Slow burners: 23 complex classics from around the world

Roasted suckling pig; fiery relish made from patiently stewed peppers; a boozy, macerated fruit dessert made over two seasons. We’ve searched the world and found the best slow burners worth travelling — and waiting — for.

Friday, December 13, 2019,
By National Geographic Traveller Food
The seven-hour lamb, known as a gigot à la cuillère in France.
The seven-hour lamb, known as a gigot à la cuillère in France.
Photograph by David Griffen Photography

France: Seven-hour lamb
The French call it gigot à la cuillère (‘leg of lamb with a spoon’), which tells you just how soft the meat becomes — but to achieve that texture means cooking it for a long time. While the cities of Lyon and Bordeaux also claim this dish as their own, many believe its origins lie in the sheep-filled Auvergne region, where villagers would slow-cook mutton studded with garlic in a pot in the communal oven to get soft meat for their Sunday lunch. These days, lamb leg is the cut of choice, and the dish features on bistro menus (and in homes) across the country. Chef Tom Aikens is a big fan, having encountered the recipe while researching his first cookbook. It’s been a fixture on the winter menu at his Chelsea restaurant, Tom’s Kitchen, since opening in 2006. “You can dry roast it, in which case season well with coarse sea salt and pepper and scatter over plenty of thyme and rosemary, then cook at 110C for approximately eight hours,” he says. “Or, the other thing I do at the restaurant is cook it with garlic and onion, then add balsamic vinegar, as this cuts through all the fattiness and gives it a lovely fresh, zingy taste.”
Where to start: Head to Paris restaurants Le 6 Paul Bert and Benoit. Tom’s Kitchen is a comparable option closer to home. 
Why not try: Navarin of lamb is a more economical slow-cooked French classic — a ragu made with the neck or shoulder of mutton or lamb and vegetables, typically served with peas, mint, leek and fennel. Fiona Sims

India: Laal maas
The first thing you notice about this royal Rajasthani dish is the fiery red chillies — but don’t be deceived into thinking it’s merely a gustatory inferno. The best laal maas uses punchy, aromatic Mathania chillies, which act as a flavourful veil over the meat. Meanwhile, mildly sour kachri powder acts as a tenderising agent, ensuring the slow, charcoal-cooked mutton is perfectly succulent after an hour or two simmering above the flames. With its origins in the parched regions of northwest India, laal maas is free of the pureed tomato often associated with goat curries, instead relying on a delicate balance of spices cooked in an abundance of desi ghee. It’s a rich, sweat-inducing warrior’s plate, best eaten with makki ki roti or rice.
Where to start: Kalinga restaurant at Kalinga Hotel in Jodhpur; Niros and Handi in Jaipur; and Ambrai restaurant at Hotel Amet Haveli in Udaipur. 
Why not try: Junglee maas, the stripped-down cousin of laal maas. Deepti Kapoor

Fish amok, the Cambodian dish served on special occasions.
Photograph by Getty

Cambodia: Fish amok
With its roots in the royal kitchens of the Khmer Empire, amok is Cambodia’s special-occasion dish, painstakingly put together for weddings and other celebrations. It’s essentially a lightly curried fish custard, rendered vibrant with herbs, spices and coconut, and steamed. What makes it a labour of love is the making of kroeung, an ancient curry paste. Its preparation, which involves a heavy pounding of spices, is an aromatic meditation, with notes of lemongrass and turmeric emanating from the pestle and mortar as their oils are broken down. From there, a cooking vessel made from woven banana leaves is lined with noni leaves, which bring a subtle bitter quality. It’s then filled with fish, sometimes eggs, the kroeung paste and coconut milk, and steamed for at least half an hour until wobbly and just set. Amok is light and delicate, topped with shredded lime leaves and perfect with plain white rice. While fish is traditional, it’s sometimes, controversially, substituted for chicken.
Where to start: Amok is available in restaurants all over Cambodia, but it can be quite a different plateful depending on the chef’s background, history and skill. Blenders are used to make catering quantities of paste, so it will never match the amok you might be invited to share in a family home, where a pestle and mortar is traditionally used. The Sugar Palm restaurant in Siem Reap offers a fish amok for $8. Owner Kathana Dunnet says, “If you go to 10 places they will all cook amok differently. Some fry it because it’s quicker, some even put it in the microwave, but I don’t do any of that because it’s not true amok. It should be soft, like a soufflé.”
Why not try: Khmer red curry is another slow-cooked dish made with kroeung curry paste. Beef is often used here, along with vegetables and coconut milk. Audrey Gillan

