Hay cooking is an ancient technique that has its origins in the villages of Goa. Primarily an outdoor procedure, it involves wrapping the ingredients in a banana leaf, or silver foil, and putting it under a bundle of hay and setting the bundle on fire. The method is employed especially while cooking sardines, a popular sea food choice in Goa, and mackerel, crab, lobster, prawns and vegetables like cauliflower, mushroom and baby potato. In contemporary times, hay cooking has turned into a fun outdoor activity, typical to hiking camps. But, as chef Rohan D'Souza of Juhu restobar, Estella, says, the method can be tweaked for the indoors as well.
"The ingredient needs to be well-insulated, so that they don't char easy since cooking with hay means cooking with naked fire. When it is well insulated, the texture is retained and the flavour from the hay seeps in," he says. It was during a fishing trip in Goa, in the backwaters, that he first stumbled on the method. "The feel of cooking fresh fish by the backwaters with hay, inspired me to try this method," he says. Typically, it takes an average cooking time of 15 minutes on high flame and then 10 minutes after the flames die down. "Once the flame goes down, the contents within bake in the heat of the ashes."
He takes us through the steps when trying hay cooking at home:
1) You can use a barbecue machine for this. Instead of coal or woodchips, use dry hay, which is easily available in the market.
2) Wrap the marinated ingredient you wish to char in an insulated material such as silver foil or banana leaves.
3) Stack a pile of hay at the bottom of the machine, add the wrapped ingredients and cover on top with another stack of hay.
4) Light it up and as the hay starts to burn, keep adding more hay periodically, depending on how intense the flames are.
5) About 10 minutes into the process, as the flames start dying out, cover the contents with the lid of the machine, so that the cooking continues in the heat. This helps retain the smokiness.
6) Remove the wrap, open and serve.
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