Sunday, December 14, 2008

Roast Leg of Lamb for Christmas

Roald Dahl's murder weapon when frozen. Delicious when cooked.
Started with a 3.3 kg bone-in New Zealand
leg of lamb from Citysuper, IFC, Hong Kong.
Not much silverskin, a layer of fat on top, a
hefty knuckle... perfect for roasting.

The marination: simple is best
Garlic, rosemary, thyme,
lemon juice, olive oil, pepper.
My kitchen and living room smelt
mediterranean for hours.

The leg of lamb packed with all those goodies
inside a ziplock bag. Or rather two ziplock bags.
Note to self: buy BIGGER ziplock bags
next time.

Marinated overnight, all those flavours
wrapping themselves lovingly around the lamb.
Surely the full moon helped a bit.

Taken out of the refrigerator an hour before cooking.

Marination removed and meat patted dry with
paper towels. Then seasoned and massaged vigorously
with salt and pepper. Didn't forget the chef's touch
of cutting slits and inserting slivers of garlic and sprigs of fresh herbs
Looked good enough to eat even at this stage.

The lamb went in the oven with lots of pomp and ceremony, cheered
on by an enthusiastic audience.

Seared in the oven at high heat (around 300 C)
for ten minutes (after lots of fiddling around with the knobs
of an unfamilar oven and a couple of misfires.)

Then roasted slowly for almost two hours on medium heat,
around 180 C. Basted with olive oil and some of the marinade
every half hour.

By the end of Hour 1 the whole house was smelling yummy
and people were getting hungry and restless. By Hour 2
pizza delivery numbers were being looked at. Any longer,
and I would have had a riot on my hands

The lamb came out looking fairly good, all
that fat having melted into the meat, the surface
nicely browned.

The meat rested for about 20 minutes under
a foil tent, letting the fibres relax and the juices
ooze into every pore.

Carved with a hungry audience gathered
around as if in prayer. A couple of
" silence of the lambs" jokes were cracked.

The sauce - red wine reduction: caramelised onions
scraped and deglazed with red wine, mixed with pan
juices, reduced and simmered with lamb stock, chicken
broth and mustard.

Some vigorous chomping later, this is what was left in the end.
Probably fair to say that it was a success ! And a bit of a relief for me I must say.
Merry Christmas.

Most pics in this Post are courtesy my friend Manash Dasgupta

Friday, September 19, 2008


If music be the food of love, eat on ...

Day 3
An evening of Appams & Ishtew at Abeer & Anna's

Appams by Anna. The music of fresh batter sizzling on a hot pan

Anna's Appams hot off the griddle. Whisper-soft riceflour pancakes,
slightly lacy around the edges. I followed them right from the kitchen
to the dining table.

With Appams on the plate, can Mutton Ishtew be far behind :
white mutton stew cooked in coconut milk and flavoured
( I think) with cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, peppercorn and cinnamon

And then just to take things to another level, the unique Pineapple curry.
Chunks of sweet pineapple in a sweet n sour coconut-based gravy.
Anna's mom's secret Malayalam recipe. All I can say is that it combined
the flavours and spices of South India, East India and
South-east Asia in one delightful concoction.

Day 2
Concert Tribute to Ustad Karamatullah Khan, the late
tabla maestro - the 32nd generation of an unbroken
lineage of the Farakkabad gharana, dating back to 1132.

Ustad Sultan Khan on Sarangi, Ustad Sabir Khan on Tabla
and Taufiq Qureshi on percussions.
Delightful jugalbandis and some enthusiastic sparring.
Classic ragas and Rajasthani folk songs.
Constantly, playfully blurring the boundaries of
classical and folk, traditional and fusion.

Day 1
Oh Calcutta ! restaurant, Forum, Elgin Road, Kolkata

Mary Memsahib-er fish finger: small, thin, crunchy cylinders of
fried breaded fish named after the ubiquitous "Madam Mary - ",
a nice tribute to the rich Anglo-Indian contribution to Calcutta
cuisine and Calcutta life. The strumming of guitars in the
back-lanes of Rippon Street, rum-soaked cakes at Christmas ...

