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Semolina crusted Karwari style fish (or barramundi!)

about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

This week I want to share this simple, yet delicious, crusted fish dish.

The best ever crumbed fish dish I’ve eaten was in India where they used the kane fish (also called lady fish) but in downtown Sydney I use a local fish, barramundi, which serves its purpose just as well!

This fish has a very earthy flavour and can be very easily crumbed. I love to eat it served with a mint and coriander chatni!!

I use a fish garam masala in this recipe and to slice Spanish (red) onions properly, see here!

step 1

ingredients, clockwise: salt, turmeric powder, garam masala for fish, fresh chillies ground, tamarind extract, fresh chillies slit lengthways, fried kari leaves, red (Spanish) onions, sliced

step 2

2-inch squares of barramundi

step 3

fine to medium coarse semolina

step 4

oil for frying

step 5

to finish – lemon juice and chopped parsley

step 6

FOR THE MARINADE:

add salt

step 7

add

add turmeric and garam masala

step 8

add ground chillies

step 8

add tamarind extract

step 9

mix spices into a masala or marinade

step 10

coat each fish piece in the masala

step 11

apply masala on both sides, or just one if you prefer

step 12

dust fish in semolina

step 13

add oil to hot pan and heat until it starts smoking

step 14

carefully place each fish piece in the hot oil

step 15

cook till the semolina is golden

step 16

carefully turn fish over to cook both sides evenly, taking care not to damage semolina crust

step 17

keep frying

step 18

fry until fish crust turns a dark golden colour

step 19

drain each fish piece of oil

step 20

prepare bed of Spanish onion and chopped coriander, fried kari leaves with a dash of lemon juice, to serve

step 21

enjoy!

Let me know how you go with this dish!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

Dum ka murgh

how can you not smile when you are about to eat dum ka murgh?

I want to share this recipe as it is my favourite chicken dish that uses a technique which the French call confit and we Indians call dum [dum derives from the Persian word ‘dum baksh‘  meaning ‘to give breath to’ or cooked in its own juices without the addition of any water].

Interestingly, this dish also has some Persian influences. It uses ground sesame seeds, a.k.a. tahini, as a binding agent to hold the yoghurt together, preventing it from splitting.

The original recipe uses ground peanuts, which are grown around that region, but I use ground cashew nuts for the simple reason that cashew nuts are more acceptable than peanuts, a.k.a groundnuts, and many people who cannot tolerate peanuts can eat the cashew nut which, as we all know, isn’t a ‘nut’ as such.

Before you begin, for all the ingredients that you need for a garam masala that goes with poultry, click here.

garam masala for poultry

Step 1

ingredients – from top, clockwise: salt, oil, 1 kg chicken on the bone cut into small pieces, lemon juice, chopped mint, finely sliced white onions. in the tray, clockwise: garlic paste, ginger paste, green chilli paste, sesame paste, ground cashews, turmeric, poultry garam masala, 2½ cups yoghurt

Step 2

place garam masala in spice grinder: add cinnamon sticks first (break sticks in half, if necessary)

Step 3

grind spices until they resemble coarse sand

Step 4

Add ½ cup polyunsaturated vegetable oil to shallow frying pan

Step 5

your onions should be sliced evenly lengthways (i.e. from top to bottom, as you would cut an apple)

(See how to slice onions perfectly here.)

Step 6

place onions in mixing bowl

Step 7

add ½ teaspoon salt (adding salt to the onions at this stage makes them caramelise better)

Step 8

mix salt with onions

Step 9

when oil is hot, add onions to frying pan

Step 10

fold onions into the oil so that they are thoroughly coated, reduce heat to medium

Step 11

fold onions regularly

Step 12

leave the onions to cook, they will turn golden slowly [about 3–5 minutes

Step 13

the onions start turning golden, keep an eye on them and keep folding so they don’t burn! [about 7–11 minutes

Step 14

the onions are now caramelising, this happens very quickly

Step 15

the onions are now perfectly caramelised and the oil starts to separate

Step 16

gather caramelised onions away from the oil with a spoon

Step 17

holding caramelised onions with spoon, drain oil

Step 18

set aside caramelised onions

To watch my short video on caramelising onions, click here

Step 19

Add 1 tablespoon garlic paste to mixing bowl

Step 20

Add 1 tablespoon ginger paste to mixing bowl

Step 21

Add 1½ tablespoons green chilli paste to mixing bowl

Step 22

fold mixture

Step 23

Add 1 tablespoon sesame paste (tahini)

Step 24

fold mixture

Step 25

add 1½ tablespoons ground cashews and fold

Step 26

add 1 teaspoon turmeric and fold

Step 27

add 2 tablespoons poultry garam masala and fold

Step 28

fold so that it looks like this!

Step 29

add 1½ tablespoons salt

Step 30

add yoghurt (full-fat yoghurt, please, just the way the cow made it!)

Step 31

fold the yoghurt to form a marinade

Step 32

keep folding until mixture is smooth

Step 33

add caramelised onions

Step 34

fold the onions to look like this!