The house black dahl at Dishoom.
Photograph by Dishoom

India: Black dhal
More than just a split pulse, dhal encompasses dried beans and split peas, as well as thick puree-like stews or soups made from lentils. Each Indian state has its own take on the dish, but what unites all varieties is the trademark earthy creaminess, tempered by fragrant spices. At the decadent end of the dhal spectrum, black dhal (or dhal makhana) is made with whole black urad beans. Naved Nasir is famed for his — the executive chef of London restaurant group Dishoom says it takes him 24 hours to make the perfect iteration of his signature dish, although a simplified version that takes around five hours can be found in the new cookbook Dishoom: From Bombay with Love (£26, Bloomsbury). “If I could eat one thing before I die, it would be this dhal,” declares Nasir. “It’s the first thing I check when entering any Dishoom kitchen. If it’s good, I know they’re taking care of everything.” The recipe has remained the same since Dishoom first launched. “The first step is washing the dhal; underestimate the importance of this stage at your peril. You should wash it until the grains shine like gemstones,” Nasir says. Beyond that, he advises cooking the dhal for as long as possible, adding water when necessary and making sure the grains are completely cooked before adding spices and butter. “When you press them, they should be creamy,” he explains. Finally, stir regularly and watch like a hawk as the mixture begins to thicken. 
Where to start: Excellent Indian restaurants around the world offer this dish, but Dishoom’s black dhal really does live up to the hype. 
Why not try: Tarka daal is richly spiced and wholly comforting — and can be made in under 30 minutes. FS

Dolma (stuffed vine leaves) is a staple dish across Turkey, Greece and the Middle East.
Photograph by Getty

Turkey and Greece: Dolma
From the Turkish word meaning ‘stuffed’, dolma — cigar-shaped rolls of rice-stuffed vine leaves — are tightly packed into a pan and simmered in water or stock until the grains are fat and juicy and the leaves tender. It can take hours to prepare, as hundreds of leaves are carefully stuffed, folded and rolled into neat parcels so as not to spill their precious filling. Both filling and leaf can change from region to region across Turkey and Greece, while variations also crop up in the Middle East and the Balkans. You might find: dried fruit, pine nuts, tomato or finely diced vegetables; minced lamb, beef or pork with cinnamon, paprika, dill, mint, parsley, sumac or cumin. Fillings are encased in vine, chard or fresh or pickled cabbage leaves. The best dolma are those that are tender and almost falling apart thanks to the hot liquid or sauce in which they’re cooked.
Where to start: Try Cretan dolma filled with rice and sheep’s cheese, at Kriti restaurant in Athens.
Why not try: Greek gemista are stuffed tomatoes, aubergine, courgettes or marrow. Malou Herkes

Beef daube, a classic stew dish across France.
Photograph by StockFood

France: Beef daube
The ultimate comfort food for a cold winter’s night, daube is a classic stew that’s cooked all over France, with a recipe that differs between regions. The most famous, daube de boeuf (or beef daube), is from Provence and uses black olives, orange zest and local herbs. The dish is traditionally cooked in an earthenware vessel known as a daubière, which has a concave lid that’s filled with water to keep the dish moist. Add to that the long, slow cooking time — the beef (usually braising steak, or another cheaper cut) is seared then cooked for three to four hours — and the result is meltingly tender meat. Make it a couple of days ahead, then reheat to intensify the flavours. And to serve? Macaronade (a flat macaroni-like pasta) or mashed potatoes. Finish with a persillade of finely chopped parsley, garlic, anchovies and lemon zest.
Where to start: Head to Dominique Le Stanc’s no-reservation bistro La Merenda, in Nice. The former chef of Le Chantecler is keeping things simple at this locals’ favourite — not least with his wonderfully aromatic daube. 
Why not try: Try daube d’Avignon, which uses shoulder of lamb or mutton instead of beef, and white wine instead of red. FS