Pic courtesy
Golbarir Kasha Mangsho:
A cover version of the rich, dark-as-sin,
dry mutton curry from Golbari in Shyambazar, North Calcutta.
Looks lethal. Tastes amazing. The stuff of legend.

Kumro pata-e aam aachar ilish: Boneless hilsa pieces marinated
in mango pickle and green chillies, wrapped in pumpkin leaves and
steamed to perfection. Innovative take on the Hilsa,
but rooted in Bengali cooking tradition. Sweet and tangy.

Daab Chingri: Prawns cooked with mustard, turmeric and green chillies,
steamed inside a green coconut , and served in the coconut shell.
Creamy and delicate. Even better while listening to Rabindrasangeet.

Day 6
Hilsa dinner at Mamu and Mamiya's

A 2 kg riverwater hilsa bought from the finest purveyor in Lansdowne Market. Unbelievably tasty, the flesh soft and sweet and pinkish white. Gives the Toro ( fatty tuna belly) a run for its money in my book.

Doi Ilish: The Hilsa being cooked in Mamiya's kitchen.
Mustard paste, yoghurt and green chillies. The holy trinity behind every great Hilsa curry.

Ilish Mach bhaja: Hilsa fried in mustard oil.
Crispy, slightly charred skin, sweet and firm flesh.
With fried, slightly salty roe that manages to be creamy
and firm at the same time. And that little yellow oil on
the plate - mixture of the natural oils of the fish and
the pungent mustard oil - to be scooped up with some
plain steamed rice. Enough to send any Bengali to the moon.

Finally the moment, a precious moment that comes
rarely to us non-resident Bengalis.
I broke off a bit of the fish, dipped it in the curry and
took a small bite. My eyes closed automatically, all my
senses started singing , and my soul leaped in joy.
The sweet fish, the velvety sauce, the kick of the
green chillies and mustard paste, softly tempered
by the yoghurt. It was pure. It was emotional. It was magnificent.

Day 4

Man of the Heart
A multi-media solo performance on the life and times of Lalon Phokir,
the 19th century Sufi mystic bard. Enacted through solo acting and
reading, video projections, live and recorded audio and minimalist props.
A stunning world-class performance for only forty rupees. Only in Calcutta.

Day 7
Mutton Biryani from Arsalan

Pic courtesy
Which is the best mutton biryani in Calcutta ?
Over the last two decades I have always vouched for Shiraz,
in Mullickbazar, Park Circus. This time I had to do a serious
rethink after tasting the biryani from Arsalan
( Park Circus 7 point crossing) .
Fragrant ( I can still smell it sitting thousands of miles away
in Hong Kong), every grain of rice flavourful, almost juicy,
a melt-in-the-mouth piece of mutton, a gigantic chunk of potato,
not overtly greasy ... what more can you ask for

Day 8
Sweet Finale

Mango Chomchom, Mango sandesh, Mango doi and Cappuccino sandesh from Balaram's.
La Dolce Vita, the mishti Bengali way. Till next time, Kolkata.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Eating Asia Part 1

Eating my way across various parts of Asia

Yes I've had the pleasure. From Spicy Frog in a hotpot restaurant in Chengdu and red hot Beef Rendang in a Mamak joint in Kualalumpur, to sizzling Pig's ears in Manila and Cabbages with Condoms in Bangkok. From Prawns in coconut sauce in my hometown Kolkata and Scallop in Orange in Shanghai to Rabbit Wonton broth in Melbourne and Erdinger beer in Singapore ...

Recent posts
Eating Asia
'Lost' whisky distilleries of Scotland
Bacon and Chocolate
Schmap Melbourne Guide

Friday, August 22, 2008

Lost distilleries of Scotland

History, geography, economics, politics and romance are all distilled together in this fascinating story of the Lost Distilleries of Scotland.

These are a bunch of small, charming , much-loved, often remote distilleries in Scotland that once all produced their own distinctive brands of single malts , but were closed down in the 1980's due to a variety of geographical, economic and political reasons and were therefore 'lost' to posterity.

But all was not lost.

Some of the old stock of these now 'silent' distilleries have been carefully preserved , and are occasionally bottled and released, much to the delight of single malt afficionados. The remarkable quality of some of the vintages, the story behind them, the rarity of the bottlings and the dwindling supply, all add to their charm and their rising prices.

