Tag Archives: Food

The Return of the Gin Martini…

My journey starts with one inescapable truth in life, the sun has set somewhere in the world. And that means it is time to get a drink. Not just any drink but one of the classics… I love searching for classic drinks, it is a fun obsession and one that takes you through an intriguing maze of bars, drinking culture and interesting people.

Fine ArtFor the sake of tradition, let’s start with the ubiquitous Martini, not the bastardised version with vodka but one of the 6 original drinks, with gin! An interesting read on this is  The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David Embury. For those really interested one can buy it on www.amazon.com for about `1800 including shipping.

Interesting fact, Martini® is actually a brand name for one of the world’s most visible bottles. Regardless of where one is in the world the chances are you will see a bottle of Martini® on the back-bar. It is essentially a 120-year-old European brand, selling in millions of bottles across Europe and fast becoming one of the largest brands in Russia (Fun reason why Russians are fast adopting it, more on that later) If you are an advertising fan, here is an example of classic Martini® turn of the century work. Martini Poster 1

Martini® is vermouth (dry, extra dry or red), drunk mainly as an apéritif, similar to how we drink tea in India! It is also a key component in the classic Martini and used well gives balance to ensure the drink does not come out too dry. It comes in a couple of varieties, Extra-Dry, Bianco, Rosso etc.

My journey starts in Delhi, not because it is the political capital of India but because I believe Delhi is fast over-taking Bombay in terms of quality of both bars, and drinks. Bombay still has some of the best hotel bars in the country, but cocktail culture is best absorbed in a more intimate, younger environment, which most hotel bars do not provide. Being someone who has drunk all over India at almost all bars, one of the perks of my job, trust me on one thing, you would rather spend time at a buzzing bar than one stuffed with old fogies! On an aside, Delhi has the least amount of bars & retail licenses per square feet/population density. There are approximately 450 odd bars in Delhi, conversely Bombay has over 1800! 

While there are a lot of good bars, the best are those that can consistently serve you a great cocktail, and those are unfortunately rare. It’s time owners realize that we come to bars to enjoy our drinks and there is nothing better than seeing a great stocked bar with the bartenders making classic and modern cocktails. Most bars rarely move beyond whiskies & standard white spirits. Cocktails are normally made with the cheapest spirits available and masked with liberal doses of sweet & sour mixes. That’s the beauty of trying out a Classic Martini, the nature of the drink means it is impossible to make a good one without premium alcohol.

Cary GrantThe Classic Martini has found its way across popular culture in books, movies & music, romanticizing the drink to almost the throne sat upon by champagne! Bolstering the decadence and magic around it are the gentleman who swore by it down the ages, including Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra.
Legend says that if it was not for the Martini, Churchill might not have won the war! Apocryphal quotes abound around the drink including my favorite, One martini is all right. Two are too many, and three are not enough”.

The Classic Martini is made from gin, vermouth, with an olive or a twist of lime. Nothing more, nothing less. The dirtier variety is an addition of brine from the olive jar and a couple olives  more. This is the Martini. Gin Martini

The best cocktails in Delhi are made at Smokehouse Grill, Shroom, Shalom, PCO, Setz, Magique, Ricks, Blue Bar & Shiro. Not surprisingly all these bars have experienced managers and forward thinking owners pushing the envelope. So you will find quality brands, interesting infusions and Sake varieties! The glasses are right, drinks are cold, infusions interesting and the flavors and fruits fresh and inviting.

The first stop is Smokehouse Grill at GK-2…I have to admit, I am an unabashed fan. I am not going to delve into the food, which incidentally is among the best meats in town, but stick to talking about the bar. There is a good choice of premium alcohol and some very good wines…it is not rare to see a `50,000 bottle of wine or champagne be popped for an occasion and without the pomp and fuss that one detests in Delhi! What I really like about the bar is the pricing, it’s affordable and it means one doesn’t have to stand around with a bottle of beer in their hands the entire evening. Eclectic mix of people, some extremely pretty women and a couple who are happy to wrap themselves around a couple of the strategic poles placed near the bar post midnight! 

GinsBack to the drink and make sure you get John to make it for you. He’s one of Delhi’s top bartenders and watching him shake and deliver a good cocktail on a busy Friday night in 90 seconds is quite impressive! When you order a Classic Martini make sure you ask for an imported premium gin. Any other gins are essentially spirit with an artificial flavor and should be avoided! Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, Hendricks are the best out there, distilled using botanical’s and original ingredients made at a single source, i.e. one distillery in the world. Coming back to the drink here, its made in the classical style, i.e. stirred NOT shaken! If there is some criticism I have it is that the straining is not perfect and you do find some ice chips in your drink. The other issue is that the martini glasses are bigger than the serving, and for a classic cocktail that is a strict no no. On the flip side the drink is chilled perfectly, which allows the ingredients to mix well…it also means you need to drink your Martini within five minutes or the heat from your hands will start breaking down the ingredients.