Italy: Ragu
Ribbons of egg tagliatelle rippling into a shallow bowl; a deep brown sauce, opaque, thick and almost creamy-looking; a tangle of slow-cooked meats, studded with nubs of sweet carrot; a drift of parmesan. A proper ragu, as served in Bologna, Northern Italy, and in the kitchens of anyone with a nonna from Emilia-Romagna, doesn’t look much like the common bright red spaghetti sauce. In Bologna, it’s never served with spaghetti or packets of mince, but with hand-diced beef, maybe pork, and a little pancetta; the carrots, onion and celery — no garlic — are cooked in butter and oil, and it contains just a hint of tomato paste (ragu alla bolognese has a longer history than tomatoes in Italy.) Whether you use red wine or white depends on what you happen to have open or, perhaps, whereabouts in Bologna you come from. The ragu needs to cook for hours until the meat falls apart. And to achieve that silky opacity? A dash of milk or cream. This is a dish that’s moved from castle table to peasant’s table and back again in its centuries-long history. The earliest, poorest versions would’ve been stews, without pasta; the first published recipe, from 1891, when Bologna had long been wealthy and famous for its food, includes porcini mushrooms, chicken livers and truffles. No wonder the city’s 600-year-old nickname is La Grassa (‘the fat one’).  
Where to Start: Ragu is found across the region of Emilia-Romagna. Trattoria da Amerigo has been serving ragu ever since it opened in 1934, in the hills 18 miles outside Bologna. Little has changed, and today the grandson of the founders still runs the kitchen. Meanwhile, in the UK, try Padella or Trullo in London.
Why not try:: Ragu alla napoletano, a tomato-based sauce in which big hunks of meat simmer for hours, speckled with herbs and garlic. Rebecca Seal

Russia: Pelmeni 
Siberia’s signature dumpling, the pelmeni, originally entered the region via China thanks to the Mongolian settlers. These tiny round morsels, stuffed with a blend of minced pork and beef, are consumed with a generous chunk of butter, black pepper and soured cream, or in their own richly flavoured cooking broth with plenty of black pepper. The preparation of pelmeni is a real ritual. The procedure is rather lengthy, but it is often turned into a soulful family affair where several generations gather at the kitchen table to roll out the dough, prepare the filling and hand-make hundreds of tiny dumplings. Heartfelt conversations and songs often accompany this process, and the best part is the finale — a bowl of steaming pelmeni served to each person.
Where to start: If you are travelling through some of the major Siberian cities, try some pelmeni at Lugovskaya Sloboda in Omsk.
Why not try: Ukrainian vareniki dumplings — half-moon shaped stuffed dumplings. Alissa Timoshkina

France: Braised beef cheeks in wine
Brits have legendary French chef Pierre Koffmann to thank for introducing us to this dish. Back in the 1970s, when he first put it on the menu of his restaurant La Tante Claire in London’s Chelsea, beef cheeks (or ox cheeks) were hard to find. But this simple, rustic family dish is far more common today. “It’s a poor man’s cut of meat,” explains Koffman. “But when they’re cooked slowly and gently, beef cheeks are transformed. The chewy muscles break down and become so soft the meat melts in your mouth.” Beef cheeks are gelatinous, but this is nothing that four hours of slow cooking can’t sort out ­— and they’re outrageously flavourful. Marinate in red wine for a few days (or at least a few hours) in the fridge, before searing in oil and transferring to a pot with celery, onion, carrot and garlic. That’s it. Then leave it to languish in the oven before serving with a celeriac and horseradish puree and some greens.
Where to start: These days, Koffmann can now be found at Koffmann’s & Mr White’s at the Abbey Hotel in Bath, where braised beef cheeks are a permanent fixture on the menu.
Why not try: Pot-au-feu is another braised winter dish popular in France. While the choice of ingredients is left largely up to the cook, it’s essentially an all-in-one root vegetable stew with beef shin or chicken. FS

