Yakhni (Yahni) – Meat cooked in water to a forgotten classic ragout

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WHAT'S SPECIAL

One of the oldest ways of cooking meat was with water as a stew. But what happened to one of the most beloved and widely consumed dishes of Ottoman palaces?

What is Yakhni?

Yakhni refers to the preparation of meat by cooking it in water, dating back to the Middle Ages or even further back. With the addition of vegetables, it makes for a thoroughly delicious experience.

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The origins

This manner of cooking meat was popular in the Middle East, and the influence of Iranian foods on Ottoman cuisine is undeniable. The cookbooks and notes of the palace kitchens were very particular about the preparation of yakhni. The water added should not be so much as to become a soup, but not too little as to burn the meat dish, a method calling for expertise. Like with işkembe çorbası, or tripe soup, there were specialty shops that only sold this dish. While tripe soup was indeed the most popular, numbering 300 shops in the 17th century recorded by Evliya Çelebi in his travelogue “Seyahatname,” there were as many as 100 yakhni shops listed in Istanbul.
It is said that this specialization was the key factor to the haute cuisine of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of many new dishes. One example is the 17th century statesman Defterdarzade Mehmed Pasha, who, when travelling on state business, would have 40 cooks with him, each one specialized in a certain dish, including one for yakhni. These cooks were told not to do any kind of work that would make a mess of their completely white garments, such as saddling the horses. They were reprimanded if the dish was not up to par and rewarded if they come up with something new and tasty.
Aside from meat, chickpeas were also featured in the dish, and due to the Iranian influence it came to include fruits and nuts, giving it a sweet taste. By the 18th century the trend had changed and fruits and nuts were no longer featured. A 19th century cookbook by Mehmet Kamil listed a total of 14 classic yakhnis and two versions of “istofado.” Coming from the Italian “stufata,” it is similar to yakhni but not quite, pointing to the slow emergence of new vegetables and cuisines in the classic Ottoman era.

Etymology

Yahni comes from the Persian “yaχnī” and remains unchanged to this day in Turkish. Depending on what kind of yakhni is being prepared, the name of the meat is added before yahni. For example, “Tavuk yahnisi” meaning chicken yakhni.
The Greek “stifado” stems from the Italian “stufata,” which itself comes from the Medieval Latin “stupha,” meaning to stew.

Yahni - meat cooked in water to a forgotten classic ragout

Lamb was the most prominent meat in this dish in Ottoman kitchens, but a combination with chicken is mentioned just as much. Combining meats is entirely up to you. Here is a classic beef version.

Ingredients

  • 800 gr beef, cut into cubes
  • 400 gr shallots
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper

Instructions

  • Sauté the meat with the olive oil until it releases its juices. Fill the pot with water until the meat is covered and let cook without closing the lid. Add water if needed until the meat has softened. Add tomato paste, vinegar, salt, pepper and a bay leaf and stir until fully incorporated. Peel shallots and garlic cloves and add them whole. Pour enough water so that the whole mix is covered completely and let it cook until the garlic and shallots have softened. Serve hot with the sauce.

Notes

Bibliography

(1) Marianna Yerasimos, “500 Yıllık Osmanlı Mutfağı”, 2002
(2) Marianna Yerasimos “17. Yüzyılda İstanbul Sokaklarında Satılan Yiyecekler ve İçecekler; Dükkanlar ve Seyyarlar”, 2020
(3) Priscilla Mary Işın, “Bountiful Empire: A History of Ottoman Cuisine”, 2018
Course: Main Course
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