Foods with a basic instinct

“What is your fondest memory of food?” executive chef James Reppuhn of JW Marriott asks me. An image of a cold, comforting plate of curd rice my mother fed me as a child flashes before my eyes. Did my mouth just water? “Home food,” I say, nervously. “Exactly. That’s what people remember. When I go home, I never step into the kitchen. I want to eat what my mother makes. Classic, simple dishes never go out of style. Chefs all over the world are realising that now,” says Reppuhn.

According to food blogger Saee Koranne-Khandekar, grilling, steaming, sauteeing and stir-frying are really catching on, while baking and braising seem to have taken a backseat. “There was a phase in India, when a lot of heavy international foods, like those belonging to Mediterranean cuisine, entered restaurant kitchens. Chefs were focusing on serving, rich, flavour-laden foods. Now, the focus is on fresh produce, one-flavour ingredients, and simplified techniques,” she feels.

“Even five-stars are toning down their use of elaborate techniques and complex flavour combinations. Recently, I dined at an Italian restaurant. The menu carried almost no heavy sauces, but chose to focus instead on locally available, fresh ingredients. Each dish showed off just a few star elements as opposed to adding 10 fancy ingredients to each recipe,” she recalls.

According to food critic Rashmi Uday Singh, one of the surest indicators of the fact that globally, restaurants are moving towards simpler cooking styles and flavours, comes from The London-based World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards (LWBRA). “They are no longer focusing on molecular gastronomy, which refers to experimental restaurant cooking driven by the desire of modern cooks to explore the world’s wide variety of ingredients, tools and techniques,” she says.

“While molecular gastronomy expert Ferran Adrias of El Bulli has been voted the world’s best four times in a row in the past, for the past three years, it has been Rene Redzepis of Noma, who has focuses on foraging in the backyard and using local produce,” says Singh, who is also the LWBRA chairperson for the Indian subcontinent.

Tawa Masala Fish
Executive Sous chef Rohit Sangwan of Masala Bay at Taj Land’s End, Bandra, realised that a less spicy fish gravy made of tomatoes, freshly crushed peppercorns and burnt garlic brings out each flavour, enhancing the fish. Usually, the fish is marinated with lots of lemon, ginger-garlic, spices and red chilli and then grilled on a tawa without gravy.

Executive Sous chef Rohit Sangwan of Masala Bay

This results in a preparation where a chunk of fish is coated in a heavy dose of masala. Since it is eaten with raw onions, green chutney and fresh lime, this eventually kills the delicate flavour of the fish. “Simplified cooking is when we pick up one or two dominant flavours and fresh ingredients and cook food by using them. Indian food is traditionally made up of a combination of different flavours, ingredients and complex procedures, and sometimes the complex combinations confuse our palate,” says Sangwan.

Tawa Masala Fish

250g basa fish
100ml olive oil
10g whole jeera
5g chilli
50g onion
60g capsicum
40g ginger
10g fresh green chilli
15g coriander
500g tomato
2 pinch Kasoori methi
20g cashewnut
Salt to taste
1 dash lemon juice
2g turmeric
Leeks to garnish

For gravy
>> In a pot, add olive oil, ginger garlic paste, chilli powder, roughly cut tomatoes and let it cook for 20 minutes
>> Add cashew nuts. Cook for five minutes, puree until it becomes a fine paste
>> Strain and reserve

For fish:
>> Cut basa fillet into 1-inch dices
>> Marinate with salt and lime juice
>> On a tawa, to a few drops of olive oil, add jeera seeds and chopped garlic. Cook till it is brown, add chopped ginger and chilli, crushed peppercorn and sauté
>> Add fish into the mixture and sauté further
>> Cover and let it cook in its own steam
>> Add diced onion and capsicum, sauté and add the gravy
>>Finish with chopped coriander. Garnish with Julienne leeks

Cottage Cheese steak with Mushroom Sauce
Originally made with a basic cream based sauce, cottage cheese steak can be quite bland for the Indian palette. Thus many places tend to prepare the it with a multitude of overpowering flavours such as garlic, onions, basil, thyme, bell peppers and green chillies. “We stick to the original recipe and play with the fundamental ingredients that go into its preparation. We concentrate on the freshness of the cream and oregano, which are great accompaniments to the mushroom and help enhance its flavour beautifully,” says Head chef Uttam Dutta of Temperance Deli.

