As the old cliché goes, ‘The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’. But, why such a sexist statement? What about women who undeniably show that way? So my friend let us begin exploring a miniscule drop in the vast ocean of gastronomy.
Please take note that I am not a firm advocate of health food and hence there will be no mention of calories. Instead, there will be loads of sinful ingredients since my idol is the beautiful English lady and the queen of food porn, Nigella Lawson.
Having said so, please be cautious and avoid any ingredient to which you may be allergic.
Hence, ignoring all the rhetoric above let me share a few of my deconstructed and self-developed fusions. Yes, you heard it right- Recipes………..
Piquant Hilsa with Hot & Sour Mango Pickle Drip
This is an Indian delicacy known as Bhapa Ilish (Steamed Hilsa) from the eastern state of Bengal but has its roots in the present day Bangladesh. Any Bengali worth his name drools at the very sight of this expensive silvery fish to be bought fresh and firm. In this recipe, I have deconstructed the classical one and infused it with some other ingredients to provide an alternate dimension.
Consistency- Semi thick
Colour- Orangish yellow
Texture- Soft & flaky
Flavour- Mildly piquant and moderately pungent
|For First Marination|
|For Second Marination|
|Black Mustard Seeds||Tsp||3|
|Green Chillies- Slit||Nos||4-5|
|Hot & Sour Mango Pickle Pulp||Tsp||1.5|
|Mango Pickle Oil||Tbsp||1|
|Water||Mentioned in step by step|
Step by Step
- Clean and descale Hilsa (pic-1 from left) and cut into Tronçon* pieces (pic-2 from left) or Indian Curry Cut of about 3/4 inch thickness. If you wish to avoid the mess, ask your local fishmonger to do so.
- Pat dry fish and marinate with salt and turmeric powder and keep aside for 10 minutes.
- Grind mustard seeds with one piece of green chilli and a pinch of salt with 1/2 tbsp of water. The consistency should be thick paste.
- Prepare a marinade with mustard paste (you can reduce the quantity of mustard paste if you prefer a lighter version), the remaining slit green chillies, one tablespoon of mustard oil, hot & sour mango pickle pulp (pic-3 from left-above) and masala (please do not put mango pieces), mango pickle oil drained out from the pickle bottle and half tablespoon of water.
- Marinate the cut pieces of fish with the above, adjust seasoning and keep aside in a steel or aluminum vessel at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
- While the fish gets marinated, take water in a wok or a bain marie and bring it to boil on high heat.
- Reduce flame to low heat and put the vessel containing marinated fish in the simmering water after covering and sealing the top with silver foil. Please take note that after dipping the vessel, the level of water should not reach more than half the height of the walls of the vessel.
- Let it cook in the steam generated by the simmering water for about 20 minutes.
- Remove from heat and cool it for about 5 minutes.
- Remove the silver foil and drizzle on top with half a tablespoon of raw mustard oil. You can avoid this step if you prefer it less pungent.
Serve hot with steaming Basmati rice.
Chefs Never Tell
- Tronçon*- Cut on bones of any flat fish.
- Hilsa is very soft and delicate and full of flavour. So, handle carefully. Hilsa without roes gives the best results. The supreme varieties of Hilsa come from Bangladesh and West Bengal in India and are irreplaceable. If you use Shad…….. God help you!!
- If you prefer to have the fish boneless, go ahead and do so. You can use Goujon cut of Cod or Sea bass (pic below).
- If you wish to store fish inside the freezer, to be cooked later, never wash the fish before freezing. It kills the flavour. Wash it after you thaw at room temperature and to be cooked immediately afterwards.
- Mustard oil must be of premium quality and should have pungency.
- Always grind mustard seeds with a little bit of salt and/or a green chilli. Otherwise it could get bitter. After grinding, the texture should be coarse and not smooth to avoid bitterness.
- Quantity of water required for steaming should be just enough to cover not more than half the walls of the cooking vessel. Too much; and it will seep through and too less; it can evaporate completely and what is inside may get charred.
Shrimp Cocktail with Scallions and Gherkins
Shrimp or Prawn Cocktail is an appetizer born in the UK and extremely popular in the US and all the Commonwealth countries. It was the most prevalent hors d’œuvre (starter) in Great Britain and the USA from the 1960s to 1980s. There are two variants of the recipe of Cocktail Sauce, the British one (also called Marie Rose Sauce) and the US version. I shall stick to the British version which I find more subtle and sophisticated and shall add some of my own twist. The base sauce for the British recipe is Mayonnaise. I always prefer fresh home-made Mayo than the proprietary brands available in the market.
