What’s new in the chef’s pantry?

From black garlic to jackfruit seed and lacto-fermented bimbli, a behind-the-burner preview of what’s the latest on the chef’s shopping agenda — and your next dining experience.

A few weeks ago, seasoned Chef Rishim Sachdeva, Founder, Tendril Kitchen, posted this on his Instagram: “Imagine purée made from stalks, kimchi made from stems. Take the florets, marinate it with kimchi juice and a little purée, chargrill on korno and voila! Good to go. One of the best variations of the famous cauliflower.”

Chef rishim sachdeva's cauliflower and leeks is one of his signature creations.
Chef Rishim Sachdeva’s Cauliflower and Leeks is one of his signature creations.

Curiously, this wasn’t the first time that the plant-forward chef, who has established the first crowd-funded, plant-based platform in London, has professed his steadfast affection for the Indian floret. Cauliflower has been an obsession for him since quite some time. In 2017, in fact, Chef Sachdeva had paid ode to this Indian kitchen seasonal staple with one of his signature creations, Cauliflower and Leeks, where he had used different traditional techniques to present cauliflower in a Met Gala-style avatar. This new iteration based on the stalk to floret, zero-wastage philosophy was just a step ahead in exploring the “nuanced flavours and textures of the good old gobi.”

Of mussels — green lip mussels with Chef Vidit Aren

Thankfully, the former Olive Bar & Kitchen culinary head isn’t the only one finding novelty in local produce. Slow food advocate Chef Vidit Aren of Soufflé S’il Vous Plaît too seems to be smitten by the bug of finding the ‘unusual in the usual’. His fascination these days, the Mumbai coast jade called the green lip mussel. Says the seafood aficionado, “Once known to be endemic to the New Zealand coast, green lip mussels are available in abundance in and around Madh Island and Palghar. It was during one of the impromptu time-offs to these spots that I chanced upon these beauties. Since then, they have held my fascination and, every now and then, I take to these places to not just get my stash but also interact with the second and third generation fishermen who have introduced me not just to the exceptional world of mussels around our shores, but also the traditional way of making them.”

Green lip mussels from the mumbai coast are prized by chef vidit aren.
Green lip mussels from the Mumbai coast are prized by Chef Vidit Aren.

“The mussels,” continues Chef Aren, “have this faint sweet ocean flavour and earthy undertones of mushrooms, which makes them an amazing ingredient to work with specially when you want subtle flavours. One of my favourite dishes, and incidentally a bestseller at Soufflé S’il Vous Plaît, is the moule frites. Essentially a simple sauce made with dry white wine and mussel juice and cream butter in which the mussels are tossed. In spite of the simplicity, it makes for a decadent experience.”

Chef Aren has experimented with different traditional dishes that were designed to enjoy this seafood gem best.

Sour and cured with Chef Gracian De Souza

Chef gracian de souza is in love with bimbli, a typical goan ingredient.
Chef Gracian De Souza is in love with bimbli, a typical Goan ingredient.

This fascinating pairing of traditional ingredients with modern culinary technique is at the helm of how locavore advocate Chef Gracian De Souza likes to expand his culinary horizons.

The Village Bistro Goa, a restaurant he co-founded to bring forth the hidden culinary gems and ingredients of Goa presented in modern European style, has already earned its stripes as a food-forward culinary outpost. His recent escapade is with tree sorrel or bimbli, as Goans call it. A native of Goa, this cucumber is known for its amla-like sourness and is an interesting fruit to work with.

For Chef De Souza, who has grown on a healthy dose of dishes that have been flavoured by bimbli such as bimbli prawn curry and the traditional pickle, working with this indigenous fruit was all about discovering different facets of this moody ingredient. “Juicy, slimy and extremely moody, bimbli,” says Chef De Souza, “to work with this fruit needs patience and understanding. The native fruit is notorious for turning the table on you anytime and one needs to master the technique before experimenting with bimbli. While that glumness makes it an absolutely terrifying yet fascinating ingredient to learn about, the rewards, once you know how to work with it, are manifold.”

Chef gracian's version of prawn cocktail.
Chef Gracian’s version of Prawn cocktail.