Step 36

add the chicken pieces to the marinade or ‘masala’!

Step 37

lightly massage the marinade onto the chicken

Step 38

….keep marinating until your chicken looks like this!

Step 39

transfer chicken to cold saucepan making sure chicken mixture will only take up a third of the saucepan’s depth. The remaining ⅔ of the saucepan is needed to circulate steam

Step 40

Select a shallow frying pan that is large enough for the chicken saucepan to sit in it and place on stove. Heat empty frying pan on high heat

Step 41

To determine when frying pan is hot enough, drop some tepid water into frying pan – the water should immediately bead and scatter

Step 42

Place chicken saucepan onto hot frying pan (n.b. the frying pan should have no oil, or water, in it)

Step 43

Place mixing bowl on saucepan like a ‘lid’. Keep the heat to medium!

Step 44

Add ½ cup water to mixing bowl ‘lid’. As the frying pan under chicken saucepan transfers heat to the chicken, the heat will also be transferred to the mixing bowl so the water in the mixing bowl will heat up (this is important to create ‘indirect’ heat for the chicken to cook)

Step 45

The water in the bottom of the mixing bowl

Step 46

The water in the mixing bowl will turn to steam and disappear, in about 50 minutes to an hour and 10 minutes, at least!! Remember, this is no “curry in a hurry”!!

Step 47

When the water from the mixing bowl has completely evaporated, your chicken will be perfectly cooked – remove bowl and voilà!

Step 48

Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice and ½ cup chopped mint

Step 49

Place a banana leaf on a plate (if you want!) and serve the chicken on top

Step 50

dum ka murgh

Cooking chicken, or any other poultry, this way has a number of  benefits:

1. The meat is tender and juicy.
2. As there is no water in the dish, it is loaded with flavour.
3. The dish tastes better the next day because it is cooked well, and slowly, in its own juices.

Happy cooking!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!!

Perfect dal is all about tadka, baghar, vagharne, chonk, phodni or…..just call it tempering !!

about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

So, what is it that makes a good dal become an exceptional dal?

Well, the Gujaratis call it vagharne, the Punjabis call it tadka, the inhabitants of Uttar Bharat call it chonk, the Hyderabadis call it baghar, the Maharashtrians call it phodni and the . . . well, there are at least 25 other versions of this technique and in English we’d call it ‘tempering’.

ingredients used for adding the extra ‘oomph’

In India the actual process of tempering is the same in every state, although some of the ingredients may change because of their availability, or lack thereof, within each state, but the end result never changes which is to get a “wow” factor into the dish.

A simple dal dish is the best way to demonstrate how great tempering is.

The Southern Indians eat their dal with rice while in the north it is an excellent accompaniment with roti, or bread. You can, of course, eat yours with anything you want and as a vegetarian, if you have it with bread or rice it creates a perfect meal full of protein.

mung dal

A Northern dal dish is called mung dal tadka whereas the South Indians call it paruppu (well, that is what my wife calls it who hails from the south!). Today we are using paytham paruppu and giving it a talichu.

mung dal tadka

paytham paruppu with ‘talichu’

Ingredients:

2 cups moong dal (mung lentils)
8 cups cold water (tap water)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

clockwise from left to right: vegetable oil, mung dal, turmeric and water

step 1: Wash and drain lentils.

wash & drain lentils

step 2: Add turmeric and oil to the lentils along with 8 cups of water and bring water to the boil.

add turmeric and oil and cook the lentils

step 3: Cook lentils until soft, add the salt, turn off the heat and set aside.

mung dal should be soft to touch when cooked

mung dal, cooked, soft, salted and ready for the tempering!!

Now for the tadka or ‘tempering’:

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida powder
1 teaspoon ground chilli
salt, to taste
juice of half a lemon
2-3 fresh coriander leaves

clockwise, from left to right: vegetable oil (centre), cumin seeds, asafoetida, chilli powder, salt, lemons & fresh coriander

Method:

step 1. For tadka, or ‘tempering’, heat oil in a pan and let it smoke, remove from the heat and crackle the cumin seeds.

heat oil in a pan

add the cumin seeds

step 2. Add the asafoetida and then chilli powder.

add the asafoetida

step 4. Pour the hot oil (this is called the ‘tempering’) on top of the cooked lentils.

pour the tempering on the hot dal

step 5. Add lemon juice and the coriander leaves and serve immediately!!

add lemon juice & fresh coriander

For talichu or ‘tempering’:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida powder
2-3 fresh green chillies, roughly chopped
2 sprigs fresh curry leaves
salt, to taste
juice of half a lemon

clockwise, from left to right: vegetable oil (centre), mustard seeds, asafoetida, fresh green chillies, fresh curry leaves, salt & lemons

Method:

step 1. In a pan, heat the oil and let it smoke. Remove from the heat.

heat oil

step 2. Crackle the black mustard seeds (by adding to the hot oil!).

