November 11, 2010

Our friends V&V made the big mistake of buying a coal-fired barbecue (or Barbie-cute, as Tara calls it) about a year ago. It was a mistake because V&V are almost entirely vegetarian, and vegetarian + barbecue just doesn’t add up. I know, I know, you get babycorn barbecue and cauliflower barbecue and especially paneer tikka and so on in so many restaurants, but really, honestly, the plain truth is, it doesn’t add up to much. If you want to barbecue, you need meat. And the redder the better.

So V&V offered us the barbecue a couple of weekends ago (actually, they asked us if we knew anyone who wanted it, but that’s tantamount to offering it to us anyway) and we jumped at it. Amit had on-and-off expressed a desire to buy one, now that we have a large terrace upstairs, so it seemed fairly opportune. We took it home that night, rigged it up the  next morning, and marinated the chicken that afternoon. At 6.30, we loaded up some of the coal that V&V had thoughtfully given us, surrounded it with newspaper and dried leaves, dripped some coconut oil (hair oil, actually) on top and threw in a match. Then we waited for it to light.

Now we knew, of course, that the recommended method for lighting coal involves kerosene. But we didn’t happen to have any kerosene at home, and didn’t intend this minor detail to deter us. Besides, kerosene doesn’t smell so good. Any oil should do, we reasoned, as we added some more coconut oil. When the coconut oil had no discernible effect, we switched to cooking oil, dousing the coal liberally with almost half a litre.  The newspaper caught and burned merrily for several minutes, before it died out, spewing ash all over the veranda. The coal remained impassive. I blew on it with gusto and fanned it with a folded newspaper like a mini desert storm, but all to no avail.

By 7.30, after we had burned a distinctly unhealthy (not to mention environmentally-unfriendly) quantity of newspaper and cooking oil without having lit so much as a single piece of coal, I was ready to give up. Amit persevered, however, and eventually a few pieces of coal were made to reluctantly smolder a dull red. It didn’t look like it would toast a slice of bread let alone cook substantial pieces of chicken, but Amit decided to give it a try. We placed two metal racks with holes in them over the smoldering coal and within minutes… every sign of life went out of the fire.

In the end, I stuffed half the marinated chicken into the electric grill and put the other half in the fridge. The kids had got tired of waiting for chicken and gone to bed. We were too tired to eat much anyway. And I had a lung full of newspaper ash. Plus we had a massive damage control operation on our hands now.

Last Saturday, it being the day after Diwali, I made mutton curry and rolled out 20 rotis for lunch. This would normally have been Diwali lunch, had we been able to get everything together in time, which, of course, we hadn’t. Thus fortified, we called S&S home for a barbecue evening. “Bring a bottle,” we told them. Not drinks – we had vodka at home already. What we really needed, to get the evening rolling, was kerosene, of course.

I marinated a kilo of chicken and waited for the guests and the kerosene to arrive. Again, we started at 6.30, putting the same coal (which I had meticulously picked out of the ashes and stored in a plastic bag) back in the grill and sprinkling a capful of kerosene over it. We left S in charge of the barbecue and in less than half an hour, the coal was burning a cheerful red, the flames had died down and the kerosene fumes were gone. We placed the chicken pieces on top and twenty minutes later, we were wolfing them down faster than they could cook. It was delicious.

In fact, it was so delicious that one kilo of chicken went short and we had to raid the freezer and resort to putting first chicken sausages and later fish cutlets over the coal. And there was hardly any ash to clean up the next morning.

Morals of the story:

  • Life’s good when you have friends like V&V to give away stuff they don’t need.
  • And friends like S&S who bring the kerosene and the technical know-how to light coal.
  • And vodka – which might or might not have helped to get the coal going, but most certainly acted as an appetite-enhancer.
  • And a four-day weekend in which to put it all together (and then to sleep it all off)!

Pity this happy combination of circumstances doesn’t happen more often.

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