The whole fascinating story is beautifully detailed and turned into a profitable business by The Whisky Exchange

Based in London, The Whisky Exchange sources these lost vintages from manufacturers and bottlers and sells them online. The user-friendly design, easy payment process and the expert guidance notes makes ordering from the site a breeze and a pleasure. It takes 3-4 days for an order to be processed and delivered to Hong Kong. No doubt delivery times in the UK and Europe would be shorter.

In the last three months I have ordered four bottles from The Whisky Exchange, two for my friends and two for my own collection. I intend adding to the collection over a period of time.

Rosebank 1991 / 16 Year old / 53.9% / 70cl

Glenglassaugh 1973 / 34 Year old / Bourbon Cask / 52% / 70cl

Port Ellen 1982 / 25 Year old / 52% / 70cl

Brora 1982 / 23 Year old / Sherry Cask#2294 / 50% / 70cl

Needless to say, I will take great care of these bottles and hopefully watch their prices rising. But will I be able to overcome the temptation of drinking them ?

All pics sourced from

Recent posts
Eating Asia
'Lost' whisky distilleries of Scotland
Bacon and Chocolate
Schmap Melbourne Guide

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bacon and Chocolate

While walking around the chocolate section in
Whole Foods, Union Square, New York City,
I spotted Mo's Bacon Chocolate Bar. Bacon
and chocolate ! Wowee yumm yumm ! But how ?

This is what it said on the back of the package:

" I began experimenting with bacon + chocolate at the tender age of 6,
while eating chocolate chip pancakes drenched in Aunt Jemima syrup,
as children often do. Beside my chocolate laden cake laid three strips of
sizzling bacon, just barely touching a sweet pool of maple syrup. And then,
the magic - just a bite of the bacon was too salty and I yearned for the
sweet kiss of chocolate and syrup, so I combined the two. In retrospect ,
perhaps that was the turning point; for on that plate something magical
happened, the beginnings of a combination so ethereal and delicious that
it would haunt my thoughts until I found the medium to express it - chocolate. "

Peace, love+ chocolate

Obviuously after this I couldn't resist checking out what
seemed like a mad combination on the surface, but
somehow made tremendous sense when you really
thought about it. Or when you bit into it.
Milk chocolate ( 41% cacao) with applewood smoked bacon and alder
wood smoked salt. "The lust of sweet and salt" as the package
describes it. I brought a few bars back to Hong Kong and
enjoyed the lust for a long time.

The website also lists other fascinating combinations that I am itching to taste

Red Fire: Mexican ancho & chipotle chillies + Ceylon cinnamon + dark chocolate
Wouldn't mind a shot of Tequila with this. Or perhaps an icecold vodka. Maybe a Guinness.

Black Pearl: ginger + wasabi + black sesame seeds + dark chocolate
Not sure if I should drink a warm sake with this. Or lemongrass infused vodka.

Goji: goji berries + pink Himalayan salt + deep milk chocolate
Thinking of a dark rum or a cognac as an accompaniment.

The one that I would probably give a miss
Naga: sweet Indian curry + coconut + deep milk chocolate

And just for a full-on, no holds barred chocolate experience
Creole: New Orleans style chicory coffee + cocoa nibs + Sao Thome
bittersweet chocolate. Definitely a cognac or a peaty single malt from
Islay or a Chimay Belgian Trappiste beer to drink with this.
And an espresso.

Recent posts

Monday, August 11, 2008

Schmap Melbourne Guide

My photo of Melbourne airport got chosen to be included in the newly released fifth edition of the Schmap Melbourne Guide.

I took this shot with my Sony Cybershot DSC-T7 through the aircraft window just as the flight landed in Melbourne at dusk.

The photo on Schmap Melbourne Guide

This is a pretty cool Guide, available also on iPhone
Schmap on iPhone

Recent posts

Eating Asia
'Lost' whisky distilleries of Scotland

Bacon and Chocolate

Schmap Melbourne Guide

More such pics in " Shots from the Sky" on my Flickr

Other shots of Melbourne

My 7 course degustation meal in Taxi restaurant, Melbourne

Saturday, June 7, 2008

wd~50, Wylie Dufresne, New York City

Molecular in Manhattan

During my trip to New York City last month I finally achieved something I've been planning for a long time - a meal at chef Wylie Dufresne's wd~50, one of the most critically acclaimed, talked-about, blogged-about and hotly debated restaurants in the world today.