Two fine examples of how the chef relearned and brought back this traditional ingredient into his cooking are Prawn cocktail and Pan-fried mackerel. While, says Chef Gracian, “the former is a take on the famous colonial favourite, to which we added elements such as lacto-fermented bimbli, melon globes, caper berries and a cocktail sauce made from prawn head butter to infuse it with that local touch while elevating the dish, in the case of the latter, it is the XO sauce that adds the magic. It is made by slow cooking fish cheeks, fish roe, salted local Goan chili and guanciale, which adds an undeniable Goan flair to a classic mackerel dish and served with a creamy Waldorf salad.”

Aged fish and fern with Chef Sabyasachi Gorai

Incidentally, the use of fermented and cured food is high on the list of Chef Sabyasachi Gorai, Culinary Director, Red Rhino, and Chef Vikas Seth, Culinary Director, Embassy Leisure too, and for good reasons. Curation, says Chef Gorai, “was one of the most popular ways to not just store food for winters, but also give it enough flavour cushions to not just give it shelf life but also the taste boost, plus the extra bonus of wellness. And that makes these ingredients quite a rage to work with as they can yield a different result and can be used in some of the most intriguing ways in a dish.”

Chef gorai loves making a versatile stock with salt-cured fish and meat bones.
Chef Gorai loves making a versatile stock with salt-cured fish and meat bones.

A brilliant example of this has been the stock that Chef Gorai creates using salt-cured fish and meat bones. Paired with the unusable but flavour-packed parts of fresh produce like stalks, roots, and such, it produces a broth that with a little seasoning can easily be mistaken for a rich shorba. Reduce this stock a little further and it makes for a flavoursome sauce or even a poaching liquid where you can sous vide white meat, says Chef Gorai, who uses it to give the lightly steamed fiddle head ferns and nettle their flavour punch.

Black garlic

For Chef Seth, however, the object of his affection these days is garlic — black garlic, to be precise. As one of the oldest cured ingredients used by some of the most evolved culinary civilisations (read: Chinese and Roman) back in the day, the black garlic, says the Oriental specialist, “is a delicious crash course in knowing how traditional techniques could harness some of the subtle flavours to create these multi-faceted roles for ingredients.”

Chef seth's black garlic risotto, grilled sea bass, toasted walnuts, chevre & orange dust makes use of the trendy black garlic.
Chef Seth’s Black Garlic Risotto, Grilled Sea Bass, Toasted Walnuts, Chevre & Orange Dust makes use of the trendy black garlic.

Take the flavour profile of black garlic as an example. Instead of the sharp, unpleasant aroma that we associate the pods with, says Chef Seth, “black garlic has these subtle sweet tones like fruit leather and an overwhelming colour. A flavour matrix that makes it appealing to even those who do not like garlic. In the kitchen though, it takes on the role not just of a colourant but also as a sweet contrast. A proof of its versatility is the Black Garlic Risotto, Grilled Sea Bass, Toasted Walnuts, Chevre & Orange Dust. While the black hue of the risotto is thanks to the garlic, the use of slivers of the garlic works beautifully with toasted walnut and the aged cheese. The orange dust is only to accentuate the palate play of the bite.”

Dark yet sweet

For Chef Dane Fernandes, Executive Chef, JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar, that search for versatility got him to black jaggery or madachem god, which says the glocal chef, “is today his prized possession.”

“Having spent most of my childhood in Goa I would often accompany my parents on shopping trips to the local market to pick up key ingredients for our daily cooking like black jaggery. The beauty of this hand-created sweetener was that no two mounds of jaggery tasted the same; while one could be sweet, the other could be smokey and less sweet. What remained constant was that nice bitter taste that came at the end, which made it one of the finest molasses in town. We used it on everything for contrast — be it on sannas, traditional Alle Belle or even to create that velvety mouthfeel in sorpotel. It was what made the Ragi Sheera, caramelly delicious.”

Chef fernandes seasons his tonnache bangde, a goan fish delicacy, with the special black jaggery of goa.
Chef Fernandes seasons his Tonnache Bangde, a Goan fish delicacy, with the special black jaggery of Goa.

