There’s something extra special about the flavour that gets imparted into food when it’s cooked over charcoal. Smoky, rich, and deep, but also let’s be honest, a laborious thing to reproduce at home.
On a recent episode of the series Jimmy Shu’s Taste of the Territory, Syrian refugee and home cook, Nadem Turkia, showed Shu how to impart the deep flavour of the charcoal grill into her kabsa using just a small piece of charcoal, a little vegetable oil and a piece of foil.
To find out exactly how much this technique would change the flavour of a dish I decided to try it out with a quick roast vegetable pilaf. It worked so well that my household ended up eating it as a second lunch.
Now, I’m daydreaming of trying it with tandoori chicken or baked beans, though I think the surface area of the fluffy pilaf helped to impart flavour.
How to make a smoky charcoal pilaf
Turn a small gas burner on high and place your charcoal over the flame. Leave this for a few minutes til you see it burning red hot.
Meanwhile, take a square of foil and fold it into a little cup, ensuring there are no cracks that oil could leak from. Pour a small dash of vegetable oil into the bottom of the cup.
Next, make sure you have the dish to be smoked ready, and in a vessel with a tight-fitting lid.
Grab the hot coal with tongs and place it into the foil cup. It will begin to smoke almost immediately so work fast and pop it on top of your cooked dish then cover it with a lid or some foil.
Stand for about 10 minutes or until the coal has stopped smoking. If your dish can take it, rest even longer for more intense flavour.
Once you’re done just discard the little foil packet. What you should be left with is a light, smoky charcoal depth. Not too strong, but enough to change the entire dish.
A word of warning, burning charcoal in unventilated areas can pose a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, so to be safe, make sure you open a window or door when handling the hot charcoal.
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