 

Massaman curry, a Thai dish worth making from scratch.
Photograph by StockFood

Thailand: Massaman curry
Thai cooks and chefs have a reputation for absorbing outside influences and transforming them into something new — and the popular massaman curry, with its complex, multi-dimensional flavours, is a great example of this. There are conflicting stories about the dish’s origins: one tale says the curry originated from Arabic spice merchants who traded with southern towns along the coasts of Siam and Malaya; another says it was brought to the Ayutthaya kingdom by Sheikh Ahmad Qomi and his brother Muhummad Said in the early 17th century. Certainly, the time involved in its making, as well as its use of expensive dried spices, suggests an aristocratic provenance for the dish. While there are plenty of pre-made massaman pastes available, it’s worth making one from scratch. Grinding the paste and simmering the curry takes time — the goat in the recipe on the left, for example, demands low, slow simmering — but the resulting curry is rich and deeply flavoured, slightly sour on first taste, then evolving in the mouth to reveal a sweet and savoury balance.
Where to start: Baan Ice in Bangkok.
Why not try: In Chiang Mai, hunt down a curry called ‘gaeng heng lay’, a rich aromatic dish made with pork belly. Kay Plunkett-Hogge

Cawl, a comforting soup of lamb and vegetables.
Photograph by Getty

Wales: Cawl
Warming, nourishing and exactly that type of thing you’d want after a wet stomp in the Welsh mountains, cawl is a comforting soup of lamb and vegetables that has its roots in the thrifty open-fire cooking of medieval farmhouse kitchens. Welsh lamb is now considered the meat of choice. But, as with most traditional slow-cooking, this dish was a way for cooks to make the most of any cheap cut that was available, such as lamb neck, beef or bacon, simmering it for several hours in water until meltingly tender, creating a rich, salty broth in the process. In the past, when cultivated vegetables were unavailable during the spring hunger gap, wild plants like nettle and savory leaves were foraged and thrown into the pot. These days, cawl tends to include potato, turnip, carrot, swede and leek, roughly cut and added in stages as the meat cooks. It’s left to sit overnight to let the flavours intensify, then reheated over the following days to be eaten with a scattering of parsley and a hunk of bread, butter and caerphilly or cheddar cheese. The thriftiest of cooks used to take out the meat and vegetables to use in another dish, serving it up as a clear broth — but thankfully you can find many examples of lamb-rich cawl in cafes and restaurants all over Wales.
Where to start: Begin in Carmarthen where the home-cooked menu at Pantri Blakeman cafe champions hearty Welsh cooking and a truly traditional cawl. Madame Fromage in Cardiff is known for its hefty portions, bulked out with plenty of tender lamb and served with hunks of crusty bread. For a riff on tradition, Ynyshir is the acclaimed Michelin-starred guesthouse in mid Wales that makes its own fine-dining version, enriched with locally procured ingredients from fermented mussels to pork back fat.
Why not try: Lobscaws, a sailors’ stew of beef, potatoes and vegetables.

Portugal: Carne con vinha d’alhos
This stew is found in various forms all over the world, but the oldest recipes come from the Azores and Madeira, where the tangy pork dish is tenderised for at least three days in wine, vinegar, garlic and spices, then either braised in its marinade, slow-roasted or cooked over coals. The technique is simple and the long cooking time heightens the end result of meltingly tender meat with sweet-yet-sharp flavours running through its juices. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Portuguese traders took their recipes around the globe; when they reached Goa in the early 1500s, they taught their cooks to make vinegars from palm wine. With added chillies, the dish and its name were corrupted into what we now call vindaloo. However, a closer cousin to carne con vinha d’alhos can be found in the Caribbean, the Phillipines and the Americas, where it’s known as pickled pork or garlic pork. 
Where to start: Try the sandwich version at Casa do Bolo do Caco in Funchal, Madeira.
Why not try: Bacalhau à brás, made with salt cod, onions, potatoes and scrambled eggs. RS

