The Dhungar Method Is All You Need For Deliciously Smoky Chicken

Smoke is often something you don't want in the kitchen, a sign that you turned the burner up too high or totally forgot that thing in the oven. But in a carefully controlled environment, smoke becomes a magical force of flavor. Smoking meat is a joy if you can do it, but let's be honest here; many of us don't have a smoker sitting in our backyard. Heck, a lot of us don't even have a backyard.

But just because you're lacking outdoor space, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a deliciously smoky meal of your own. As Leela Punyaratabandhu notes in Epicurious, you can do so right on the stovetop, thanks to a South Asian technique known as the dhungar method. It's different from hot smoking (the technique primarily used for barbecue) because it does not actually cook things. It doesn't get hot enough for that, but it does infuse your food with that nice smoky flavor we love. So, let's run through the basic steps of the dhungar method right now using chicken as an example, though it's far from the only option.

How the dhungar method works

To cook with the dhungar method, you only need four things: a lidded pot (a Dutch oven is perfect here), a piece of natural hardwood lump charcoal, some ghee, and a small bowl made of metal or glass. Now, remember that this method doesn't call for a high enough heat to cook anything, so you need to precook your chicken, which can really be done in any way that you like. Once it is fully cooked and rested, transfer the bird to your pot and place the small bowl on top of it. Now comes the fun part.

Light the piece charcoal with a blowtorch, paraffin starter, or the most common option, the open flame of your stove. Hold the coal with a pair of tongs to avoid disaster, get it fully ignited, and let it burn until white ash appears on the surface. Now drop the coal into the small bowl and spoon a small amount of the ghee on top of it. This will immediately generate thick white smoke. You want to trap that inside the pot, so put the lid on quickly. Let the chicken hang out in there for a few minutes, depending on how smoky you want it. Some recipes call for a mere five minutes while others go as long as 10-15 minutes. Remove the lid, and you're ready to serve.

The dhungar method's versatility

The dhungar method works with pretty much any food you want a smoky flavor from, although it is traditionally a part of South Asian cuisines such as Indian and Thai foods. It is commonly used to make dal as well as gravies and curries. It's also a great option with vegetables, which is highly recommended simply for the fact that smoked vegetables don't show up in many other cuisines, so you might experience a kind of flavor you never have before. Potatoes, paneer, Brussels sprouts, broccoli — the possibilities are endless.

The dhungar method is also versatile in its execution. You don't strictly need a small metal or glass bowl to do it, as there is an alternate method that could even add a new dimension to the flavor of the smoke. Instead of the bowl, take a large onion, peel it, and hollow out the center. Now proceed with the dhungar method just as you would if you were using glass or metal and delight in the aroma of coal-charred allium.