crackle the mustard seeds

step 3. Add the asafoetida.

add the asafoetida

step 4. Then add the chopped/slit green chillies.

add chopped/slit chillies

step 5. Place curry leaves on top of cooked lentils and pour the hot oil over.

place fresh curry leaves on top of the hot dal

pour the hot tempering over the dal and curry leaves

step 6. Add lemon juice and serve immediately.

squeeze lemon juice on top and serve immediately

Remember the following when cooking lentils:
1. Never soak the lentils. Wash and cook them immediately.
2. Start cooking the lentils in cold water, this helps them cook from the inside, out. As the water comes to the boil the heat slowly penetrates through the lentils, thereby making them soft.
3. Add the turmeric and oil to the lentils as soon as the pot is placed on the heat. This makes any impurities rise to the surface and the oil prevents the froth from overflowing. Do not discard the froth if there are no impurities.
4. Add the salt after the lentils are cooked and soft. If added at the beginning, the salt, prolongs the cooking and may also prevent the lentils from getting soft.

Remember the following when tempering:

1. The oil must be smoking and away from the heat when adding the spices.
2. The spices must be added as soon as possible but, and this is essential, one after the other. Adding the spices alternately allows them to crackle and release their flavors into the oil.
3. Never add the curry leaves to the hot oil, they will turn black and may even cause the oil to splatter. Instead, place the leaves on the cooked lentils and then pour the hot oil on top of the leaves as shown in the picture in steps 4 & 5.
4. Add the lemon juice just before serving, this helps bring out the flavors and brightens the colour of the dal!!

Serve it accompanied with a roti for the northern version, or with some boiled rice if it is the southern version, or do what my son and I do, which is so simple and yet so delicious. We just have it as a ‘soup’ on its own. Superb!

father & son enjoying a big bowl of dal!!

Save the roti and the rice for kozhi milagu chettinad or murgh kali mirch!

And there we have it, folks!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!!

Mysore Chilli Chicken ….

This chilli chicken dish is simple yet skilled; it is hot but doesn’t burn, and it is tasty but not overly spiced. So much intricacy in this dish!

Mysore chilli chicken dish

So, let’s get started and first make the masala:

Masala (marinade):

9 long dried red chilies (you can use either the Bedgi chilli from Mangalore or its similar Kashmiri chilli. If you use Kashmir add 1.5 tsp hot chilli powder)

8- 10 Tellicherry peppercorns

1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

6 cloves

I medium-sized cassia bark

2 1/2-inch pieces of ginger

ingredients for the marinade (clockwise from left to right):
top row, from left to right: whole black peppercorns, turmeric & cloves
middle row, from left to right: red chilli powder, water, salt & whole dried red chillies
bottom row, from left to right: cassia, coriander seeds & fresh ginger

1 kg chicken on the bone

chicken on the bone & half of the ground marinade

For the sauce aka ‘kari’

2 1/2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil

2 1/2 large onions, finely chopped

10 fresh curry leaves

Salt, to taste

2 medium-size tomatoes, chopped

2 tsp of lemon juice, to serve

‘kari’ ingredients, clockwise from left to right: vegetable oil, fresh curry leaves, chopped onions, remaining ground marinade & chopped tomatoes

Method:

1. Wash and cut the chicken into small pieces, drain till dry.

2. Grind all the masala ingredients to a fine paste, adding a little warm water.

all the marinade ingredients before being ground

ground marinade

3. Keep half the marinade (masala) aside for the sauce.

4. Marinate the chicken pieces in the remaining masala and set aside for 4 hours in the refrigerator.

marinating the chicken

marinated chicken

5. In a large frying pan, heat the ghee/oil and fry the onions with the curry leaves and salt. Cook until the onions are light golden brown. Add the masala to the onions and cook until the oil leaves the sides of the pan.

heat oil in a pan

add onions and fresh curry leaves, followed by salt

cook till it starts to turn light golden brown

add the remaining marinade

fold & cook till the oil leaves the sides of the pan

6. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, or till the tomatoes are cooked.

add the tomatoes & cook

7. Remove the marinated chicken from the fridge, place in a saucepan, cover and cook in its own juices until cooked (this is similar to ‘braising’) Set aside to rest.

place the marinated chicken in a saucepan

cover & cook over low heat

different stages of chicken cooking – just starting to change colour

stir occasionally for even cooking & cook till the chicken is fully cooked

8. Drain the chicken juices (‘liquor’) into the sauce and add a cup of water, if required. Cook till oil leaves the pan. Sprinkle with lemon juice.

drain the pot liquor into the sauce/’kari’

add some lemon juice

sauce/’kari’, ready to go!!

9. In another frying pan, heat enough oil to fry the cooked chicken pieces till caramelised and ‘bright red’! Drain and set aside.

heat oil in a separate pan

fry the chicken in hot oil, a few pieces at a time

fry the chicken till carmelised & ‘bright red’

drain on a paper towel

top with crisp-fried curry leaves

Serve the Mysore chilli chicken along with the kari on top of steamed Basmati rice, with some crisp fried curry leaves (you’ll see “how to temper kari leaves” on the link!).  (To make great steamed rice, click the link.)

serve on top of hot basmati rice, with ‘kari’ on top & a few drops of lemon juice

voilà, Mysore chilli chicken, ready to go!!

