All That’s Wrong with Well-Done Meat


All That’s Wrong with Well-Done Meat

Illustration: Shivali Devalkar

“Boss, this chicken is raw, cook it more. Are you trying to kill me or what?” The voice came from beyond a bejewelled black t-shirt, bedecked with bling, teamed with a hat turned backward and a beer in hand. Classic couture for the not-so-classy asshole.

The douche that occupied this outfit shoved a half-chewed chicken drumstick in my face as he commanded me to cook a beautifully cooked piece of meat beyond edible limits – into something that tasted remotely of chicken with a texture as dry as sawdust and as tough as a child with dyscalculia being taught long division.

This was my first catering gig and I needed the cash. So the urge to drop kick him in the face and explain the nuances of a properly cooked, juicy piece of poultry to his corpse was overshadowed by the need to not fuck this up.

I took the piece back to the kitchen, dumped it, shoved another in the oven and cooked it until it was something that would clog up a wood chipper. I watched Il Douche chew on it like a chihuahua on a chew stick. He shot me a thumb’s up from the crowd and yelled, “Bro, perfect.” I smiled and returned the gesture. All the chefs before me, who spent countless hours perfecting the art of cooking poultry turned in their graves, while my culinary degree detonated a suicide vest, taking the medals I’d won for cooking with it.

Slowly, over a period of time, I learnt to adopt what I call the barebones style of cooking… because they’re all that’s left once the cooking is done. Chicken is cooked with a vengeance until it dies twice over; prawns are cooked to a point where their rubbery bodies can serve as makeshift erasers. Fish, be it pristine, fresh, and beautiful or frozen stiffer than the Ice Queen’s dildo, is fried to a point where even the bones get crunchy. Our molars, just like our morals, go into overdrive at the very mention of the word beef… a meat which half the country cooks until chewier than gum, and the other half will lynch you because, “Gau hamari mata, gauraksha humara dharm.”

The goat and the cow gave you milk, the chickens gave you eggs, the bullocks helped plough your fields, while the pigs roamed free, eating detritus and plotting a coup.

A chef I once worked with put it eloquently: “Bhagwan ne canine teeth gaand marane ke liye diya Indian logo ko.” He said this before disgustedly throwing a steak in the microwave when a waiter asked him to redo it not once, but twice, because the diner would rather pay a premium for irradiated overdone beef than a beautiful, juicy, medium-rare steak. Asking a chef for a well-done steak to be better done is guaranteed to get him to commit seppuku.

Why? Why have most of us been raised to believe the only way to eat meat is to cook it until really well done?

The answer is simple. Before we raised animals specifically for meat, our agrarian ancestors raised them for work. The goat and the cow gave you milk, the chickens gave you eggs, the bullocks helped plough your fields, while the pigs roamed free, eating detritus and plotting a coup. These animals were fed everything from kitchen scraps to literal crap, until they were no longer useful. Then they were either sold to the lower castes to be used for food, or slaughtered on a special occasion.

On account of all the work they did, these old animals were more ripped than a Lokhandwala dudebro and tougher than the hide that covered their bones. The only way to make this meat masticable and mellow out the often musty flavour, was to cook it low and slow over a woodfire.

Plus, prior to the dawn of antibiotics, a stomach infection caused by improperly cooked meat or fish could kill you faster than you could say, “Teen guna lagaan”. Therefore, our forebears took no chances and went for broke when it came to cooking meat.

This traditional practice carried on well into the age of animals bred solely for meat and the dawn of pressure cookers, ovens, and gas stoves. It was passed down from generation to generation like a genetic abnormality until our mandibles were conditioned to accept nothing less than totally denatured animal protein, with textures ranging from rubber, to cotton, to cardboard, to sandpaper.

This culinary clusterfuckery stretches way beyond meat. Even humble vegetables are treated just as rough. Simmered for the entire duration of Sasural Simar Ka until the vegetables are just as overdone as the plot twists.

Have we consigned ourselves to a future of dry, unpalatable meat, where any semblance of a juicy, moist interior is viewed as rawness or “kacchapan”? Or maybe I shouldn’t be fighting for the right way to cook meat in a country where the powers-that-be prefer matter over mutton. These days, the right to cook meat itself is the fight we may be fighting.