Recipe featured in this week’s blog
A step by step (with photos) ‘bhunaoed’ spinach recipe
“The restaurant trade is a tough trade. One has no personal life once one is in it, it is very demanding and it takes the hell out of you, and you can’t make any money, and blah, blah, blah. . !””
The only thing true about the above statement is the last part.
You cannot become a millionaire if you are a chef and run your own restaurant (you would have taken out enough mortgages on your house already, so there go the millions). There is not a chance either, unless of course you own the property, or have a freehold of the place.
Well, not many chefs can do it, and certainly not yours truly.
However, having said all the above, it is an extremely rewarding business. I mean, there must be other reasons why we keep on doing what we know best?!
Well, of course there are, but the rewards are not always in the form of awards like a ‘chef’s hat’ or a ‘restaurant and catering award’ (RCA) for the “best restaurant” but they come from two important people every night.
No, I don’t mean my wife or son, Meera or Aniruddh, though that’s another kind of reward!
No, the reward I’m talking about is, yes, you guessed it, the customer.
And the second?
Well, I bet you can’t guess the other one.
Okay, it is the staff!!
These two sets of people, who are at the opposite ends of the restaurant equilibrium, are what it takes to keep restaurants afloat and keep the rewards flowing in. The latter group (the staff) keeps the business alive whilst the former breathes life into the business which, in turn, keeps people like me in the restaurant trade.
It is the consistency of the staff that is paramount and you can’t put a price on it.
By this I mean it is those ‘intangibles’ that are so important, like receiving a guest with a smile, or doing something extra to make that guest feel special.
Or it is the ‘tangibles’, like the chef cooking a dish and the waiters serving that dish exactly the same way as it was done the last time, for example, Dr Mudbidri and his wife, Lucy, were here for dinner. And the chefs and waiters know exactly how this couple like their food. The waiter knows what the guest likes, and if he doesn’t, or if the guest is new, he is able to gauge what it might be.
So, it is this consistency of intelligent service, and nothing else but consistency, carried out consistently well that is paramount!!
And the guests? Well, that’s obvious. It’s coming back again and again, it’s treating the staff with the recognition they deserve, appreciating the food where it calls for it and letting us know, if heaven forbid, it doesn’t.
It’s so simple.
So, where am I going with all this?
Well, if you’ll follow me folks, let’s go straight to the kitchen – which is the heart of any restaurant.
It is the hot, frantic yet ordered room that keeps the business going by producing the food with, yes, that word again, ‘consistency’.
Take, for example, a dish made with spinach, whether it be palak paneer, or saag murgh, or saag gosht, or . . . well, I won’t go on, you know where I’m heading with my spinach dishes!
Most chefs can cook these dishes and make them taste good (well, a little practice helps but you know what I mean).
A few chefs can even cook these dishes and make them smell good, too (this comes with even more practice and some procedure).
However, it is only a fraction of chefs who are able to retain the color of the spinach (this comes with lots of practice, great process and deep knowledge about the ingredients which are being added)!!
So, even our simple spinach dish belies a lot of experience and knowledge to raise it from being an acceptable green side dish to something fresh tasting, vibrant and totally delicious!
In a good restaurant, great results are achieved by using a simple technique called bhunao which you do to the saag. [Bhunao means to cook, uncovered, over a constant heat to remove any excess moisture. Keeping it at the same temperature means the purée cooks without getting a ‘shock’, as it were, and thereby it cooks evenly and retains an ‘even’ colour.]
This is a simple, yet very effective process that keeps the colour of the puréed spinach so that it remains bright green for at least a week! (Yes, that’s right! It’ll keep its colour for that long, if it hasn’t already sold out because it’s so good and looks so fresh.)
Don’t worry about the bhunao, the taste and smell will always be good!!
So, let’s take a closer look at this simple yet flavoursome dish:
1. 2 bunches of English spinach, washed and stalks removed, approx. 400 gms
2. Plenty of water to cook the spinach (a.k.a blanching)
3. A pinch of Alleppey turmeric
4. Ice-cold water to cool the spinach (a.k.a arresting the cooking of the hot spinach)
1. To blanch the spinach, in a large, wide pot bring water to a boil.
2. Add a pinch of Alleppey turmeric (Alleppey turmeric has a bright yellow colour and helps bring out the colour of the spinach; it also acts as an anti-oxidant).
3. Add the washed spinach leaves and bring the water back to a boil.
4. In a strainer, drain the leaves immediately and plunge into the ice-cold water for a few seconds to cool the leaves. Do not rinse in running tap water as this will discolour the leaves.
5. Remove from the iced water and lightly squeeze to remove any excess moisture.
6. Place in a food processor and blend to a fine paste.
7. Refrigerate immediately.
1. 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2. 1 teaspoon brown cumin seeds
3. 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
4. Salt, to taste
5. 1/2 teaspoon Madras turmeric (you may use Alleppey if Madras turmeric is not handy)
6. 1 fresh green chilli, chopped (retain the seeds)
To bhunao the pureed spinach:
1. In a pan, heat the oil until it is just about to smoke (this makes the oil light and helps it rise to the surface easily).
2. Remove the pan from the heat and crackle the cumin seeds.
2. Add the crushed garlic, as soon as possible, and fold. Then add the salt (adding the salt helps to caramelise the garlic without burning it).
3. Add the Madras turmeric (this has a very earthy smell and goes well with spinach).
4. Now add the chopped chillies and fold.
5. Return the pan to the heat and add the puréed spinach to this ‘infusion’.
6. Cook over moderate heat, folding regularly, and let the oil rise to the surface.
7. Once the oil has risen to the surface, remove the spinach from the pan. Let cool and then refrigerate.
Here are some great and simple ways to use your ‘bhunaoed’ spinach. Let me know which one works the best for you, folks!
1. Cook some chicken in a pan and add the ‘bhunaoed’ spinach. When you do this you will have created the best palak murgh on the planet. (Just remember to add some dried qasoori methi [that’s dried fenugreek leaves] to serve!)
2. To make saag gosht, heat some rogan josh (see here, also, for a particularly good rogan josh recipe and story!) in a pan and add the ‘bhunaoed’ spinach and, well, the result is the same as the palak murgh, all superlatives!
3. And to make palak paneer . . . well, here is my version. What more can I say? Just go and try it, please!!!
And remember to do all the little things right. Yes, that’s right. Every single little detail, no matter how tedious it might seem. If you get the small things right the big ones look after themselves. So, whether it’s cooking spinach, or boiling rice, or even frying pappads, follow every little rule.
And it is this that I call ‘consistency’!!!
Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!
(If you’re in Sydney, you can buy Alleppey and Madras turmeric from Herbie’s.)