And before I sign off, here are a few tips to remember when cooking this dish:

1. To get a bright color from the chillies (if Bediga or Kashmiri chillies are not available), soak them in warm water, do not split them. This allows the chilli to soak in the moisture and concentrates the colors. Discard the water and grind.

2. Tellicherry pepper is the best in the world and has a very strong aroma!

3. Braising the chicken and letting it rest in the juices lets the meat to tenderise , then when you fry it, the outside is crisp and the inside is still moist. The Chinese call it ‘twice cooked’.

4. Once the chicken is fried it may be added to the sauce, or alternately served separately (as I did) on top of the rice along with the kari.

Well, as for me, I would like to have the lot with no rice and no kari, just a glass (or two) of my favourite Mornington Peninsula Nazaaray Shiraz!!! You can have the rice and. . .

Anah Daata Suki Bhava!!

The gradual demise of the fine art of cooking ‘paththar ka gosht’

In December way back in 1980, I was on a training course at the Banjara Hotel in Hyderabad when my friend Pramod invited me to attend a nikaah in the old city near Charminar.

This was a wedding where I knew neither the bride nor the groom but I attended nevertheless as a ‘guest of a guest.’ Pramod invited me knowing I was interested in learning about Hyderabadi Muslim weddings: the ritual, the ceremony and, more importantly, the food that is served on these auspicious occasions.

Hyderabadi Muslim weddings are very unique, or at least they were back then.

For one thing, at that wedding the bride and the groom wore no gold ornaments. Instead, it was all silver and pearls. Yes, silver and pearls took precedence over gold. Even the bride’s wedding dress was totally white without even a hint of any ‘gold’ thread or shimmer.

It was an entirely white wedding!

Once the ceremony was over, it was dinner time and I was really looking forward to this.

The daawat was amazing. There was lukmi, shikampoor . . . zamin ki machchi, murgh ka shahi qorma.

The KGKB [Kache Gosht Ki Biryani] was sublime and then there was this khansama making something I had never seen anywhere else in India.

The khansama had the most amazing way of cooking thin slices of marinated meat on a stone. This stone was being heated by live embers beneath it.

I couldn’t stop watching this dish being cooked and the end result was perfection!

The desserts included nimish, seviyan ki kheer and much, much more. . .

The bride and groom departed, the guests dawdled and lingered and I left a happy ‘guest of a guest’ as I learned the name of the dish.

I was told it was called, yes, you guessed it folks, paththar ka gosht! (For those of you who might not know, this means literally meat cooked on stone.)

paththar ka gosht

Well, let’s leave the wedding guests and the couple for now and fast forward to 2012.

The city is Bangalore, the place a 5-star hotel.

I am visiting India after a few years.

Every time I come back to this once, appropriately, named ‘garden city’ I see more and more concrete structures in the form of 5-star hotels and high-rise apartments take over the beautiful gardens.

These huge properties with mega lobbies and many bars/lounges house multi-cuisine international restaurants.

However, ironically, the one thing missing is an ‘ethnic’ Indian restaurant – the kind that will showcase the local cuisine of the region.

I mean, I do wonder why one would go to India and then avoid, okay, avoid the street stalls, but in the swish hotels, why not showcase our diverse cuisine?

Anyway, let’s get back to the big hotel where I’m meeting my old friends.

There are seven of us at the bar and we all belong to the hospitality industry.

After a few drinks, when the music starts to sound like a ‘cacophonous’, we move to the open-air restaurant so we can hear one another talk. We’re older guys now, remember!

Anyway, more wine and more snacks appear. The snacks are beautifully presented and perfectly cooked. We have a paneer dish, a chicken snack with pepper and fenugreek followed by a serving of prawns with a sweet and hot and sour dipping sauce, just beautiful.

But where is the local food? How about some Mangalorean style snacks to go with my French red wine?

I ask my friend, who is a senior teacher at the catering college, if the young generation of chefs graduating from the college are training in ‘ethnic’ cuisines and her smile  says it all.

“Ajoy,” she says dipping a prawn into the sweet sauce, “No young chef wants to cook, or learn about, the fine art of cooking local Indian food.” She pauses, reaches for her wine and adds, “It is just not ‘sexy’ enough for them to take it up! They believe it takes them nowhere on the professional front, and certainly there is no glamour about cooking Mangalorean food or Andhra food or Gujarati food or for that matter Hyderabadi food.” She sips her wine and looks at me as if to say, ‘Well, what do you expect?’

Well, what can I say?!

How very ridiculous and absolutely blockheaded this approach is!! No wonder this cuisine has remained where it is, right at the bottom of the pecking order in the world of cuisines, when in fact it should be right at the top as it contains more diversity and richness than any other cuisine the world can imagine!

