The weekend project – Sous-vide and Indian style lamb chops

August 26, 2012 1 comment

Well, I hadn’t made Lamb in a while nor I had used my sous-vide cooker lately.  When I came across a lovely dish of Lamb Chops made Indian style by @AmritaRana and the possibility of improvizing sous-vide style with Indian cooking, it seemed worthy of a weekend project.



This dish has the heft of onions and tomatoes gravy, flavor of ginger and garlic and aromatics of bay leaf, whole peppers and garam masala. I used a dash of sriracha in my marinade to add a little extra punch. Typical Indian meat cooking process has two stages; marination and stewing. I introduced sous-vide cooking between the two to have evenly cooked lamb infused with marinade flavors without running the risk of marinade burning and tasting like charcoal. Cook Lamb medium, 60 degree C for 2 hours, and bring it back to the stewing process with rest of the onion and tomato gravy to finish it off. For the gravy, basics are to use onions, tomoatoes, ginger, garlic and chilles. There is a fair amount of leeway, especially in dry spices, for individual cooks to work with. I used bay leaf and whole peppers but star anise, cinnamon and aniseed would compliment this dish as well.  

Cheers and happy cooking!

Categories: Cooking Tags: , , ,

Big Night (1996) – A movie with a big stomach

August 1, 2012 Leave a comment

I never liked Tony Shalhoub (recently of TV series Monk fame) and his brand of social awkwardness gets to me. With that kind of baggage, a movie where Mr Shalhoub co-stars, had to have something to get me hooked. Even if the movie that we are talking about is a cult movie in certain circles where a new ramen joint is mentioned in hushed tones and snorting cheesecakes is not uncommon. 

The director has taken a simple plot of two brothers, Tony’s character as the chef and Stanley Tucci’s character as the Maitre ‘d, trying to make their restaurant a success and woven in complexities of life and business in it. What makes the movie work is one phenomenal dinner sequence and the insight on the basic struggle between originality and popularity in restaurant business.

In the dinner sequence, it’s simply joyous to see Tony Shalhoub’s character enjoying the sight of his guests loving his food. The risotto course with Italian colors and the fabulous Il Timpano course, a drum shaped stuffed pasta, are worth waiting for. In the end, beauty of this movie lies in battle between Tony’s and Stanley’s characters. It’s a choice between originality and popularity, between being Spielberg or Bergman. Pascal, their villainous and well to do neighbouring restaurant owner, brings the insight home to be true to one’s character.

Big Night is a heart-warming and stomach-pleasing watch.

Categories: Exploring Tags: , ,

BeliEats reviews Eleven Madison Park: A dash of Davis to shake up the old guard

July 29, 2012 6 comments

“Needs a little Miles Davis”, observed Moira Hodgson, restaurant critic of the New York Observer, on her review of Eleven Madison Park. Whatever Ms Hodgson meant by it, the feedback was taken literally by partners Daniel Humm and Will Guidera and they came up with a list of 11 words describing Davis and hung it on their kitchen wall. Some of these included cool, endless reinvention, inspired, forward-moving, fresh, collaborative, spontaneous, vibrant, adventurous, light and innovative. Five years later and the restaurant has not only bagged three Michelin stars but is also ranked among top 10 in the world today.

The story of how the team rebuilt a restaurant is as fascinating as what they serve. I decided to hear some Miles Davis on the way home from EMP and the word that came to mind ‘panache’. There is a lazy sensuality in Miles Davis’s compositions that EMP has extended to its service and its fare. Davis was also known for being at the forefront of Jazz innovation and stylistic development for over five decades. Not a bad role model for any restaurant or business to have!

In other departments, EMP has each table attended to by more than one server. The result? Carefully choreographed service with an appearance of delightful spontaneity. The lengthy printed menu has been replaced a chic 4×4 grid just listing ingredients. The dishes are modernist with light sauces, local ingredients and varied cooking techniques. Consider the Nova Scotia Lobster tail poached with zucchni, avocado, and mint. The dish had the creaminess of poached lobster balanced by crunch of Amaranth, freshness of zucchini flower and mint, added creaminess of avocado, all wrapped in a savory foam. Or then the ‘egg cream’ in which a server mixes orange syrup with cocoa flavored milk and seltzer right on the table for a cool menu separator. But this doesn’t stop EMP from tipping its hat to old New York traditions like the clam bake. A small kettle with clam chowder arrived on a bed of pebbles and sea weed along with a bowl containing clam, chorizo and corn and corn husk containing zucchini bread.

At the end of the meal, I was invited to visit the kitchen. I stood behind a small makeshift table to observe the kitchen and the chef, all set to make a space-age cocktail for me! What’s a space age cocktail? Think of a slushy made out of gin by mixing it with liquid nitrogen and then ladled cherry foam into a vat of liquid nitrogen to fast freeze foam into pink orbs. These orbs were then served over a bed of bing cherries, gin slushie, and swirling liquid nitrogen in a tumbler glass. I tapped the orbs, melting it into the slushie and scooping it up in a bite of refreshing and cool drink. Fancy!