Chef Uttam Dutta of Temperance prepares a Deli Cottage Cheese steak with Mushroom Sauce. Pics/Atul Kamble

200g grated cottage cheese
Fresh basil, finely chopped
Fresh oregano, finely chopped
Plain flour
Fresh cream
Fresh, sliced mushrooms

For the patty
>> Mix ingredients into a ball. Flatten and grill at 180 °C for five minutes

For the gravy
>> Heat pan on medium flame, add cream and stir till smooth
>> Add mushrooms, oregano and salt to taste, and simmer on a low flame for two minutes
>> Smear generously on patty. Serve with tossed vegetables and baked potatoes

Herbed Roast Chicken
While revamping the menu of JW Marriott’s café, Bombay Baking Company, Executive chef James Reppuhn wanted to simplify the dishes. “Simple dishes that are not complicated in taste are what customers prefer. I included a Herbed Roast Chicken, which is a basic roast dish with stuffing,” he says.

Chef James Reppuhn prepares a Herbed Roast Chicken. Pics/Atul Kamble

500g corn-fed chicken
45g bacon (diced, optional)
120g button mushrooms
45g cocktail onions
60ml red wine sauce (optional)
60g butter, unsalted
3g shallots, sautéed, cooled
2g parsley
2g thyme
3g rosemary
7ml olive oil

>> Mix butter, herbs and shallots together
>> Lift skin of breast and rub in some of the butter mixture
>> Rub the remaining butter on the entire outside of the chicken
>> Set oven temperature to 200c and roast for 20 minutes
>> While the chicken is roasting, place a pan on the stove. Once the pan is hot, add olive oil
>> Render bacon in the pan, add mushrooms and cocktail onions, and stir until light brown
>> Remove chicken, place along with the mushroom mixture and serve

Paneer makhani
Paneer Makhani gravy is usually made by cutting tomatoes, filling them with masalas and allowing them to boil for almost three hours. “This method gives the dish an extremely rich taste, and the mix of different flavours blends into one overpowering taste on the palate. Instead, I prepare it in a puree, which helps each ingredient impart an independent flavour,” says Executive chef Rajeev Arora.

Executive chef Rajeev Arora prepares Paneer Makhani with a lighter gravy. Pics/Sunil Tiwari

500g paneer, bite-sized cubes
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tsp canola oil
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
2tsp butter
1tsp lemon juice
1½ tbsp freshly grated ginger root
1½ tbsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp garam masala
1tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
1tsp fenugreek leaves powder (kasoori methi)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cumin
¼ cup low fat cream
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup tomato puree
½ cup nonfat plain yogurt
½ cup water
1 tsp sugar

>> In a bowl, marinate the paneer cubes with ginger, garlic, turmeric and chilli. Add cumin, garam masala and yoghurt and let it rest in the fridge for an hour
>> Spray a non-stick skillet with one tsp oil and sear the paneer cubes. Take the paneer out of the pan and keep it aside
>> Sauté onion in one tsp of canola oil on low heat
>> Add turmeric, Kashmiri chilli and cumin, and sauté for 1 minute, while stirring constantly. Add tomato paste and sauté for another minute
>> Add butter, lemon juice, ginger, garlic, garam masala, fenugreek leaves, salt and sauté for another three minutes, stirring occasionally
>>  Add paneer to the pan and cook for another three minutes.
>> Stir in cream, yoghurt, tomato puree, and water
>> Simmer for 15 minutes
>> Finish with sugar, stir well 

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