Indian food is a melange of flavours, colours and aromas. Given the same ingredients, every region, community and state has their own unique preparations and styles to wow the palate with delectable food.
Some of these are strikingly similar to that in the west. For example, the method of cooking fish in parchment or ‘en papilote’ is practiced in south India by steaming in banana leaves.
Middle Eastern recipes demand the use of a tajine, a clay, conical shaped earthenware pot, whereas in India, a ‘matka’ (a clay pot) is used.
So let us see some preparations of meat and fish in India, which may find their roots elsewhere, but are unique to the Indian subcontinent in their taste and presentation.
MATKA CHICKEN – Right from the olden days, cooking in clay pots has been a tradition in India. It isn’t just mutton or chicken that’s prepared in earthenware pots, but also items like daal, biryanis and even desserts like kulfi and dairy items such as yogurt. Matka chicken (near Anand in Gujarat) is a stewed chicken curry and has a distinct taste and aroma. Juicier meats cook well in a pot. This method generally requires dahi or yogurt to be used as a souring agent and the base gravy comprises of whole as well as powdered spices and sautéed onions. The magic ingredient, however, is the flavour that the clay pot lends to the dish.
MEEN POLLICHATHU OR MACHCHA PATROPODA – Down south in Kerela, the South Indians use an interesting, easy fish preparation in banana leaves. Here, fish is marinated in spices and coconut oil, wrapped in a banana leaf and then slow cooked in a steamer. It is tied with string and can also be grilled on a tawa. The dish takes on some more complex flavours when shallots are used. Fish is cooked until soft, flaky and fragrant and then served with steamed rice and curry. It is a common recipe along the backwaters of Kerala and the fish most frequently used is the pearl spot fish or karimeen which is abundantly available here. It is believed that wrapping the fish with the masala in the banana leaves makes it juicier and leaves the flavours intact.
KHAD KHARGOSH – Khad Khargosh is a specialty dish prepared by the Rajput clan in summer. Khargosh or rabbit/hare are leaner in the summers and once caught and skinned, the hare is stuffed with rich, Rajasthani spices, wrapped in dough and in layers of cloth soaked in mud. This intricate, cumbersome preparation doesn’t end there. The hare is then cooked in pits dug underground, just like the Bedouins used to cook sheep in the desserts of Arabia. The pit contains charcoal fire and mud and the protein is cooked slowly for a couple of hours.
The smokiness thus contained in the pit penetrates through the flesh of the tiny animal. This wonderful blend of spices and dough makes for an appetizing meal.
The use of these ancient cooking methods is slowly dying out as modern technology and fast-food preparation is the need of the hour. However, the flavours that these cooking methods impart are something that cannot be matched.