As I write this, EMP has embarked on the next stage of reinvention by offering an extravagant, participatory, close-to-four-hour ode to the romance and history of New York ( “A restaurant experience only lives in your memory,” said chef Daniel Humm in one of his interviews, and I think no amount of writing or photography can accurately capture it.

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Catch and Eat – A Red Snapper meal in Costa Rica

July 12, 2012 4 comments

I have grown up in a vegetarian household, where there was a huge premium on growing vegetables and respecting the seasons; I couldn’t say the same about sea food. It had been a small wish of mine to catch fresh seafood, oversee preparation and have it freshly cooked. If I think deeper, the driving instinct for this had been less of hunting and more of understanding the environs where fish live and knowing enough of their behavior to be able to hook one! 

I recently got an opportunity during a surfing camp trip in Costa Rica. The day started with a surf lesson at 6 in the morn and then reported at the beach for my fishing trip. Buenos dias, its a good day for fishing, said Escobar my captain. I looked up, and it was a clear day, light breeze and thin clouds. Holding my flip flops in my hand, I waded through the water and was helped into the boat by Julio, the first mate. Within 20 mins of heading into the ocean, the coast had all but disappeared. Here we cast out first lines with plain lures. Within 10 minutes we got two tugs and had two lovely 1 ft silver tuna aboard. Well, this ended pretty soon, I thought. These are just baits for bigger fish, says Julio, as if reading my mind. This was getting more serious than I imagined. It was a bit of a struggle getting those juvenile tuna aboard and the thought of something bigger on the end of my line was daunting. While I was thinking this, the tuna had turned into bait and was in the water. After couple of miscues, Julio felt a big tug and called me over to hold the rod. This was a strong powerful fish. After about 10 minutes of reeling in and fish making a run, we finally could see the fish and if was a Red Snapper! At around 35lb and 3ft, a big one to boot!

It had lovely pattern on it skin and a really toothy predatory mouth. Soon our captain gutted and filleted it. Escboar also passed a small morsel to have sashimi style and after dipping it in sea it tasted salty fresh. I took a fillet  for my lunch and donated the rest to Escobar’s and Julio’s families. On reaching the beach, a Chef by the name of Luis in El Pescador restaurant cooked a lovely fish curry out of my snapper.

A traditional fish meal in Costa Rica consists of grilled fish with rice, pinto beans and salad. On my request to have a curry, Chef Luis was very excited and it turns out he was an admirer of India and its cuisine.  His interpretation of a curry turned out to be one with pan-fried fish with mustard, plantains, potatoes and peppers! It was sweet, tart and deliciously fresh. All in all, a lovely meal to cap off a brilliant day.

BeliEats Review: Torrisi Italian Specialities – A lesson in taste

June 12, 2012 1 comment

Some artists find their voice early! Enter Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone, who have created something special within barely two years of opening their début restaurant – Torrisi’s Italian Specialities. The restaurant first caught my eye when Sam Sifton mentioned that this it reminded him of Momofuku in its early days. The dining area is small and cozy with 12-15 tables huddled closely, bottles of varied Italian brands dotting the walls, min lamps donning the tables and walls behind, delicate lace curtains on the windows facing the street and select servers milling around without intruding or being tardy. “We have already decided what we will be serving you,” our waiter announced. “There is a choice of two entrees, and you can order whichever you please but I would recommend ordering one of each.”

And that was how it began. A quick online search had revealed a menu that was immediately distinctive and at the same time very comfortable with itself. From what we were told it is a menu that changes every week as the chefs pick the best produce the market and season has to offer. They just have two menus: a shorter 4 course one and a longer one with 15 courses. We went for the shorter course and were not disappointed. And as the anti-pasti rolled out, none of the dishes seem to be hurried and no flavors forced! The first was warm mozzrella in davero olive oil, but what really awakened the taste buds was the tart strawberry shortcake with smoked corn biscuit served right after. This was followed by the Crawfish Rice a Roni – a flavoursome, complex stew of gently cooked crawfish with creamy risotto and vermicelli, and a strong acidic, vinegary plate of Beef Tartare with barely crisps. In an ideal world, I thought, these guys would be my relatives and I could stop by their kitchen on my way home from work, and have a small plate of antipasti over which we banter about their latest gentle experiments!  

Perhaps the epitome of the antipasti though was the extra sampling of salted torchon of foie gras stuffed with plum gelee and served with lobster based Newberg sauce, crisp brioche. Now this is not the kind of thing you’re going to find in an average Italian mama’s kitchen. This small daub of foie gras on our plate was a vision in perfection in flavor as well as texture. It was delicate, unctuous, creamy, bold and melting.