Germany: Rheinischer sauerbraten
Sauerbraten (literally ‘sour roast’) is a slow-cooked meat dish found all over Germany, with regional differences in both its ingredients and accompaniments. In the Rhineland, a roughly defined area in the west of the country along the river Rhine, rheinischer sauerbraten is traditionally made with horse meat, although these days you’re more likely to find it with beef. An inexpensive cut such as beef brisket is marinated for a minimum of two days — but ideally up to five or six — in red wine, vinegar, peppercorns, juniper berries, allspice and bay leaves, and needs to be turned regularly so that it tenderises evenly. The meat is then browned all over in a pan before being braised in its marinade along with chopped vegetables, stewed apple, sugar beet syrup and crumbled lebkuchen biscuits. After a couple of hours of slow, gentle cooking, the sauce is strained and mixed with chopped apple and raisins, sour cream and perhaps a handful of flaked almonds, then served over the thickly sliced meat with potato dumplings, apple puree and stewed red cabbage on the side.
Where to start: Max Stark in Cologne is a cool, quaint pub that serves excellent kölsch beer from the local Päffgen brewery and is well known for its rheinischer sauerbraten made with horse.
Why not try: Himmel und Erde, meaning ‘heaven and earth’, is another popular dish in the Rhineland. It consists of mashed potatoes (from the earth) and apple puree (from the sky), and is often served with black pudding and fried onions. Christie Dietz

Tinga de pollo, meaning 'scolding of the chicken', is a Mexican dish from Puebla.
Photograph by StockFood

Mexico: Tinga de pollo
Hailing from Puebla, a city in east-central Mexico, this dish’s name translates as ‘the scolding of the chicken’, which does it a great disservice. In truth, the chicken is slowly poached — ideally whole, with herbs — then de-boned and shredded, while a sauce is made with chipotle chillies, onion, garlic, oregano and roasted tomatoes and tomatillos. A little of the chicken’s rich broth is then added to the pan, before it’s brought to a simmer and slowly reduced to a juicy, sweet, smoky, almost sticky sauce that clings to the strands of meat (you can also add nubs of browned chorizo right at the end, or make it with pork instead of chicken). The mixture is finally piled onto tacos or tostadas, with the gentle warmth of the chipotles tempered by a handful of toppings like diced avocado, raw onion, crumbled white cheese, crema and a brightening squeeze of lime. 
Where to start: As long as you’re ready to order quickly, and eat equally quickly, then hit Tostadas de Coyoacán in Mexico City’s Coyoacán Market. The counter will be piled with different tostada toppings — ceviche, seafood, stews and tinga — so try as many as you can. You’ll need the energy to navigate the market’s higgledy-piggledy maze of businesses afterwards. 
Why not try: Mexican carnitas are made with slow-braised pork, which is then shredded. Also wonderful on tacos, carnitas are elevated to something really quite extraordinary when they’re topped with curls of bright pink, pickled red onions. RS

