Through the smoke screen

Love that piece of succulent smoked meat at a restaurant? Chances are that perfect smokiness is thanks to one of the customised smokers, courtesy the chefs

March 22, 2018 03:52 pm | Updated 03:52 pm IST

Smoked meats are hard to resist: that aroma, the crackling and the moist goodness that flows out of that fillet of meat when it yields to your knife. While restaurants across the country have been smoking meats for a while now, the technique is getting increasingly popular, and sophisticated, much to the delight of customers.

The Boston Butt, Mumbai, works with four customised classic offset smokers, to cater to different types of ingredients, temperatures, and stages. It can smoke 36 kilograms of meat at one go. Apple and mango wood are used, apart from thyme, star anise, cloves and cinnamon. A multi-needle power injector injects brine and a kitchen probe thermometer is employed to monitor internal meat temperature.

Smoking is a slow process and it takes anywhere between two to eight hours for the seafood and meat core to cross over to the safety zone. At The Boston Butt, the chef blast-freezes products before smoking, to lower than -35°C for 15 hours, thus rendering it almost free of all pathogens.

From this smoker comes the pork shoulder that sees 12 to 14 hours for pulled pork. For pulled chicken, the time frame is six to seven hours. And it takes three to four hours for salmon. You also have the South Carolina-style baby back pork ribs done for 11 to 12 hours.

Beyond meat

It’s not all meat. Smoking has been used on a host of vegetarian ingredients as well, and the results bring to the table smoked eggplant bacon, smoked bell peppers in hard shell tacos, smoked asparagus and sweet potato empanadas. Even a smoked mushroom and maple jam.

Fortunate to have access to a backyard in Mumbai, family barbecues are a recurring event for Siddharth Kashyap, founder, chef and partner, The Boston Butt. “My love for flash-grilling and barbecues led me to research and experimentation with the American techniques of low and slow barbecuing. I also travelled to the US, to places famous for their barbecues, to try the food and meet the pit masters. This helped me understand the culture, background and intricacies of the process,” says Kashyap.

Another chef inspired by American smoked meats is Thashvin Muckatira, chef and co-owner, PlanB, Bengaluru. “I lived in the US for about eight years and my job took me to Nashville, where each restaurant claims to have the best barbecue. I did a three-day course in a small town outside Nashville on smoking and curing meats. When we opened seven years ago, we had to incorporate smoked meats on the menu, as it was as American as one can get!” says Muckatira.

A mechanical engineer by qualification, Muckatira made his own smoker. He says, “We used a small set-up for the first year. The demand went up and we built a much larger smoker, which I designed, along with gaskets and sealing material brought in from the US. The current smoker that we use can hold up to 350 kilograms of meat. We use wood from fruit trees for smoking.”

Trial and error is a natural part of the process of getting things right and Chirag Makwana, sous chef, Toast & Tonic, Bengaluru, says that now, two years on, they have mastered the art of smoking meats at the right temperatures. “Our smoking apparatus is a custom-made offset smoker,” explains Makwana, who designed it along with Chef Manu Chandra. “It has a separate drum for the heat source, which then goes to the main chamber where the meats are smoked and exits through the chimney. The smoker has two shelves and approximately 20-30 kilograms of meat can be smoked at a time.”

Meanwhile, the folks at The Smoke Co, Bengaluru, have got a charcuterie going. “The idea for smoking meats came when we tried to make Naga smoked pork and bacon six years ago,” reminisces Gautam Krishnankutty, chef and partner. “Our first smoker was by a local fabricator, using a double-barrel smoker design. Once we perfected our techniques, we invested in an imported smoker from Lang BBQ USA. This can handle about 110 kilograms of meat per smoke.”

A different take

From the fires of this smoker come some classic Southern American-style meats, and the Smoked Bone Marrow is perhaps one of its most unique offerings. The Charcuterie Platter offers choices of home-cured ham, salami, bresaola and tuna, all cured and aged in-house.

In all, chefs seem to have taken to smoking meats in a big way and Kelvin Cheung, corporate chef and consultant, Aallia Hospitality (One Street Over and Bastian), Mumbai, couldn’t agree more, having smoked meats all through his career. “We smoke chicken, pork belly, pork ribs, pork shoulder, salmon, as well as tomatoes and jalapeños for our salsa,” he explains. “This is done in a custom-made water barrel using our own design. We use litchi and mango wood and our smoker holds about 40 kilograms at one go.”

These chefs are not stopping at what they have on the menu right now — from smoking whole ducks to adding on a charcuterie to doing an Indonesian-style suckling pig, there is so much the diner has to look forward to.

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