But unfortunately that is not how it is.

Every region has its unique style of cooking not seen anywhere else on this planet.

When most chefs in the world are trying to create dishes, we in India have food that has never been explored, all we have to do is recreate it and present it in a modern way, just look at Mr Vineet Bhatia.

You don’t know this man?

Okay, well he is the chef of the world-renowned Rasoi restaurant in London and what a marvellous job he is doing. I am sure there could be many more Vineet Bhatias in India if only there was a desire to succeed, and more importantly, the ‘passion’ and ‘pride’ in presenting Indian food exquisitely whilst maintaing its heritage. Here is the man himself:

“Oily and greasy food was the face of Indian cuisine in UK which was aggressively macho, illogically hot and spicy. I looked like a rebel waging a war against this falseness with no benchmark to set myself against. So I set my own trend in Indian cuisine minus messing up its authenticity.”

He says it how it is!

In my 30 years, or so, of cooking Indian food I have yet to come across an Indian chef who has a Michelin star cooking French, or Italian, or Mexican food (the list of other food nationalities is long but my space is short and I’m sure you get the idea!) but I certainly have seen a fair few Indian chefs cooking their desi food who are at the very top of their game. All these chefs have at least one, and sometimes two, Michelin stars amongst them: AV Sriram from Quilon restaurant, Suvir Saran from Devi, KN Vinod from Indique restaurant, Atul Kochar from Benaras and Alfred Prasad from Tamarind restaurant, the youngest chef to get a Michelin star, to name a few!!

It’s getting late in the day, but it could be worse if we desi cooks don’t wake up now and realise what a jewel of a cuisine we’re sitting on and letting go to waste as we’re not sharing its richness! Believe you me, there is plenty of room at the top, it’s not about replacing one cuisine with another but sitting alongside other cuisines.

The world is waiting for us to make the first move!!

Try and instigate change. Do it in small steps, with your family and friends. Even if you fail once, twice, or many times it is so important to educate.

As someone once said, “Remember the two benefits of failure. First, if you do fail you learn what doesn’t work; and secondly, the failure gives you the opportunity to try a new approach!!”

Well folks, here is my pocket-sized contribution towards this cause:

This is the complete recipe of paththar ka gosht from Shuruat. This is just the way we make it in my restaurant for our ‘Chef’s Tables’, and we are cooking on a paththar, of  course!!

Step 1

1. Prepare the stone. [Check below for points on seasoning and looking after the stone.]

preparing the stone (see notes below about ‘cracked’ stones)

2. The stone must be seasoned before it is used as a BBQ plate.

3. Light the fire and place the stone on top of the fire.

4. As the stone starts to heat up, increase the heat gradually.

5. Once hot, put a drop of water on the edge of the stone. If the water sizzles, the stone is hot and ready to use.

stone is hot & ready when the water sizzles

6. Lower the heat to moderate and maintain at that temperature.

Step 2

Ingredients for the PKG (Paththar Ka Gosht):

1. 8 lamb cutlets or chops, fat trimmed and bone ‘Frenched’ (this means it has been cut into long, thin slices)

2. 1 teaspoon black peppercorns

3. 2 pieces of cassia bark (cassia buds are generally used, but are not available in Australia)

4. 4–5 cloves of garlic peeled

5. 1 small piece of ginger, washed

6.  4–5 fresh green chillies

7.  Salt, to taste

8.  Juice of 1 lemon

Ingredients for the salad:

1.  1/4 bunch mint leaves

2.  1/4 bunch fresh coriander leaves

3.  Salt, to taste

4.  1 medium red (Spanish) onion

ingredients for the gosht (clockwise from top to bottom): garlic, green chillies, ginger, cassia, peppercorns, salt & lemon juice, plus lamb cutlets (centre)
ingredients for the salad (on the left): mint leaves, coriander leaves, red (Spanish) onion

Method:

1. Following Step 2, set aside the lamb cutlets in a bowl.

2. In an electric blender, grind all the remaining ingredients to a fine paste.

dry ingredients for the marinade in grinder

fresh & dry ingredients for the marinade

add the lemon juice before grinding

ground marinade

3.  Apply the marinade on each cutlet, return to bowl and cover with cling wrap. Refrigerate for about 1 hour.

applying the marinade on each cutlet

try to apply the marinade evenly on each cutlet

marinating cutlets

cover with cling wrap & refrigerate for 1 hour

4.  Following Step 3, in a clean blender mince the coriander and mint with the salt. Chop the red onion, then wash in cold water and drain. Set aside.

chopped & washed onions and ground mint & coriander with salt

5. Mix the mint and coriander ‘pesto’ with the chopped onion and set aside to serve as an accompaniment.

onion salad ready for the lamb cutlets

6.  Remove the marinated cutlets from the fridge and gradually place them on the seasoned, hot paththar (stone).

marinated cutlets ready for the stone

place the cutlets on the stone, one at a time

lamb cutlets cooking on the stone

7.  Cook the cutlets on each side till the marinade is crisp and the chops are medium-well cooked.

turn the cutlets over

marinade should be nice & crisp

cook evenly on both sides

paththar ka gosht ready for the plate

8.  Serve with the onion and ‘pesto’ salad.

serve with the onion salad

So, there you have it, folks. This is the simplest and best way to make this dish and then you can serve it in a ‘contemporary manner’.

a dish fit for the nizams – paththar ka gosht

No, this is not a ‘contemporary’ recipe but it is an ancient recipe shrouded in a lot of history and then served in a ‘present-day’ style. A fusion, if you will, of ancient and modern.