Portugal: Roast suckling pig
Nobody does roast suckling pig quite like the Portuguese — particularly in the town of Mealhada in the Bairrada region. Situated between mountainous Dão and the surf-washed Atlantic beaches, this small town is swamped by Portuguese families who come to feast on leitão assado da Bairrada, the best suckling pig in the country. Basted until the flesh is creamy and the skin achieves a glassy crunch, it’s served with chips, salad and a local sparkling red. Yes, the region is famous for its wines too, and its fizz is the perfect match for the rich, tender flesh. Dozens of restaurants line the streets into town, but the most famous is Pedro Dos Leitões, opened in 1949 by Alvaro Pedro, who is credited with kick-starting the trend. Closer to home, St John restaurant in London’s Clerkenwell shares the roast suckling pig crown. Its chef and owner Fergus Henderson has made great pork dishes his business — and nose-to-tail eating fashionable around the globe. And if you call ahead, there’s always roast suckling pig on the menu. Want to roast a suckling pig at home? Henderson advises cooking it low and slow to get the best flavours: “Make sure your pig is full of something to seal and catch all the juices. At St John we stuff our pigs with bread, onions, garlic and red wine. But there is also the fennel-twigs and garlic theory: that the twigs hold the pig’s structure very well and impart a wonderful lightness and fragrance to the meat. Rub oil or lard into the pig’s skin, as if it were Ambre Solaire on a friend’s back, and cook it slowly for a whole day, or at least an afternoon. If it is ready sooner then it will sit happily and retain its heat for a good hour or so. But most importantly, make sure your oven is big enough. There is nothing sadder than a glistening stuffed piglet with nowhere to go.”
Where to start: Fly to Porto then drive south for an hour to reach Mealhada and take your pick of restaurants. Or book a suckling pig feast at St John restaurant in London with up to 22 friends.
Why not try: Can’t fit a small pig in your oven? Slow-cook a shoulder of pork instead, first in a hot oven to set the crackling, then on a low heat for a few hours until melt-in-the-mouth tender. FS

Germany: Rumtopf
Rumtopf (‘rum pot’) is a German dessert prepared in spring and summer, but eaten in winter. Its name comes from the lidded stoneware container into which firm, ripe fruit is added as it comes into season, starting with strawberries and continuing with cherries, plums and any other fruit that takes your fancy. White sugar is added, plus enough rum to keep the fruit covered while it preserves. The rumtopf is kept in a cool, dark place and, once the last of the fruit has been added, it’s left to macerate for a final few weeks. The sweet, alcoholic fruit is served with anything from vanilla ice cream to a slice of baked cheesecake.
Where to start: If you’re to find rumtopf in a restaurant, it will likely be in a traditional tavern — however it’s generally a project undertaken at home.
Why not try: Bratapfel, a baked apple stuffed with nuts, raisins and marzipan, and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. It’s particularly popular at Christmas and is generally served with vanilla custard. CD

Ajvar, a thick, spicy and sweet red pepper relish, popular in the Balkans.
Photograph by StockFood

Balkans: Ajvar
Spicy, sweet and thick, ajvar — pronounced ay-var — is a red pepper relish found in the Balkans. It appears everywhere from Serbia and Croatia to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Bulgaria as both a condiment and a spread, dolloped next to grilled or roasted meats, squished into the kofte-style ćevapi bap, smeared over white bread or eaten with pickles and cheese. The end of summer signals ajvar-making season, when rural households across the peninsula rush to preserve their sweet red peppers. Large steaming vats of boiling water are installed onto makeshift stoves and the day-long process begins as both sweet and spicy peppers are blanched, then cooled and minced into a vivid puree. Sometimes, onion, garlic, peppercorns and roasted aubergines are added to the mix before it’s all re-cooked over the fire for a whole afternoon. Families and neighbours gather to take part, sharing conversation and shots of homemade rakia — Balkan brandy — while taking turns to continuously stir the bubbling red liquid. Every so often, the ajvar is tasted, disputed over and adjusted before the finished relish is spooned into jars and stored for the year ahead.
Where to start: To get a taste of the real thing, traditional homestays and restaurants are the places to go: start in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, at the Zavičaj restaurant chain, where you can try it alongside grilled meats; or head to Mikan for ajvar with warm home-baked bread. In Split, Croatia, go to Kantun Paulina for a ćevapi kebab topped with onions and ajvar, and squashed into a pillowy homemade bun.
Why not try: Pindjur is similar to ajvar but with the addition of tomato. It’s cooked down into a chunkier, thicker relish that is more dip than spread. Both are readily available in supermarkets around the Balkans but quality varies widely. MH