My friends and I had the 12 course tasting menu ( US$ 125 per person without wine), but before I get into the meal, a few words about chef Dufresne and his " mad science"

Molecular gastronomy, pioneered by superstar chefs like Ferran Adria of El Bulli in Spain and Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck in UK, delves into food chemistry and uses creative techniques to alter and enhance ingredients, textures and flavours. While other molecular gastronomists use liquid nitrogen and lasers to do their thing, Wylie Dufresne makes use of hydrocolloids - proteins and starches that basically turn liquids into gels.

Cornstarch thickener is an everyday example of a hydrocolloid; so is gelatin. The hydrocolloids chef Dufresne uses are a little more exotic - things like xanthan gum and agar-agar. An entire wall of his hi-tech kitchen is lined with little white bottles that would not look out of place in a chemistry lab.

Xanthan Gum ( C35H49O29 )

Combine the wonders of chemistry with endless hours of experimentation, add extraordinary creative flair and large doses of imagination, the curiosity and courage to push the boundaries and a certain indifference to critical opinion... and you get Wylie Dufresne's cutting-edge, whimsical take on food. Diners either love it passionately or hate it with a vengeance - there's no middle ground of reactions here.

For example take wd~50's Eggs Benedict. It contains all the elements of the classic dish - poached egg, hollandaise sauce, English muffin, bacon. But deconstructed and then put back together into a neat minimalist hypermodern form that has become chef Dufresne's most famous creation. The poached egg is presented as concentrated columns of egg yolk, the hollandaise sauce is deep-fried with the help of hydrocolloids and shaped into cubes and coated with English muffin crumbs. The accompanying Canadian bacon is wafer-thin and super crisp. A tongue-in-cheek dinner interpretation of a breakfast classic.

The science behind this dish - that apparently took almost a year to perfect - is impressive. So is the thought that goes behind creating something that is extraordinarily different yet retains the essence of the original. Does everyone love it ? No. Does it fill your stomach like the classic eggs Benedict does ? No, but it is not meant to. Remember it is part of a twelve course tasting menu. It is also indicative of the direction chef Dufresne has taken, a direction that not everyone can or should follow.

The ingredients of the Eggs Benedict (top) and the finished dish (below). Pic courtesy New York Times

Now, to our much anticipated meal. Twelve courses eaten for over two hours in a dimly lit and relatively spare interior, at a table looking directly into the kitchen. Dishes timed perfectly, and served and explained expertly.

Pic courtesy Foodplow
Sweetbreads, rhubarb, roiboos, hazelnut

Tiny sweetbreads served with a scrape of rhubarb sauce. An amuse-bouche. Gone in 5 seconds leaving a slight tart taste in the mouth. Incidentally 'roiboos' is an African tea herb. Who knew ?

Pizza pebbles, pepperoni, shitake
Droplets of shitake mushroom and a pepperoni paste in between tiny 'pebbles' of pizza dough. You get the dough, sauce and toppings, all the ingredients of a pizza, repackaged in a pranksterish wd-style. You can almost see the chef winking through this dish. I found the pebbles very dry and 'dough-y' but then I generally don't like pizza or the taste of dough. I learnt later that this dish is almost universally disliked by both fans and foe.

Knot Foie

This is where the meal starts getting interesting. A slab of foie gras is turned into an elastic strand with the help of hydrocolloids like xanthan gum and konjac flour, and then tied into knots. Served with rice krispies which make a crunchy counterfoil to the foie paste and is also, I think, the chef's whimsical way of making us eat an expensive delicacy with something as basic as a breakfast cereal. Oh and the rice krispies were alternated with golden raisins for sweetness and kimchi puree for a little kick.

Hamachi tartare, wakame, sake lees tahini, grapefruit-shallot sauce

A tuna sashimi that looks a bit like tuna sashimi but doesn't quite taste like tuna sashimi. It has somehow taken on dimensions and texture that tuna sashimi does not have. That's because chef Dufresne has played with it, first grinding the hamachi coarsely and then putting it back together with meat glue ( transglutaminase). He's served it with a sweet-tart marmalade'y grapefruit sauce and a tahini made of sake lees, which is a left-over of the sake filtration process. SASHIMI WITH SAKE , of course.

