5 Simple Ingredients Reinvented Luxuriously

Talking about 5 ingredients which you never thought could assume luxurious proportions, prepare to be stunned!

By: Chef Michael Swamy, Master Chef, Hopping Chef

Posted on: April 16, 2015

ribs with coffee and honey barbecue sauce

“... the vintage of history is forever repeating - same old vines, same old wines!” 
― E.A. Bucchianeri, Faust: My Soul Be Damned for the World Vol. 2

The above quote, though not in any culinary book and definitely not made in any gastronomic context, seems to me to depict the state of mind of a person who was fed up of eating the same food, served in the same manner over a prolonged period of time. And though I don’t really have a good memory for quotes, this one stayed with me simply because I could relate to it so much.

Regular cooking has suddenly become perfunctory, predictable and boring to the point of coming across as bland and tasteless despite the recipe being full of flavourful ingredients. The scenario is the same everywhere… when you see a person cutting vegetables, you just know that you will be served either salad, a stir-fry or a curry. Or when you see someone melting chocolate, you know what to expect… a cup of hot chocolate or some rich sinful dessert.

And so, the trend of creative cooking, fusion cooking or progressive cooking applied to the fine dining concept, came as a refreshing change. Whether it stemmed from boredom or the need to outdo other chefs by doing something out-of-the-box using the same available ingredients, the new play of colour, flavour and texture, and bold use of ingredients in ways never-before-thought-of seems to have saved the culinary scene.

This re-invention of food has touched several layers of the food industry and almost given a new lease of life to the fine dining business which had plateaued. The most decent business was done by restaurants serving grandmothers’ recipes, forgotten regional delicacies or out-of-the-ordinary global cuisines, but even these had started losing patronage owing to repetition.

Modern or Progressive cooking, not only touched upon several cooking techniques and methods, but adapted modern artistic plating styles, blended global concepts with traditional ones. It also brought about a resurrection of simple ingredients as stars in their own right. Regardless of which cuisine formed the theme, we suddenly saw the original identity of ingredients coming to the surface. Sauces, curries and marinades became simpler with fewer ingredients being used, dishes were made using one single technique rather than a complex mix of methods being used to cook them, helping to keep even subtle flavours intact. Seasonal ingredients replaced the usual round-the-year staples that spelt convenience for chefs.

With the year progressing into April, we have moved into spring (though it feels like summer here!), the season of new beginnings and the reawakening of our five senses. And so, I thought of sharing my list of 5 simple, extremely humble ingredients – my favourites – which take on a bold new form, and are currently enjoying the spotlight in fine dining – especially in my menus created for Hopping Chef.

1. Tea – The consumption of tea was limited to it being sipped as a beverage in the morning and evening. Today, it features in marinades, water pickle bases, to smoke proteins – even in combination with chocolate as dessert. This humble ingredient, in fact, sometimes features in every single course of “specially-crafted” menus of very high class boutique hotels and resorts.

2. Coffee – A favourite breakfast beverage the world over, coffee has always enjoyed being a star flavour for ice-creams, milkshakes, cocktails and of course, Tiramisu. Today, it is used in ways which would have seemed unthinkable. From being a part of barbecue sauces to featuring in spice rubs for steaks, in chile sauce, as part of a marinade for meats…the list is ever-growing.

squid ink pasta

3. Pasta – The world of pasta and its preparations are changing from flavoured pastas to squid ink pasta. The combinations are changing and making a mark on the plate especially in fine dining concepts.

4. Pineapple – Earlier looked at as good enough only for juices, cocktails and desserts, it is now used in salsa, as a base in combination with other ingredients to make vinegar, as a kimchi, to make pineapple salt that is sprinkled over fruit or meats and even used to rim cocktail glasses. In India, it is marinated and cooked in a tandoor and then made into a mocktail. Pineapple juice is also used as a base for rasam!

tuna steak with pineapple salsa

5. Sherry - Port and wine were favourites once upon a time. Old classics like trifles by famous chefs to puddings have been revived to please an older clientele. This drink, which disappeared off the shelves, is making a comeback by select chefs.

kahlua and coffee creme bruleeKahlua & Coffee Creme Brulee

6 large egg yolks
1 large whole egg
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 3/4 cups milk
1 1/2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons Kahlúa
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar or raw sugar

1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
2. In a bowl whisk together yolks, whole egg, and granulated sugar. In a heavy saucepan heat cream and milk over moderately high heat until mixture just comes to a boil and stir in espresso powder and Kahlúa, stirring until powder is dissolved. Add milk mixture to egg mixture in a stream, whisking, and skim off any froth.
3. Divide custard among eight 1/2-cup flame-proof ramekins set in a roasting pan and add enough hot water to pan to reach halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake custards in middle of oven until they are just set but still tremble slightly, about 40 minutes. Remove ramekins from pan and cool custards. Chill custards, covered loosely with plastic wrap, at least 4 hours or overnight.
4. Set broiler rack so that custards will be 2 to 3 inches from heat and preheat broiler.
5. Sift brown sugar evenly over custards and broil custards until sugar is melted and caramelized, about 2 minutes. (Alternatively, raw sugar may be sprinkled over custards and caramelized with a blowtorch.) Chill custards 20 minutes.

Chef Swamy is versatile, vibrant and an expert in his field. He brings together a unique style of Modern Indian cuisine - a perfect blend of classic French techniques with traditional Indian flavors. Chef Swamy is also a renowned Food Stylist, Food Photographer, Food Consultant and writer. Chef Swamy graduated from the prestigious Cordon Bleu Culinary School, London. He has trained under and worked with several Michelin Chefs in the UK. Chef Swamy has won many awards for his work, one of which is “The East Indian Kitchen” which won the Gourmand Award 2011-12 in the Best Indian Cookbook category. Following that achievement he has also won the Gourmand Award 2014 -15 once again in the Wine and Drinks category.

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