As for ‘contemporary’ food, well, let’s leave it to those who don’t . . . well, you know!!

And before I finally sign off, here are some

Points to remember when seasoning the stone for making PKG:

1. Season the stone by heating it gradually sprinkled with salt. As the stone gets hot, gradually increase the heat. The salt starts to cook and ‘cleans’ the stone.

getting the stone ready

seasoning the stone with salt

2. When the salt turns black, reduce the heat, remove the blackened salt, wipe the stone and allow to cool. The stone is now ready to be used as a BBQ plate.

salt changing colour

salt turn brown to black after a while

wipe off the blackened salt off the stone

3. If the stone cracks during the seasoning, it could be because it is not heavy enough for its size and it may have an air pocket. A cracked stone can still be used as long as it is not washed.

4. The stone does not need any oil as it renders the fat from the meat as it cooks and thereby keeps the meat moist and tender.

5. Any meat cooked like this on stone is ready to serve as soon as it’s ready, i.e. it needs no ‘resting’ as is the case when you grill on ‘metal’ plates.

6. Never use any detergent to clean the stone as it is porous and will absorb the detergent.

scrape off any bits of food from the stone after cooking

add salt & leave till the next time

7. Cooking on stone is fun and kids just love it, ask my son. He wants all his meat dishes ‘stone cooked’. It’s so easy, all you need is a stone for each protein!!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

Anna’s Mysore Chilli Chicken

Well, the name says it all.

But it might not be the name you expect.

Anyway, this is a chicken dish with, yes, you guessed it, chilli and it comes from the “royal” (well, I added the regal bit to it!!) kitchens of Mysore.

Anna’s Mysore chilli chicken

But what is not evident from the name, ‘Mysore chilli chicken’, is the process of creating this dish.

It is simple yet very skilled; it is hot but doesn’t burn, and it is tasty but not overly spiced.

This dish is ‘Carnatic’ music at its best, that is, to the taste buds!!

The dish is a creation of Vardarajan, who out of respect (or fear!!) was called “Anna” which means “big brother”. See, some of you won’t have expected that name to belong to a bloke!

Anna was a chef at the Chola Hotel in Madras, way back in the 70s and 80s, and what a chef he was.

But don’t let me do all the talking, folks.

I have pulled out a page from the ‘diary’ of Raman Natrajan who was a trainee in that hotel around the same time as Anna and he describes brilliantly what it was like working in the kitchens of the Chola Hotel and then he describes the dish itself!!

So, without further ado, let’s see what he wrote:

My first job in a professional kitchen was at The Chola Sheraton in Madras. I took a part-time job to work on the weekends. On my first day Chef Ramesh Babu walked me over to the Main Kitchen. I was to work in the prep kitchen next to the Indian kitchen. This was where you served your indenture in order to become an apprentice worthy of working in the main kitchen.

There was a never-ending procession of goods requisitioned out on numerous trolleys from the main storeroom that came into the prep kitchen first, for initial processing. For 12 hours a day, I stood there with my hands red and sore, peeling onions by the bagful and slicing them. My feet and back ached constantly and I was unable to answer back to any one who wanted to test my patience during those first few days. After two weeks I was moved to the Indian Kitchen.

In this small world of the Indian section, there was a smaller god, Chef Varadarajan, who by now must be in the great white kitchen in the sky. Everyone called him Anna (brother). Anna was a ‘Tamizhkaaran’ from Mysore (which means a Tamil from Mysore). He had about ten cooks and five apprentices and yes, I was again at the mercy of the whole team. It was here that I watched in wonder as Anna prepared a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, all day long, for the restaurant and banquets.

No one told you, showed you, or gave you handouts; you learnt by sight, taste, and smell to become proficient by doing a task over and over again and getting better and faster every time. We had thousands of marinated tandoori chicken pieces to put on seekhs (skewers). After this we stood in front of four hot tandoori ovens, soaked in sweat and we handed over these seekhs to the tandoori cooks who were experts on the tandoor. This was my first experience of real heat. I was aware that in 99 percent of the iterations of tandoori chickens out there, the light or dark red color was supplied by food dye. I was curious and asked Anna if he used food color in all the food that has some color added to it. Anna told me that he was going to show me something later.

