There is something meditative about sitting huddled around a barbecue and watching food slowly sizzle. Every winter, Punekars start barbecuing with renewed vigour. This year, restaurants are launching barbecue menus and food enthusiasts are seeking the help of grilling experts to elevate the experience at home.
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When Siddharth Banerjee, a musician and actor based in Pune, and his mother wanted to host a group of friends post Diwali, they wanted to do something different. They roped in Sharadchandra Bagde, a grilling expert who runs Marinare, a catering company in Pune, for four consecutive days, to serve meats and veggies straight off the grill. The equipment was set up in Banerjee’s leafy and spacious balcony, that overlooks the hills. Bagde ensured a good mix of veggies and chicken with biryani as the mains. “Instead of ordering in starters that eventually get cold and have to be reheated, the roasted meat was not only tasty, but also hassle-free. Everyone enjoyed and so did we,” says Banerjee.
Winters is a busy time for Bagde who has been organising and setting up barbecues in Pune for nearly nine years. He explains how the meat is marinated for atleast 12 hours before grilling: “We follow a two-step marination process. First, we add curd and a ginger-garlic paste and let the meat sit for about five hours. Then we add the marinade or the rub.” Bagde offers a choice of 36 different rubs, the most popular being an Akhadi masala, made using spices from three regions of Maharashtra— Khandesh, Vidharba and Konkan. Their USP is the Raan Roast Masala made with tandoori masala and a wet paste. First the hind leg of the mutton is roasted with a red masala after which it is slathered with a paste of garlic, ginger and coriander. “Though the process is lengthy and takes about an hour to roast, the slow-cooking makes the meat more flavourful,” says Bagde.
Ajit Goel, founder of Tummy Tussle, a catering company in Pune, has been providing at-home barbecue experiences for seven years. For him it all started with family roast parties that used to be fun and he wanted to replicate the same for others. “We provide two types of setup— Do It Yourself (DIY) and assisted where the entire arrangement along with the grill is provided by our team.” The DIY format comprises salad, cutlery and meats marinated with a selection of marinades— from Chatpata, Green Mango to Thecha Basil. There’s a light-weight portable barbecue apparatus (available for rent) and is popular with trekkers and overnight campers. “The equipment weighs only 1.5 kg and can be hooked to your backpack,” says Goel. He caters all over Maharashtra and gets around 100 enquiries a month, especially in winters. The demand is higher during New Year’s eve when intimate parties are most in demand. “Given Pune’s clement weather, you can have a barbecue party at all times. A small balcony is enough for us to setup the pit,” he says.
Meat and the cuts
“It’s not only the apparatus, the meats and cuts are equally important,” says Jatin Kale, a software professional from Pune, who has been barbecuing since his college days in 2006. “We were a group of nature-loving friends who would set out for a trek every fortnight. Later we would light our own barbecue and enjoy the meats off the grill,” he says. “Back in those days when portable grills were not easily available and pocket money wasn’t enough to buy a good apparatus, a large aluminium vessel with a mesh on top, would serve as a barbecue set,” he adds. “Thinner cuts are better so the meat cooks thoroughly and faster without burning on the outside.” Kale picks chicken legs, wings and breast as his favourite cuts, while basa and chilapi, a fresh water fish, are his speciality. “Fish cooks under two minutes and you need practice to perfect it,” he shares. It is important to spread the coal uniformly under the grill for even heating. Kale places sprigs of rosemary on the top and bottom of the chicken to make it more flavourful and this trick also keeps the meat from burning. While sourcing good meat could be challenging, Kale has found a way. He meticulously explained the specifics of the meats to a butcher in Baner. After days of trial and error, he got the butcher to deliver the right cuts.
Make way for veggies
Barbecuing isn’t limited to meats, vegetables such as zucchini, turnip, broccoli and corn grill well too. “Let’s think beyond potato and paneer. A char-grilled turnip tastes wonderful as it absorbs the flavours of the marinade and pairs well with chicken and mutton,” says Bagde who includes them in his vegetarian menu. Bell pepper, cauliflower and mushrooms are other options.
Divyanshu Mishra, a business development executive, based in Pune, experimented with litti chokha during the lockdown. “We made barbecued litti chokha on several occasions in our balcony. It was an amazing experience for the whole family,” says Mishra.
For some, planning a barbecue is a long-drawn process, but for a few like Kale, it is impromptu. “Pune is a great place for a barbecue. Within a radius of 25-30 kms, you will find open spaces and water bodies. Panshet is an excellent location for camping by the lake and lighting your pit-roast,” he adds.
Leveraging the pleasant weather in Pune, during the months of November and December, the Three Kitchens Restaurant & Bar at Ritz-Carlton, Pune has introduced a barbecue menu as a part of their Sunday brunch. The hotel's director of culinary, Mayyur Tiwari, says, “Some of the dishes include pork spare ribs, mustard and dill marinated John Dory fish steaks, pesto marinated tofu steaks, rosemary marinated grilled vegetables and more.” Other restaurants serving barbecue menus include the Barbeque Ville in Wakad, Barbeque Nation and AB’s-Absolute Barbecues that have multiple outlets in the city and Mad House Grill in Koregaon Park. So before the season runs out, make sure to enjoy the crackle and sizzle of the barbecue.
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