Consistency- Thick sauce base
Texture- Crunchy and velvety
Flavour- Mildly piquant with a hint of sweetness and overall umami flavour
Course- Hors d’œuvre
|For Marie Rose Sauce|
|Free Range Eggs||Nos||2|
|Extra Virgin Olive Oil*||ml||175|
|White Pepper Powder||To taste|
|Tomato Ketchup (Heinz)||Tsp||1.5|
|Poached Shrimps 21-25*||gm||500|
|Water with 1.5 tsp of salt||ml||600|
|Shredded Iceberg Lettuce||gm||40|
Step by Step
Marie Rose Sauce
- Break eggs and separate the yolks from whites. Slide in the yolks into a glass bowl.
- To the yolks, add vinegar, salt, white pepper powder and mustard powder and mix well. I do not prefer sugar to be added for mayonnaise although the same has been mentioned in the video below.
- Take extra virgin olive oil in a separate bowl or a cup.
- Now add olive oil to the above mixture with a teaspoon and whisk vigorously with an egg whisk or fork. Please note that initially the oil should be poured very slowly to form a uniform emulsion. Later after pouring in about 3-4 spoonsful of oil you can increase the pace and quantity.
- Keep blending oil with the emulsion till it reaches the right smoothness and consistency. The right consistency can be checked by scooping out a spoonful of the sauce and letting it drop back from a height of one foot. If it doesn’t drop but forms a downward peak from the spoon, it has reached the optimal consistency. This is the base Mayonnaise Sauce (refer to the video below; only for demonstrative purpose).
- Slowly blend in tomato ketchup, lime juice, Worcestershire Sauce and Tabasco with the mayonnaise and adjust seasoning. Your sauce is ready.
- Cover the bowl with a cling wrap and keep inside the fridge for the sauce to cool down to about 8˚C.
- While the sauce is cooling down, take water in a vessel and add salt. Bring it to boil.
- Meanwhile, shell the shrimps keeping the tails intact, devein and clean. You can skip this process if you purchase already cleaned and deveined shrimps.
- Put the raw shrimps in boiling water, reduce heat to simmer and poach them for about 45 seconds to 1 minute.
- Take out the poached shrimps from water and immediately shock by putting them in an ice-bath. This process stops the cooking process and helps maintain a crunchy outside yet soft texture inside the shrimps. Please take care that the shrimps do not get overcooked. Overcooked shrimps and prawns become hard and chewy and lose flavour completely.
- When the shrimps reach room temperature, leave whole 4-5 shrimps with tails on and cut the remaining into half inch dices after removing their tails.
- Fold in diced shrimps, chopped scallions and chopped gherkins with the cooled cocktail sauce.
- Shred Iceberg Lettuce. Keep aside about 40gms for garnishing and with the remaining, line the bases of 4-5 Martini Glasses or Cocktail Glasses.
- Fill the glasses with Shrimp Cocktail.
- Garnish each glass with shredded lettuce on top and line the rim of each glass with one lemon wedge and one whole shrimp with tail facing outward.
- Again put inside the fridge for about one hour.
Serve chilled with garlic toast.
Chefs Never Tell
- While using eggs in any form, never use an aluminum or iron vessel because the two chemically react with sulphur present in eggs and make them green. Also, excess aluminum is detrimental to health.
- While preparing Mayonnaise Sauce, pour the first 3-4 spoons of oil very slowly and gently. Later the pace can be increased. The reason being, if you do not pour oil gently to start with, the whole emulsion would curdle beyond repair.
- *Extra virgin olive oil can also be substituted by any refined oil which doesn’t have any smell.
- *Shrimps 21-25- This indicates the size of the shrimps/prawns, that is 21-25 pieces of shrimps per pound which is 44-55 pieces per Kg (refer to the pic below).
- *Worcestershire Sauce is easily available in the market which in short is also known as W-Sauce/Wooster Sauce/Lea & Perrins (L.P.- a brand) Sauce.
- Shrimps/prawns get cooked very easily and fast. Hence, never overcook. Overcooked shrimps become rubbery in texture and lose all flavour. Ideally, after cooking, the texture should be crunchy to bite with soft flesh inside.
- Never use tomato ketchup which is very sweet. It should be mildly tangy with a hint of sweetness. I always use Heinz.
Oeuf Pochés Florentine
This can be literally translated in English as Poached Eggs Florentine. The classic French recipe is made with Béchamel Sauce but I would use Mornay Sauce which is a derivative of the mother sauce, Béchamel. Eggs Florentine, though being a classical French dish, can satisfy any palate. You can improvise with innumerable fusions according to your taste and preference. But don’t forget; it comes with loads of calories. So, let me go straight into the recipe.
