Experts share their views on this age-old technique for food preservation
In Northeastern cuisine, various methods of smoking and salting meat are used for preservation
Smoking, an age-old technique for food preservation, particularly for meat, dates back to the discovery of fire. Indian cuisine has embraced this method for centuries, employing either charcoal smoke or flame smoke from wood chips. An example is the dhungar technique in Awadhi cuisine, where burning charcoal is placed in the centre of the meat before cooking, imparting a distinct rustic flavour to the dish.
In Northeastern cuisine, various methods of smoking and salting meat are used for preservation, such as Nagaland’s Smoked Pork and the Garos’ smoked meaty delights in Meghalaya. These traditional practices involve smoking the meat and then fermenting it underground, resulting in a unique and preserved culinary experience. “If smoking is done at the right temperature, not only does it increase the shelf life of meat being used but also enhances the taste of food,” says chef Inam Khan, the barbecue king of Hyderabad. “For example, I smoke my BBQ meats with a mix of hickory wood chips cinnamon, a combination of rosemary and dry rose petals, and a combination of saffron and oud wood chips. It helps the meat to develop a distinct and unique flavour,” he adds.
Despite being an age-old technique, smoking has resurfaced in modern kitchens, thanks to its popularity and the ethnic outlook it gives to food being prepared. However, it involves a lot of practice and attention to detail as to what temperature needs to be used for what kind of meat. “Smoking food is an art. If it is done in a professional fashion, it definitely adds up to taste, texture and helps in the preservation of food. The general purpose of smoking especially meats is to preserve and bring out a subtle flavour of the ingredients added during smoking.” says Chef Inam.
South Indian cuisine is also not devoid of such interesting processes. “In the south, for example in Rayalaseema, smoking is infused in food to make food tastier and healthier. This method of cooking also preserves food for a longer time,” says food expert Rajeswari Puthalapattu. “Especially meat. Meat is marinated and burnt over a woodfire to let it cook in its own juices. This is similar to making tikkas. Bongulo chicken of Vishakhapatnam also involves smoke-infused meat preparation where the marinated meat is cooked in its own juices lacing the flavours of bamboo over a fire. Goat legs are burnt and preserved to be used later for Paya preparation,” she adds.
Rajeswari explains that the ‘Pattu’ style of cooking in the old days involved a slow cooking method over a wood fire, where meat was preserved by burning and marinating with salt and turmeric. “Heating or burning the meat or seafood kills bacteria, which helps in increasing its shelf life. The process of smoke cooking has an antimicrobial quality. This process helps the outer surface of the meat dry faster and reduces moisture, protecting it from bacteria,” she says. Of course, non-vegetarian food is not the only segment of culinary art that retains this technique, a number of curries and chutneys also deploy smoking as a method. “Coconut, onion, dry red chilli/green chilli, brinjal, and tomato are all roasted on fire where it holds the smoky flavour within and then it’s either used to make chutney or ‘pachi pulusu’” concludes Rajeswari.