours until tender.
- After cooking, ensure there is liquid still in the casserole. If it’s a little dry, add some more boiling stock. Add saffron.
- To serve, empty the casserole into a pestle and mortar and grind gently to mix. Pour into a serving bowl and enjoy.