And while, adds Chef Dane, “black jaggery’s obvious use as a healthier alternative to sugar is well known, the facet that has always got me curious is how black jaggery when used cleverly can make a miso-style sauce off a spicy recheado, and the finest of the example is the Tonnache Bangde — a Goan fish delicacy flavoured with the jaggery.”

Bitter-sweet stone apple

Stone apple adds sweetness to chef avijit ghosh's fruit cake, but also an interesting bitterness.
Stone apple adds sweetness to Chef Avijit Ghosh’s fruit cake, but also an interesting bitterness.

Bitterness in sweet is also what has fascinated seasoned pastry chef and chocolatier Avijit Ghosh of Smoor Chocolates for a very long time. After experimenting with different sugars, last year the pastry chef began experimenting with stone apple’s ripened version and found the pulp to be a great addition to mousse, parfait, chocolates and even custard. The brilliance of bael or stone apple, he says, “is in its flavour profile. While sweet in the beginning, a good quality bael is defined by that kick of bitterness at the end, which makes it a great contrasting flavourant in chocolates and confectioneries. The best part is one really doesn’t have to do much to enhance this palate play, that works great with chocolate, especially dark where the bitterness elevates the different subtle notes of cocoa.”

Seed flour and power

Concurs Chef Kedar Bobde, Executive Chef, Hyatt Regency Chandigarh, who has been using fleshy fruit including musk melon and even pumpkin to introduce different textural and flavour plays into the bakery items, including the likes “of pancakes, waffles and even relishes.”

The one thing Chef Bobde, a known eco-chef, is fascinated by these days is jackfruit seed flour. As a Maharashtrian who has grown up on a healthy dose of tasting different kinds of dishes made from ripe, raw and seeds of jackfruit, the jackfruit seed flour is nothing new to him. However, what is new is his discovery as to how beautifully the flour works with millets to produce quite a few nutritionally dense delicious alternatives to classics like parathas, crackers, cakes and even fritters. And yes, adds Chef Bobde, “a variety of satiating puddings and panna cottas as well.”

Chef salil arora's bhaang chicken makes use of hemp seed.
Chef Salil Arora’s Bhaang Chicken makes use of hemp seed.

Going back to basics seems to have been a calling for Chef Salil Arora, Executive Chef, Hyatt Regency Dehradun as well. As someone who has spent his childhood discovering thupkas and momos in one of the colonial towns of yore, Chef Arora’s reviving the past began when he became a part of the pre-opening team and was given the charge of handling a menu that could prove to be a slice of hills for guests and denizens. This, says Chef Arora, “became a ruse to return to the one ingredient that I have always found fascinating aside from the pahadi namak, namely, bhang beej or hemp. A rich source of protein, meaning that they provide essential amino acids, this indigenous herb works as this perfect antidote but also the best tastemaker that can transform a simple dish into gourmet. In this case, the Bhaang Chicken.”

Of greens and sweet

Chef nimish bhatia's coriander mousse and spinach souffle.
Chef Nimish Bhatia’s Coriander mousse and spinach souffle.

Discovering unconventional facets of popular ingredients has also been part of culinary consultant Chef Nimish Bhatia’s arsenal. “I have always been fascinated by the ingenuity of our ancestors who could turn any ingredient, irrespective of its common perception, into a sweet. That was till I began experimenting on them and found that vegetables and herbs have this amazing capacity to transform with the right pairing and techniques. Take the Coriander mousse and spinach souffle, for instance. While designing both, I had a chance to explore not only how differently each of them behaved when paired with coconut cream, cashew nut paste, and white chocolate, but the local varieties we have that can be paired to turn this garnish into a hero of a dessert that had contrasting elements to up the experience.”

Clearly, classic redux is the flavour of this season, and of the chef’s shopping list.

Madhulika dash
Known for her columns on food anthropology, Chefs’ Retreat and wellness-based experiential tables, Madhulika Dash has also been on the food panel of Masterchef India Season 4, a guest lecturer at IHM, and is currently part of the Odisha government’s culinary council.

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