Consistency- Thick runny
Colour- Green base with white topping
Texture- Smooth top with crunchy base
Flavour- Buttery and slightly astringent taste
|For the Base|
|Onions- chopped||gm||100 (2 middle size)|
|White Pepper Powder||To Taste|
|For Mornay Sauce|
|Black Pepper- crushed||gm||4|
|For Assembly & Finishing|
|Free Range Eggs||No.||4|
Step by Step
- Wash baby spinach thoroughly and chop.
- Heat the pan and melt butter in it. Be careful with the butter since it tends to brown and get burnt very quickly.
- Add chopped onion and sauté over low heat.
- When the onions turn translucent, add minced garlic and sauté till the raw smell of garlic vanishes.
- Add chopped spinach after draining out the water and sauté on medium heat. Let it cook stirring constantly.
- When the liquid from the spinach separates and dries up, adjust seasoning with salt and white pepper powder.
- Remove from heat and arrange it in a layer like a bed covering the base of an oven resistant vessel.
- Heat pan and add butter. Melt it and wait till it just starts to form froth.
- Reduce heat to low and add refined flour stirring constantly.
- After some time, a sandy texture will form (refer to pic-1 below). Do not let it turn golden or brown by cooking further. This sandy mixture is called ‘roux blanc’ in French. Simply put, it is white roux.
- Now add milk to the roux and continue stirring. Please note that the milk should be cold or at least at room temperature when you add it to the hot roux. The reason for the same is provided in ‘Chefs Never Tell’ below.
- Add onion cloute* (refer to pic-2 below) to this and bring it to boil. Break any lumps which may form and don’t stop stirring.
- Gradually, the sauce will become thick. When the sauce reaches the right consistency, it should evenly coat the back of a spoon.
- Pass the sauce through a strainer to discard onion cloute and any lumps that may have formed. This is Béchamel (also known as White Sauce) which is the mother sauce.
- Now add grated Gruyere cheese (refer to pic-3 below) and stir well to melt it and dissolve in the hot sauce.
- Adjust seasoning and remove from heat.
- Add lime juice, mix thoroughly.
- Sprinkle grated nutmeg on the sauce.
Your Mornay Sauce is ready.
Assembly and Finishing
- Take water in a stock pot, add vinegar and bring it to boil.
- Reduce heat to low and poach* eggs one each at a time. A faint white film formed on the top of the yolk indicates the correct consistency, that is, the yolk is no longer runny but still in a liquid form.
- Take out the poached eggs from water by straining through a perforated ladle and place neatly on the bed of sautéed spinach.
- Now cover it with Mornay Sauce leaving thin gaps such that parts of the poached eggs and spinach bed are visible. This gives the dish a beautiful colour contrast compelling you and your guests to salivate.
- Heat salamander* and put the container under the heat for about 5-7 minutes. When you take it out, there should be a nice and tempting intermittent brown crust on top.
Serve warm with slices of French Baguette or Ciabattta. Alternately, you can serve with any bread or pasta or just have as it is.
Chefs Never Tell
- You can replace baby spinach with ordinary spinach. But then, you need to blanch the spinach and then chop and follow the process.
- Always be careful with butter since it tends to get burnt very easily.
- Onion cloute*- Cut one medium onion in half and pin a bay leaf by spearing it with one clove on the flat surface of the cut onion.
- Gruyère – It is a hard yellow Swiss cheese which is quite expensive. You can replace with Cheddar or any other kind of processed cheese but it will not produce the same flavour but still will be good enough.
- While preparing Béchamel, always remember there must be significant temperature difference between the white roux and milk. Hence, it should either be cold milk to hot white roux or vice versa. Otherwise the end product will produce too many lumps which cannot be undone, will be too thin in consistency and the final yield will be very less.
- *While poaching eggs, bring the water mixed with a little vinegar to a vigorous boil and then reduce heat to simmer such that the water maintains boiling temperature but does not roll. If it rolls, the eggs will end up all broken into small threads and pieces. Break each egg carefully keeping the yolk intact. Slide each egg very gently into the simmering water one at a time. When done, strain it out of the water with a perforated ladle. Also, take note that salt should never be added in the water while poaching eggs.
- If you don’t have a salamander, you can use an OTG or a microwave oven in ‘grill’ mode.
Well; what are you waiting for? Invite your friends right away and show off your cooking skills. Lay the table, play a Jazz, pour a glass of Bordeaux White and float in bliss with your food and drinks!!
Hope, you liked the recipes of Part-I. Put on your apron and start cooking for your dear ones.
Please do not forget to leave your comment and opinion. Your words are my greatest motivation.
Many more to come.
Credits: Varun Inamdar