Nazakat & Nafasat: The Awesome Twosome In Kebabs

For any connoisseur of food – kebab will always remind them of the famous lines written by poet Ghulam Hamadan Mushafi ‘Sar e atish jo ashk rezaan thaa, kisi aashiq ki thi kabab mein jaan’ (No doubt this kebab has a lover’s mind. Fire and tears together, where else would you find!)

For most of the restaurants in Bhubaneswar ‘Kebab’ means any food threaded on a skewer and grilled. It can also be described as any type of meat, which is grilled, barbecued, cooked in the oven, clay oven, or fried. It can be ground meat patties or sausage-shaped. Most of the time, there is a disintegration of the shape – it might have a lot of gram flour, semolina, or minced gut. Now, it has become a street food, as it requires a grill with some charcoal and a small corner to operate. The spicing is loaded with ginger garlic paste and of course aromatic essence. The common meats are lamb, goat, or chicken. Casual dining restaurant mostly use ready-mix marinade spices thus you have the same taste and aroma – remember KFC and McDonalds the taste do not vary.

Though Bhubaneswar boasts of many Khao Galis with some of the best franchise brands, a good corner with a relishing kebab is difficult. As a foodie and trainer, I am always on the lookout for good food and new cuisines. On a regular routine, a food truck in a non-descriptive area fascinated me – ‘KEBAB BITES’. It had a simple menu: Kebabs Lucknowi style. The word Lucknowi style ringed me on the Awadhi cuisine famous for its “KEBABS”. The outlet had a medium size sigri (India’s favourite form of no-frills, low-tech grilling). Well, to be more precise, it’s more like a tray that has coals at the bottom and little grooves for resting skewers that can hang above the coals, but without touching them. This is straightforward-skewered meat we’re talking about here.

A gentleman, Subrat Dhal, a banker, as I found out, was managing the whole show. He has forayed into this as a passion, which he cherishes (first generation foodprenuer). During our introduction and conversation: without being deterred, he was poking the kebabs into the skewer and scattering the coal in the sigri. The rich meat was covered in dry spices, some rubbed, and some marinated in yogurt. He was making sure the meat was not in direct contact with the ambers so that it retains moisture, shape, and tenderness. Those prepared were served with green chutney – a yogurt mint dressing with onion rings.

The takeaways: Malai Tikka: (meaning bits or pieces) meat marinated in an acidulating ingredient of yogurt with spices, cream, and clarified butter,  threaded into the skewers, and again brushed with butter while being cooked. It was served by tossing it into a bowl with a generous amount of butter. Seekh Kebabs: chicken meat was the base and had the best of spices, retained its shape, and was soft which melted in the mouth. Shami Kebab, which we sampled, was light and airy. The fried disc-shaped meat patties were grounded to the right consistency with the correct ratio of meat, onion, spices, and cooked Bengal Gram aka chana dal.

The showstoppers were Galouti Kebab and Kakori KebabGalouti means soft and the kebabs melted in the mouth due to the long marination in green papaya. Though it is fried in clarified butter, the patties had their shape and the spices retained their flavour and aroma. It takes a master craftsman or Bawarchi to render the best paste. Subrat adds Galouti kebab, as the name implies, is made of very tender meat and is not easy to make. It takes experience to know how much galawat to use. Too little and it doesn’t become tender. Too much, and it disintegrates. It needs just the correct amount of spice to embellish the kabab’s taste and not overpower it. The Kakori Kebab though is a variant of seekh kebab but done with goat meat. These were quickly grilled over hot charcoal and served. Though it was not easy to make, the end result – slightly crispy outside and melting soft inside. This is due to the pounding of the meat and fat for a long time along with grounded spices till a gluey texture is achieved.

Kebab’s Nazakat and Nafasat are best defined here.

For the road:

What goes wrong in Kebab: The use of various mix of vegetables and proteins together – onions, tomatoes, capsicum, etc. that normally disintegrates with stringy cubes of overcooked meat. Have a monochromatic approach. Since everything cooks at various rates, keeping control becomes a difficult task. Use sturdy protein that can stand up to hot, fast grilling without drying out – like using meatier fish, shellfish, and chicken thighs or marbled meats that can stay on the skewer. Clean the debris from the previous grill thus half the contents are stuck to the grates if not cleaned properly. Wipe the skewer with an oil-soaked napkin, which makes the protein slide through or naturally releases with little pressure. Usage of the right kind of rubs and spices since it keeps the exterior of the ingredients dry which is great for searing and colour. If the dependency on the marinade is more it can be tricky, since it may contain ingredients, that may burn and turn the protein brown before done making it acrid when charred. Post-cooking tossing in the sauce or the marinade, gives a good coating and aftertaste.

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