Referring to my point on the phenomenal rise of  Martini® in Russia is ironically because most Russian women are drinking bottles of it at nightclubs and parties. It looks elegant, much less kick than vodka or champagne and there is an innate elegance about it. 

monica-bellucci-martini

martini_rosato_jude_law_ad_campaign_advertising_2009_2010

The newest advertising campaign is all about Martini® being the world’s most beautiful drink, and to communicate the messaging they have roped in the gorgeous Monica Belluci & Jude Law to promote the brand. In the past George Clooney & the gorgeous Charlize Theron have worked their magic on television for Martini®, the Clooney campaign is particularly good, a take-off on the golden age of cocktails, with Clooney sporting a Clark Gable mustache with his customary savoirfaire. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81OmtxZHJVA

Continuing my search for great drinks, to quote a classic from Jim Morrison…Take me to the next whisky bar!

Cooking For One..A Bachelor’s Guide To Good Food – Goan Crab Xec Xec Curry

I never realised how great my cooking was till I actually tried cooking food beyond the ‘Maggi in a Mug’ & burnt attempts at a ham and cheese omelette that looked more like french toast & tasted not much better! For the uninitiated, Maggi in a Mug is a boarding school tradition. Hot water from the bathing geysers in a bathing mug in which you dump the Maggi and then wait for it to slowly dissolve…the resultant mess is the obvious namesake. However, moving to Bangalore and living alone allowed me to start experimenting in the kitchen, especially when my maid’s cooking was restricted to combinations of chilli, chicken, gravy, oil & tomatoes – 20 different types. To cut a long story short I had some friends over from out-of-town so here’s the first recipe, a Goan Crab Xec Xec Curry. Warning: This recipe is a spicy one, so be prepared!

Preparation/Cooking Time: 45 mins – 1 hour. Can I Make It Level: Yes. Medium Difficulty.

Goan Xec Xec Xurry with RIce The critical thing to note before embarking on any type of half decent culinary adventure is to make sure you have the right tools. Don’t skimp here, because size and quality does matter! While you’re not going for the Masterchef Kitchen look I would recommend the following.

  1. Two good-sized non-stick branded saucepans. I prefer the Cocoon range of cookware, they’re TEFLON coated, sturdy and wear age well.Cookware
  2. A set of sharp cutting knives, some good brands put there include Lazer. I prefer a couple of the German brands, you tend not to go wrong with the European stuff.
  3. Chopping boards – 1 large and 1 Small. Both wooden or toughened plastic? will do.
  4. Wooden spoons for stirring, no particular brand but make sure they are sturdy and sit comfortably in your hands.
  5. Assorted pans for boiling rice, cleaning meats and generally useful.
  6. A bunch of small steel bowls to keep your spices etc.
  7. Couple of medium to large steel strainers – they are especially useful for cleaning rice and sea-food.Grinder
  8. A really sturdy wet/dry grinder for spices etc. Lot of good brands out there, I prefer the Kenstar, possibly because it came free from my mother! Two things to look out for, the simpler the better and should have a powerful motor with multiple speed settings.

Since I live alone in Bangalore I am comfortable picking up my sea-food from either the Metro Cash & Carry goo.gl/maps/Jy3br near my office or the more expensive but better serviced Food Hall at the new 1MG Mall goo.gl/maps/DSosa. Alternatively, you can try Russell Market goo.gl/maps/mnMUP where most of the locals shop.

SHOPPING LIST

  • 2 kgs crabs
  • 1 Coconut
  • 1 Packet Kashmiri Chilli’s (Almost impossible to find in Bangalore so you can substitute that with local dried red chillies)
  • 1 Packet Coriander Seeds neé dhaniya
  • 1 bottle of Malabar Peppercorns
  • 25 gms Cloves neé laung
  • Regular Cooking Oil
  • Onions
  • Store-bought Ginger-Garlic Paste (If you wish to make it at home find the recipe at goo.gl/JWEHF)
  • 1 packet of Tumeric neé haldi powder
  • 1 packet of Kashmiri Chilli powder (Only required if you don’t have Kashmiri Chillies)
  • A bunch of green chillies
  • Raw Tamarind neé imli

What Next:

Crabs: You need to clean the crabs. Normally quite a yucky process, would suggest you use polythene gloves to handle the crabs. Unlike prawns, crabs are easy to clean. Rinse them under the kitchen tap and remove any grimy parts or debris. You might find yellow tinged meat in the underbelly. This is safe to eat and is considered a delicacy in some parts of the civilised world…I personally think its gross and scoop it out. Once you clean the crab, break it into four to six parts. Essentially the stomach area and the claws need to be separated. If the claws are too big you can break them into two parts as well.IMG_20120628_230321 Most traditional recipes don’t talk about marination, but I normally add two heaped tea-spoons of salt and half a teaspoon of turmeric powder to the crabs. If you like your’s spicy you may even add one teaspoon of red chilli powder to the mix. Spread it well and keep the crabs aside for a minimum of 10 minutes. Coconut: Break the coconut. A Herculean task. Don’t try it yourself, ask your South Indian maid to do it in the morning. She’s a master at this. If you wish to do itself here’s a guide on how to go about it…goo.gl/xDACk. Please don’t blame me for loss or limb, fingers or other more important male bodily parts. You need the coconut flesh now.  Boiling it for about 5-10 minutes then running it under some cold water and letting it sit for another 5-10 minutes. The softer flesh shrinks back to its original shape quicker than the harder shell and you can very easily slip in a knife or a spoon and pull the whole flesh out in one go. Again be careful, I know a friend who sliced her palm while taking out the flesh. Once you have got sufficient flesh, put it in your grinder and give it a whirl. You need about half a cup of grated coconut for the dish. Onions Onions: Slice 2 medium sized onions. Use a wet knife, it tends to keep the tears away. Use the plastic gloves if you don’t want to reek of onions and garlic! Try and ensure the slices are circular and the rings separated. Tamarind Juice: A simple way to get the juice is put a couple of pieces of tamarind in half a cup of boiling water. Let it rest for 15 minutes, then squeeze the pulp in the cup and voila, you have tamarind juice! Start Cooking: On a high flame roast the grated coconut in your cooking pan. This needs to be done dry. Once the coconut is a light brown transfer the roasted coconut to your grinder bowl and let it cool down.IMG_20120701_230939 In the same pan on a high flame roast 10 -12 Kashmiri or local red chillies, again without oil. After 1 minute add 2 tablespoons dhaniya seeds, 10-12 peppercorns and 4 cloves. Roast them for another minute and then transfer the roasted spices to the grinder where your roasted coconut is waiting. (If you like your food spicy, you can add 2 chopped green chillies to the grinder mix as well)IMG_20120625_223806 Let the mixture cool for a couple of minutes and then add 1 tablespoon of water along with 1 tablespoon of the tamarind juice without the pulp in the grinder bowl. Now grind this to a fine paste. I find 45 seconds to 1 minute usually does the trick. Time to pour oil in your pan – 2 to 3 tablespoons is adequate. Any more and the oil will stay in the food and form a film on the gravy. Heat the oil on a high flame and then add the onions. Fry them for about 3 minutes, the onions will first turn translucent and then start browning. At this point stir in 1 teaspoon of ginger-garlic paste and 1/2 a teaspoon of turmeric powder. You need to fry this mixture for about 15 to 20 seconds, basically to let the masalas mix well with the onions. If you didn’t have the Kashmiri Chillies you can add 1 teaspoon of Kashmiri Chilli powder to give it a red colour. IMG_20120629_000004 Add the crabs to this mixture, stir it well. Pour the half cup of tamarind juice without seeds and pulp along with 1/4 cup of water. This should just about cover the crabs. If you want some more gravy add another 1/4 cup of water. Resist the temptation to add more water; you will find the curry too watery. Cover the pan and let it cook on high flame for about 10-12 minutes.IMG_20120628_234049

Use this time to pour yourself a wine. I am told a semi dry Sauvignon Blanc  is a good accompaniment.I personally prefer a beer, try one of the Indus Pride spiced variants or even a good Japanese single malt like the Nikka, not too complex with a soft maltiness and gentle on the palate.Indus Pride Nikka

Cook the preparation open for another 5 minutes, the gravy thickens and starts coating the crabs.

IMG_20120701_232836Go ahead, dig in!

INGREDIENTS
4 – 5 medium sized crabs
1/2 a cup of grated coconut
10 – 12 Kashmiri Chillies or dried Local Red Chillies
2 tbsps Coriander Seeds neé dhaniya
10 – 12 Malabar peppercorns
4 cloves
2 – 3 Green Chillies
2 Medium sized Onions
1 – 2 tsps Ginger-Garlic Paste
1/2 tsp Tumeric neé haldi powder
1/2 a cup of Tamarind neé imli juice
Salt to taste