The first time chef Harman Sawhney watched meat being cooked in the cavity of a watermelon was back in his village, Firozpur, in Punjab. “I was a child then, and I remember being fascinated by it. At the time, it was common for village folks to use this technique, but now only the traditionalists follow it,” he says.
Long after he left the confines of Firozpur and moved to Mumbai, Sawhney decided to employ the method to cook the meat at the Hoppipola outlets. “I cooked it on charcoal, and the results were impressive,” he says.
The watermelon is cooked for an hour
Cooking in a cocoon
Sawhney says the method is easy and effective as long as you handle the watermelon with care, and ensure the flame is not high. “You first knock off the top of the watermelon and then scoop out the flesh, which can be used for juice. When it’s empty, you add the marinated chicken to it,” he says. The technique is similar to dum cooking, wherein meat and vegetables are cooked over a low flame, and a clay saucer is used as a lid on the top. The lid, here, is sealed with hard paste made of flour and water.
“When you cook chicken in the handi, you leave it on the charcoal for hours. The same way, the watermelon, too, is left on the charcoal for at least an hour,” he says. Sawhney prefers to cook the meat on charcoal because on a gas stove, there are chances of the fruit bursting.
The duration of cooking depends on the meat that’s being cooked. While mutton would take over an hour, seafood like prawns take 20 minutes. “I admit the technique is more time-consuming, but it’s worth the effort, because the meat leaves its juices behind, lending the dish a distinct flavour. Nothing escapes the cocoon.”