The recipe I am posting today is probably one of the weirdest since the beginning of our adventure.
We’re going to Mongolia for an authentic Mongolian barbecue called khorkhog or xорхог in native language. Real Mongolian barbecue has nothing to do with the Taiwanese invention from the 1950s. Indeed, Mongolian barbecue as we know it and as it is served by many restaurants worldwide is anything but Mongolian! It is akin more to the Japanese art of teppanyaki made famous by restaurant chains like Benihana in the United States.
Which brings us to real Mongolian barbecue (AOC), the one I propose you to discover. Khorkhog is a recipe created by nomads which is not really available in cities. Khorkhog is a dish that is never served in restaurants, even in Ulaanbaatar. What is special about this dish is that it is cooked with… stones! Yes, and you can imagine that this was a first for me. I’m not talking about cooking on stones or coal, or cooked in a stone oven, but cooking with stones.
Mongolians traditionally use a milk jug to cook their khorkhog. The metal container is large enough and allows cooking under enough pressure to create steam. I personally used a pressure cooker that I have not pressurized. It was the first time I used my pressure cooker on my barbecue and I scared my whole family with this handmade bomb. I must say that even after 10 years together, my wife still does not understand that I only have the look of a terrorist…
Did you know that Mongolia was the second largest landlocked country in the world. The largest is Kazakhstan. Mongolia is three times larger than France, but only has 3 million residents, of which nearly 50% live in the urban area of the capital Ulaanbaatar.
But back to our khorkhog. The particularity of this dish is that it is cooked with stones. When I started thinking about the preparation of khorkhog two weeks ago, I wondered where I was going to find stones. We are fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of parks here in Los Angeles but I needed a lot of stones of the same size. Never mind, I went to Lowe’s and got myself a bag of 50 lbs of stones (I’ll have to find another game to use the other 45 lbs…)
Finally, a recipe that rocks!
The stones are traditionally heated over the coals for at least an hour. At this time, the meat and the vegetables are layered alternately with the blazing rocks. The meat actually starts to cook in the container in contact with these stones. I have to say I could smell the beautiful aroma of lamb coming from the pan after just a few seconds. Khorkhog is more a technique than a recipe and there is therefore no single recipe for this traditional dish. Vegetables that are typically used include potato, carrot, onion and cabbage. Few spices also beside salt and pepper. I used caraway which I saw in a few recipes.
It is interesting to note that the stones are served with this dish. Khorkhog is usually eaten without cutlery but just with the fingers. Also, these stones are traditionally tossed from guest to guest and it is a tradition to rub them in your hands. It is said that cooking these stones in contact with the fat of the meat gives them healing effects. Maybe it is true as I have been feeling great for the past few days!
The kids loved the concept of serving the meal with stones and they could not stop laughing about it. They also loved the dish, as did my wife Anne, probably because she tends to prefer food without too much spices.
An original recipe that is definitely fun to prepare – Rolling Stone Magazine
- 4 lb mutton (or lamb or goat)
- 4 lb vegetables (carrots, onions, cabbage, potatoes cut in large pieces)
- About 20 stones (ideally round and smooth)
- Caraway (to taste)
Heat the stones on the BBQ for at least 30 minutes or until hot.
Place the hot stones, the meat and the spiced vegetables in the pot, pressure cooker or container in layers.
Finish by adding about 1 to 2 cups of water, enough to generate steam during cooking.
Close the container and place it on the BBQ at medium/high heat. The heat of the stones will help to ensure even cooking.
It usually takes at least 2 hours to cook khorkhog but it doesn't hurt to cook longer if necessary.
Khorkhog is served hot with a stone on the side of the plate.