Russia: Solyanka
It might not have exported as well as borscht, but solyanka is one of Russia’s oldest and most popular soups. It’s first mentioned in the famous Domostroi book — a sort of a household bible published in the 16th century that offered guidance on how to manage a home. The soup is characterised by a rich meat or fish broth, an abundance of spices and a powerful tang of brined vegetables — so it’s astonishing that it was looked down upon as a food of the ‘simple people’ (it’s thought that the dish’s name derives from the Russian word for ‘village’). Over the years, new ingredients were added to strengthen that inimitable tangy flavour, including lemons and olives, and for a long time solyanka has been enjoyed widely by all, often as a hangover cure. The key to a good solyanka is its broth, which is slow-cooked with an array of aromatics, onion and carrot as well as fish or meat bones. The sour, smoky soup is served very hot with a generous garnish of fresh parsley and dill. You can stop here, as you are in for a treat already, or you can take your gastronomic experience up a level by adding an icy shot of vodka before enjoying your first spoonful.
Where to start: Russian homes and traditional restaurants.
Why not try: Borscht, the sour, distinctively bright beetroot soup.

 

Baked Alaska — ice cream shrouded in ripples of caramelised meringue.
Photograph by StockFood

USA: Baked Alaska
Although the name almost certainly relates to the USA’s 1867 purchase from Russia of the land that was later to become the 49th state, this dish wasn’t actually invented to mark the occasion. Instead, we owe thanks to scientist Benjamin Thompson for this confection of ice cream shrouded in ripples of caramelised meringue, magically baked without the interior melting. At the beginning of the 19th century, Thompson, an American who fled to London after the Civil War, was trying to understand thermal conductivity when he discovered that whipped, foamy egg white was really bad at it. The bubbles insulate ice cream from the heat of an oven — a technique subsequently adopted by pastry chefs the world over. The dish was known as omelette norvégienne or, occasionally, omelette sibérienne, until the late 1800s. An authentic attempt means making the ice cream yourself, then piling it onto a freshly made sponge base before wrapping it up in a blanket of homemade meringue; there’ll be plenty of stops and starts for chilling and refreezing before it’s briskly baked (blow-torching looks pretty, but leaves raw meringue inside). 
Where to start: Delmonico’s restaurant in New York — one of the earliest to attach ‘Alaska’ to the dish — published a recipe for it in 1890, calling it Alaska, Florida. You can still get it there, as originally served, with banana ice cream and a walnut sponge. In the UK, a good version can be found at The Ivy, in London’s Covent Garden, where it’s served as a dish for two, with griotte cherries. 
Why not try: A pavlova takes almost as long to make but with less sub-zero high drama; a deliberately dishevelled Eton mess is even better if food styling isn’t your forte.

Patient puddings: three to try

Portugal: Pasteis de nata
Making proper Portuguese custard tarts can easily swallow up a whole weekend, as it involves a laminated dough similar to puff pastry, plus oodles of butter — both endlessly rolled and chilled over a number of hours while you try and make the perfect custard. It’s worth it, though.
Where to start: The tarts at Manteigairia in Lisbon, Portugal, have just the right balance of crisp layers of buttery pastry to jiggly, super-sweet custard. 

Goa: Bebinca
There are many tales of the origin of this dish, and several similar, multilayered desserts found in Northern and Eastern Europe — so chances are the technique travelled to Goa in a ship’s kitchen. Made from layers of a coconut milk and egg batter, cooked sequentially on top of each other, it appears striped when cut into wedges. Seven layers is regarded as the minimum; set aside up to 12 hours if you’re going for 18.
Where to start: Fabs Bebinca in Goa, India.

Middle East: Baklava
Although quicker to prepare than bebinca, making these sticky little morsels of pastry, butter, syrup and crushed nuts is still complicated. Most of the trickiness is down to the multiple sheets of papery, fragile pastry required to make the crackly layers (ideally proper yufka, but filo will do), which is easy to tear and will dry out quickly if not liberally doused in melted butter. 
Where to start: You’ll find great versions anywhere with a good-sized Turkish community, such as north London’s Green Lanes neighbourhood. RS 

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