Eggs Benedict

Egg yolk 'gel', fried cubes of hollandaise sauce coated with English muffin crumbs, superfine Canadian bacon. All the flavours of Eggs Benedict in one bite. Enough said.

Crab tail, soybean noodle, cinnamon dashi

Soybean 'noodle' sheets - another product of chef Dufresne's science - resembling ravioli skin but firmer and more elastic, over a piece of crab, resting in a fragrant cinnamon dashi broth and sprinkled with basil chiffonade.

At this point, take a breather and review what we've had so far. Sweetbreads, pizza, foie gras, tuna, eggs, crab. What next, you wonder. Well, chicken !

Chicken liver spaetzle, pine needle, radish, cocoa nib

The spaetzle, which is typically a German egg noodle, was in this case a rich mixture of chicken liver, meat and skin. The cocoa nibs lining the bowl provided a bitter counterpoint and the raw radish discs helped cut the rich taste of the chicken. A marvellous dish, though where was the pine needle or what was the pine needle I do not know.

Lamb belly, black chickpea, cherried cucumber

Lamb belly is the 'meat of the moment' among New York City chefs this season. It is essentially lamb bacon, rich salty and crunchy. Here it came accompanied by black chickpeas, both toasted and pureed. And the surprise wd element - 'pickled' cherry-flavoured cucumber.

Think of that for a minute .

We coudn't think too long as it was time for dessert , created by pastry chef Alex Stupak who has worked before in the other temple of molecular gastronomy - Alinea in Chicago. Here he brings concepts learnt at Alinea and marries them to wd's cutting-edge techniques and philosophy. The results are outstanding.

Wintergreen parfait, avocado puree, chartreuse gelee, candied walnuts

A little amuse-bouche; a dessert starter.

Toasted coconut cake, carob, smoked cashew, brown butter sorbet
Warm toasty coconut-y cake with coconut foam. Caramel-ly brown butter sorbet sitting on smoked cashews. So many different textures, different temperatures, different flavours but making delicious sense together.

Soft white chocolate, white beer ice cream

White beer icecream ! Why didn't someone think of this before ? ! And with a soft elastic ( hydrocolloid again) strand of white chocolate and malt powder. A beer lover's dream turned into a dessert. Wait, it isn't malt powder but potato chips coated in malt !! And there's also some beer jam which is different from the beer ice cream but beer all the same but not quite the same. Forget it. It was fabulous.

Chicory ice cream, chocolate and coffee

The finale: The suitably hefty bill, coffee and bittersweet chicory ice cream balls covered in chocolate. And little chocolate 'pillows' that we took home.

Was this the best meal I've ever had in my life ? Possibly not. Was this the most interesting meal I've ever had ? Absolutely yes. Does it make us rethink the concept of food ? Well that depends on your point of view, on how much you are inclined to rethink the concept of food. You may not care at all, and that's fine. There are many other fabulous restaurant options in NYC and Hong Kong to choose from.
Not everything tasted great, not all the dishes made sense. Some were outlandish. But in its totality, the beautifully paced and expertly portioned twelve course dinner was outstanding in conception and execution. Add to that the pleasure of having experienced something that is very avant-garde, immensely creative and cutting-edge. That sort of thing stimulates me, so I'm glad that I had the chance.
And go back I definitely will, as I know that chef Dufresne is continuing to experiment in his 'laboratory', trying out new magic tricks and continuing to push the boundaries
My only regret: I didn't go to the restroom which I believe is as " out there" as the food !
Frank Bruni's review of wd~50 in New York Times
An illuminating article and brilliant slideshow on the science of molecular gastronomy in New York Times
wd~50 discussions on Yelp
wd~50 discussions on Chowhound
50 Clinton StreetNew York, NY 10002 Phone: 212.477.2900
In a funny way this meal compares with the other " totally out there" experience I had in New York City this time - artist Cao Guo-Ciang's exhibition of exploding cars, gunpowder art and immersive installations at The Guggenheim
Other posts on recent gourmet experiences