In the Indian kitchen they made different gravies in large pots big enough to have a bath in!  Still, as far as I was concerned, I was now being treated like a human being, at last, largely thanks to Anna who took me under his wing. When you work in the hotel you go to the staff kitchen for a meal, for you would not dare eat in the kitchen, at least not while the chef or sous-chefs were around. But most afternoons, after the meal service was done at around 2 p.m., the executive chef and his sous-chef would take a break. This is when the senior cooks make a special lunch for themselves. These were gems that one cannot find on any menu. The dishes were made with pure love and every day each chef outdid the other with his special dish.

One day Anna made a dish for the afternoon meal from his native Mysore. This was the day that Anna had said he’d show me something. And he did as promised; he showed me how to make a spectacular dish which he called “Mysore chilli chicken”. And what was even more amazing is that he was going to make it without adding any food color. Till today, I have searched online for this recipe and I have never found one that looked anything like his. It was bright orange/red and tasted divine. It came served with steamed rice. It was spicy, it was hot and it was pure Carnatic music on a plate!!

I will never forget Anna who showed me his mastery of cooking.

Food is like music. It should be relaxing, refreshing, and nourishing. Just like the music you love, it should inspire and move, exhilarate and excite. Flavors, colors, and smells should intermingle on your palate and raise the senses. For Anna the master, everything was easy, he was a smooth conductor and I learnt from him that cooking is like playing an instrument. It requires practice and respect; patience and a willingness to learn. You make mistakes, you try again, and you master your performance.

Thank you Anna for being one of my early Aachiriyars!!
VANAIKKAM ANNA!!!

Well folks, there you have it. Men after my own heart. Food cooked with skill, endless practise and passion.

So, what do we know about our friend Raman Natrajan?

 Raman Natrajan

Well, he started his career in Madras in the early 80s at the Chola Sheraton. I guess I was somewhere there around that time and that is how we met.

Time went by, as it tends to do . . . Raman joined the ITDC, I joined the Taj group of hotels.

Raman went to America to further his career in the hotel industry and I moved ‘Down Under’ to become a DESI cook. . .!

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Raman went on to work for the Sheraton Hotel as their Executive Chef in New Orleans, followed by a stint at the Renaissance Stanford in San Francisco, until 2004.

Today he heads the hotel operations of the Marriott Hotels in the US. This is no mean feat for someone who was groomed in the ‘hot’ kitchens of Madras under the tutelage of the great Anna!!

And without further ado, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, mouth-watering recipe itself.

Mysore Chilli Chicken

Masala (marinade):

9 long dried red chilies (you can use either the Bedgi chilli from Mangalore or its similar Kashmiri chilli. If you use Kashmir add 1.5 tsp hot chilli powder)

8- 10 Tellicherry peppercorns

1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

6 cloves

I medium-sized cassia bark

2 1/2-inch pieces of ginger

ingredients for the marinade (clockwise from left to right):
top row, from left to right: whole black peppercorns, turmeric & cloves
middle row, from left to right: red chilli powder, water, salt & whole dried red chillies
bottom row, from left to right: cassia, coriander seeds & fresh ginger

1 kg chicken on the bone

chicken on the bone & half of the ground marinade

For the sauce aka ‘kari’

2 1/2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil

2 1/2 large onions, finely chopped

10 fresh curry leaves

Salt, to taste

2 medium-size tomatoes, chopped

2 tsp of lemon juice, to serve

‘kari’ ingredients, clockwise from left to right: vegetable oil, fresh curry leaves, chopped onions, remaining ground marinade & chopped tomatoes

Method:

1. Wash and cut the chicken into small pieces, drain till dry.

2. Grind all the masala ingredients to a fine paste, adding a little warm water.

all the marinade ingredients before being ground

ground marinade

3. Keep half the marinade (masala) aside for the sauce.

4. Marinate the chicken pieces in the remaining masala and set aside for 4 hours in the refrigerator.

marinating the chicken

marinated chicken

5. In a large frying pan, heat the ghee/oil and fry the onions with the curry leaves and salt. Cook until the onions are light golden brown. Add the masala to the onions and cook until the oil leaves the sides of the pan.

heat oil in a pan

add onions and fresh curry leaves, followed by salt

cook till it starts to turn light golden brown

add the remaining marinade

fold & cook till the oil leaves the sides of the pan

6. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, or till the tomatoes are cooked.

add the tomatoes & cook

7. Remove the marinated chicken from the fridge, place in a saucepan, cover and cook in its own juices until cooked (this is similar to ‘braising’) Set aside to rest.

place the marinated chicken in a saucepan

cover & cook over low heat

different stages of chicken cooking – just starting to change colour

stir occasionally for even cooking & cook till the chicken is fully cooked

8. Drain the chicken juices (‘liquor’) into the sauce and add a cup of water, if required. Cook till oil leaves the pan. Sprinkle with lemon juice.

drain the pot liquor into the sauce/’kari’

add some lemon juice

sauce/’kari’, ready to go!!