As we leaned back in our comfortable chairs, we discussed how the first course  was so experimental without seeming so. The dishes and combinations appeared to be new and yet flavors seemed very familiar.  As if on cue, we were served a course of Goat ricotta gnocchi with fava beans and chamomile. It was a lovely composition in white and green, of soft pillowy gnocchi, chopped chamomile and Fava beans. For entrée, we had Sea Bass and Quail . The Sea Bass dish consisted of perfectly cooked white flesh of Sea Bass served on a tomato based tangy stew with softly cooked almonds. The white soft flesh of fish and soft flesh of almonds really worked well together and in details like these, we got a glimpse into chef’s thought. The other entrée  was the hunters version of very gamey Quail, soft and pink, served with vinegary mushrooms.

To cater to our sweet tooth, the waiter ushered in a plate of assorted cookies like Ricotta Cannoli, Peppermint Truffle, Tri-Color, Celery Cookie and Apricot Cucidati. Notable among this choice were the celery cookie and the Cannoli.

My only beef with the experience was with the wine menu. While I expected piedmonts and tuscanys in there, it was dotted with Californian reds and whites. As I ruminated over the experience over coffee, I wondered if the owners of the place know what a very special and rare thing that have going on here or even someone like NYTimes which has given 2 stars (out of 4) to this brilliant and exciting restaurant. Maybe they will and I hope when they do, it will not spoil the beauty and the innocence of the menu and the food.

Related Links

Restaurant Link –

Sam Sifton’s review in the Nytimes  

Nymag review – Better than grandma

Of unsung heroes – the most important mold in Japanese cuisine

May 7, 2012 1 comment

Here is a quick note on how our curiosity can led to discovering agents and heroes.

My curiosity led me down the road to research about how soy sauce is prepared and I stumbled upon an agent which has been quietly, behind the scenes, plodding to support host of fermented foods in Japanese cuisine. I always assumed soy sauce was made of seasoned malted grains but then I realised it is actually fermented and the good Samaritan responsible for giving it a taste nudge is one called Asperfillus Oryzae or as it is known in Japanese ‘Koji’. My trail of investigation led to other food items blessed by Koji and the list included

- Miso: In addition to being used in its namesake soup, miso is the base of famed Ramen from Hokkaido (Check Ramen alley in Anthony Bourdain Hokkaido episode)

- Sake

- Mirin (rice wine used in cooking): Check this nytimes article on differentiating true mirin from supermarket varieties 

- Shochu (a brew slightly stronger than sake) among some others.

In fact, in 2004 a professor of Tokyo University called the Koji fungus a “national fungus”and it was approved at the academic society’s annual meeting in 2006.

As it turns out, one needs careful nurturing and cultivation to sustain Koji production and I hope this one tradition is not lost amidst our run to mass manufacture everything!

Related Links

Categories: Exploring Tags: , , , , ,

A Pizza that everybody can make – Margherita

I had seen this episode of Masterchef Australia where chef George Calombaris made this lovely Margherita Pizza (he added capers as well which I think is all right). Then recently I came across Mark Bittman’s article in nytimes which talked about making a better crust at home and I felt like marrying these two recipes. I applied Bittman’s recommended technique on dough and crust with toppings and flavors from George’s recipe and here was the outcome.

For the dough 

Mixed a teaspoon of dry yeast in tepid water and allowed it to foam up. Mixed that with 1 cup unbleached flour, pinch of salt, water and olive oil and kneaded it well for a ball of dough which is not too firm and at the same time doesn’t stick to plate of bowl where you are kneading. I then coated a bowl with some olive oil, move dough to the bowl and covered it with damp cloth and allowed it to rest for an hour or two allowing for the yeast to work at peace.Once the dough sort of doubled in size, I covered it with cling-film and moved it to the refrigerator to rest. I did this in the afternoon and kept it in the refrigerator for making pizza in the evening. This is not necessary but as Mark mentions in his article, it helps when the dough settles down.

Putting the Pizza together

Sprinkle some salt and olive oil over cherry tomatoes and heat them in the oven for around 10 minutes. Take a fresh baking tray lined with baking paper, stretch the dough out on the tray till its 1/2 inch in thickness, spread pizza sauce followed by tomatoes, capers and fresh basil leaves. Bake it for 10 minutes at 475-500 °F. Just before it is done, pull it out and spread fresh mozzarella on top. Let it is rest and before serving sprinkle some fresh basil again. This combination of basil, cheese and tomato works like magic!

Key Techniques

  • Rest the dough in the refrigerator
  • Semi-cook tomatoes with olive oil and sea salt for best flavors

Related Links

Mark Bittman’s NY Times Article – For the Home Cook, Making a Better Pizza

History of Margherita in Italy magazine – Pizza Margherita


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