Caviar For The Soul
It’s that time of the year again when the annual Valentine’s Day fever hits us with a forceful vigour. From my personal inbox to the huge hoarding outside my building to the BEST buses on the road – everything is abuzz with the splendour of love and longing. Amidst it all, the plush Red Zen restaurant at Courtyard by Marriott, Mumbai – boldly done up in the brave colours of passion – makes for the perfect combat zone in this playful contest of sensory enticement and gastronomical gratification.
Going by the flavour of the season, executive chef Suresh Thampy and his team have chosen the mighty caviar with wine as the fevered ingredients for the classic clash. The fact that caviar is generally served chilled as an hors d’oeuvre but is used here with two savoury hot dishes, takes this challenge a notch higher than some of the most overwhelming pressure tests seen even on the various versions of MasterChef.
Derived from the Persian word ‘khav-yar’, which means ‘cake of strength’, caviar is often considered one of the most exotic and potent aphrodisiacs. Loaded with vitamin A, zinc and omega-3 fatty acid, caviar is, simply put, fish eggs or roe. A favourite amongst royals and state heads, for centuries, it is derived from the sturgeon roe of the wild sturgeon species living in the Caspian and Black Sea. Chef Suresh tells me that it is eaten raw, in quantities not more than 30-35 gms at one sitting, and is usually accompanied with some chilled bubbly, wines, vodka, chopped and pickled onions or egg whites. This delicate flavour and outlandish allure of the caviar when clubbed with wine makes it our star element for both the dishes today.
A thorough perfectionist, Chef Suresh seems to have a fussy eye for every small detail. With over 12 years in the culinary world, he is an instinctual cook who relies on experimentation and experiences in the kitchen while working on his extravagant menus. This very skill comes in handy in crafting these two unique, off-the-menu dishes created exclusively for us.
An Italian cuisine expert, Chef Suresh has given his masterpiece a slightly Indian touch by using papaya paste with a tinge of garam masala while marinating to tenderise the lamb. Since papaya has no taste and garam masala merely acts as a powerful herb, the lamb is further braised in Barolo wine to accentuate the exotic flavours. Standing in his kitchen is like watching the secrets of the masked magician unravel as he chops, fries, bakes and explains primary facts, all at one go, till the vivid colours from the different elements start to come together. Even as the lamb and potato cutlets make for some contrasting images, a liberal dollop of creamy Kwark cheese known for its sharp acidic taste with a spoonful of bright Keta caviar (obtained from the salmon roe) completes the sumptuous picture.
In another corner, away from the entire hullabaloo, the subplot of this potent gastronomic power-play is starting to unfold even as our slightly reticent chef Arunava Mukherjee patiently awaits his turn, checking and rechecking all his ingredients. A self-confessed bookworm in his spare time with a black belt in Taekwondo, he is known for his natural flair for North West Frontier cuisine. His stints with the famed Jiggs Kalra in New Delhi and other biggies in the industry have only enhanced his passion, skill and confidence. His haute dish today is a splendid amalgamation of seafood and vegetarian offerings with a slight Russian influence. It seems befitting considering the fact that Russia happens to be one of the largest producers and consumers of caviar in the world.
While he makes sure everything is in order, I indulgently dig into the two kinds of caviars being used today. To be taken out especially from the caviar spoons – made of Mother of Pearl nacre, bone or horn, to avoid harming its delicate flavour – the fishy tanginess bursts across my palate. Time stops while I savour the uniqueness of this exotic delicacy.
Bringing me back to reality is the soft voice of Chef Arunava who takes it upon himself to describe his dish’s cooking process systematically. The king prawns are seared with Pinot Noir red wine instead of roasting them to preserve their softness and to avoid making them chewy, also making it a healthy option. Even as all the vegetables go into the creamy avocado tartar, the chef artistically dolls out blinis or Russian pancakes made with buckwheat flour – one of the most popular accompaniments for caviar especially at the fancy parties hosted by Russia’s powerful oligarchs. As the shiny black caviar is spooned out and placed over the pancakes, star anise, cinnamon and cloves are used to add a mild favour to the elaborate preparation. A quick critical appraisal from all angles, some nip and tuck here and there, and the dish is ready to be photographed and devoured in all its glory.
Beluga Caviar, seared prawns with avocado tartar
Beluga caviar, 30gms; King prawns, 90gms; Avocado, 1;
Blanched tomatoes, 30gms; Pickled cocktail onions, 10gms; Gherkins, 10gms; Capers, 10gms; Sour cream, 20gms; Snipped chives, 10gms; Mustard cress, 20gms; Red wine reduction, 5ml; Blinis (buck wheat pancake),
3 small pieces.
Source the beluga caviar. Make sure you receive them in the best chilled condition at about 3°C.
Season the scallops and sear them, deglaze with some pinot noir red wine, keep aside.
Make an avocado tartar by adding mushy avocado, diced blanched tomatoes, chopped onions, gherkins and capers. Season as required.
Snip some chives and add it to the thick sour cream to get a dollop consistency.
Using buckwheat flour, prepare a pancake batter and small blinis pancakes out of it.
Reduce the pinot noir wine with cinnamon and star anise to a syrupy consistency.
On a plate, arrange a timbale of avocado tartar, top it with a quenelle of chive sour cream, spoon the caviar on to the cream.
Arrange some dressed mustard cress on to the side of the avocado tartar, and arrange the seared scallops on it.
Stack 3 pieces of small blinis on the plate.
Drizzle the pinot noir reduction and serve with some cracked pepper.
Barolo braised lamb chops in yoghurt gravy, with potato cutlets, kwark and keta caviar
Lamb chops, 2; Garam masala, 10gms; Ginger garlic paste, 30gms; Raw papaya paste, 20gms; Hung yoghurt, 20gms; Brown onion paste, 20gms; Boiled cashew paste, 20gms; Barolo red wine, 120ml; Crushed boiled potatoes, 90gms; Sautéed green peas, 30gms; Chopped cilantro, 10gms; Thick cucumber slices, 3; Kwark cheese, 60gms; Keta caviar, 30gms.
Marinate the lamb shanks with papaya paste, garam masala, ginger garlic paste, hung yoghurt and the onion cashew paste, for about three hours.
In a sauce pan sear the shanks with little oil and ghee.
Add lamb stock, and Barolo wine and simmer till cooked.
Crush the boiled potatoes, add in the green peas, and season well.
Make galletes of the potato mixture and pan fry them.
Cut thick roundels of peeled cucumber about ¼ inches.
In a plate arrange the lamb shanks, followed by the potato galletes and then the stack of cucumbers.
Spoon a dollop of kwark cheese on the cucumber and neatly place the keta caviar on it.
Meanwhile reduce the braising stock, mount it with some butter and sauce it over the lamb shank.
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