9. In another frying pan, heat enough oil to fry the cooked chicken pieces till caramelised and ‘bright red’! Drain and set aside.

heat oil in a separate pan

fry the chicken in hot oil, a few pieces at a time

fry the chicken till carmelised & ‘bright red’

drain on a paper towel

top with crisp-fried curry leaves

Serve the Mysore chilli chicken along with the kari on top of steamed Basmati rice, with some crisp fried curry leaves (you’ll see “how to temper kari leaves” on the link!).  (To make great steamed rice, click the link.)

serve on top of hot basmati rice, with ‘kari’ on top & a few drops of lemon juice

voilà, Mysore chilli chicken, ready to go!!

And before I sign off folks, here are a few of Anna’s tips to remember when cooking this dish:

1. To get a bright color from the chillies (if Bediga or Kashmiri chillies are not available), soak them in warm water, do not split them. This allows the chilli to soak in the moisture and concentrates the colors. Discard the water and grind.

2. Tellicherry pepper is the best in the world and has a very strong aroma!

3. Braising the chicken and letting it rest in the juices lets the meat to tenderise , then when you fry it, the outside is crisp and the inside is still moist. The Chinese call it ‘twice cooked’.

4. Once the chicken is fried it may be added to the sauce, or alternately served separately (as I did) on top of the rice along with the kari.

Well, as for me, I would like to have the lot with no rice and no kari, just a glass (or two) of my favourite Mornington Peninsula Nazaaray Shiraz!!! You can have the rice and. . .

Anah Daata Suki Bhava!!

Semolina crusted fish, one of my favorite starters for an Indian meal . . . or any meal for that matter!!

Posted on

about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

During one of my travels through the west coast/ghats of India in 1987/88, I was on the lookout for food that would not only be unique in taste and texture but also have a story to tell.

This tour was so that I could find different and highly specialised cuisines that we could then adapt for the luxury seafood restaurant we were running in Bangalore and so the food had to be excellent and different. Was I keen to go on this Grand Gastronomique Fish Tour? You bet!

Well, I was led to places like Dharwad, famous for its milk based desserts called peda, but that is not what I was looking for, whilst delicious, it was too simple a dish to sell in a ‘world class’ restaurant.

In Mangalore I found among other delicacies, neer dosa, a kind of rice flour dosai served with kori gassi  which was perfect to feature as a main course, but I was looking for a starter with seafood.

My friend, KK Shiva, had recommended a place called Coondapoor famous for its usha restaurant. He had also warned me to get there early as the restaurant is famous for a fried fish called kane rava fry which is sold out even before it is sold, if you know what I mean!

The owner of the restaurant, Mr Shetty, does not take any bookings so it is on a first come first served basis. Cool!!

Well, I was not going to miss out on this experience and I was extremely lucky to get the last of the ‘KRF’.

The kane fish (also called lady fish), is extremely delicate and has to kept alive till it is ready to be cooked. There is no scientific reason for this except that the usha restaurant has no refrigerators!!

Once killed, the fish must be massaged with oil which keeps the fish soft and prevents it from curling!!

The gutted fish then gets smeared with a masala called coondapoor masala, coated with semolina and fried.

What then appears is the best ‘crumbed’ fish I had ever eaten!!

This dish had to feature in our new restaurant and was sure to be a winner!!

The restaurant, by the way, is called ‘Karavalli’ and even though I left the restaurant over 25 years ago, this fish dish has never left the menu!!

Now, nearly 25 years down the line I serve a version similar to the KRF in Nilgiri’s in Sydney, on special occasions, but I use a local fish called barramundi.

This fish has a very earthy flavour and can be very easily crumbed. I love to eat it, served with a mint and coriander chatni!! For a one page version of this recipe click semolina crust fish recipe. For a step by step recipe, keep reading!

step 1

ingredients, clockwise: salt, turmeric powder, garam masala for fish, fresh chillies ground, tamarind extract, fresh chillies slit lengthways, fried kari leaves, red onions, sliced

step 2

2-inch squares of barramundi

step 3

fine to medium coarse semolina

step 4

oil for frying

step 5

to finish - lemon juice and chopped parsley

step 6

FOR THE MARINADE:

add salt

step 7

add

add turmeric and garam masala

step 8

add ground chillies

step 8

add tamarind extract

step 9

mix spices into a masala or marinade

step 10

coat each fish piece in the masala

step 11

apply masala on both sides, or just one if you prefer

step 12

dust fish in semolina

step 13

add oil to hot pan and heat until it starts smoking

step 14

carefully place each fish piece in the hot oil

step 15

cook till the semolina is golden

step 16

carefully turn fish over to cook both sides evenly, taking care not to damage semolina crust

step 17

keep frying

step 18

fry until fish crust turns a dark golden colour

step 19

drain each fish piece of oil

step 20

prepare bed of Spanish onion and chopped coriander, fried kari leaves with a dash of lemon juice, to serve

step 21

enjoy!

Serve this as a part of your Easter Special and watch the resurrection of . . . happen in front of your eyes!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

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