When Crab Meets Chilli
The gleaming surfaces of the open kitchen area in the plush restaurant form the stage where quiet activity is being conducted with well-oiled precision. One plate after another – each of a different shape, size and colour – is being carried out in quick succession by a small army of chefs. All have a variety of ingredients that will go into the creation of the two culinary concoctions for our cook-off in Chennai’s ITC Grand Chola (A Luxury Collection property). I am looking forward to the twist the two have given to the three ingredients chosen as the base of the recipes – buckwheat noodles, gochujang (chillies) and crab! The challenge the chefs take on very willingly is to cook a Continental and a Korean fine-dine recipe using these three in both. Korean becomes a natural choice as Chennai boasts a large number of Korean residents – who have made the city their place of work.
The previous day, I have flown out from Mumbai to the capital of Tamil Nadu to experience the culinary display that is bound to titillate even a diehard gourmet’s discerning palate. Having earlier interacted with the lead actors, Senior Executive Chef Ajit Bangera and Chef Lambert Chiang, I am now an interested spectator to the choreographed production process – the two chefs proceed completely in sync with each other, aware that both dishes must be prepped and ready at the same time.
Bangera and Chiang at first glance appear as apart as chalk and cheese, separated by years of experience and hailing from different backgrounds, but what connects them is their passion for food. I discover that Bangera has a unique style of conjuring up masterpieces using the kitchen as a canvas. Spontaneity is his keyword as he normally creates from a blank canvas, colouring it with his skill and the ingredients available. Having lived abroad for a large part of his career, he states, “There is no doubt that Melbourne is the food capital of Australia, but it can also be in contention to be the world’s number one. The confluence of different cultures, the diversity of cuisines, the availability and affordability of the freshest of ingredients and the fierce competitiveness amongst the chefs to be the best has taken the food landscape in Melbourne to an unparallelled level in the world of gastronomy. Having lived there for almost 20 years unquestionably has had a positive influence in my approach to cooking. Each chef has his own way of doing things based upon his training, upbringing, cultural influences and the kind of establishments he or she would have worked at. I have reached a stage where I like to be instinctive and spontaneous and let my heart and soul lead the way. My philosophy is to keep it as simple as possible.” Gochujang, I learn, is a pungent fermented Korean condiment made from red chilli, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt. The hot pepper paste is believed to have been first used in that country about three centuries ago. Gochujang is commonly made by adding powdered red chilli peppers and rice powder to soybean paste and then this is aged under the sun.
On the choice of the ingredients, Bangera adds, “Buckwheat is not very commonly used in our part of the world but is also very healthy; Alaskan crab legs because they are so amazingly flavourful and turn any meal into a celebration. I added gochu (chilli) to the recipe to give it a bit of spice. Both the recipes are unique in the sense that they were created keeping in mind the luxury quotient and lifestyle of your readers. The dishes are contemporary and exotic. Creating the recipe was very invigorating. I thoroughly enjoy creating new dishes and enjoy the process of an idea slowly germinating into reality.”
Chiang, who hails from Shillong, says, “Food, I believe, is about connect and perhaps even nostalgia. The ingredients from Meghalaya in particular bring back childhood memories of those simple and mouth-watering delicacies conjured up by my mother. The North East has a lot of fresh wild herbs, vegetables and spices with different styles and combinations of cooking which is done on a day-to-day basis. Some, I would say are still unknown to people. An abundance of rice, pork, beef, fresh Sichuan pepper, bamboo shoot and mustard greens does bear an impact on what I use for cooking and the way I cook. In fact my mouth still waters when I think of sirwah (a stew preparation of pork belly, mustard greens and pepper corns).”
He believes in mixing and matching ingredients. “Experimenting with simple ingredients and bringing them together to create something special is what I enjoy. The reaction I like to look for is where my guests say, ‘Wow! I have never tasted anything quite like it!’ I wanted to create something special from unconventional ingredients. And in my recipe I focussed on an amalgamation of textures, flavours and visuals in the dishes. So, the most challenging part of the recipe was the marriage of contrasting ingredients.”
As we are chatting work is on in full swing – the recipes are in different stages of readiness and it is soon time for plating the dishes – which is acquired with finesse. In fact, Bangera and Chang do not let up until they have achieved the perfect squiggle, the right look and, but naturally, the finest flavour. The results, understandibly are two plates that any gourmand would love to dip into. Bangera admits that this is the result of a global shift in the attitude to dining: “Watching television, international cooking shows and world travel are playing a key role in the ever-changing food panorama. People seek adventure and love discovering new foods and trends. The availability of exotic ingredients also plays a key role in people willing to experiment and try out new recipes.”
He has the last word: “Food should appeal to all our senses, how food is presented is just as important as how it tastes.” I agree, for my senses have been pleasurably satiated!
KALSUKSU NOODLES WITH GOCHUJANG ALASKAN CRAB
For the buckwheat noodles: Buckwheat flour, 600 gms; Eggs, 6 nos; Salt, 12 gms; Olive oil, 6 ml.
For the Gochujang Aioli: Gochujang, 30 gms; Egg yolk, 1 no; Olive oil, 125 ml.
For the Gochujang Alaskan crab: Crab meat, 240 gms; Ikura, 20 gms; Coriander sprigs, 10 gms.
Plus: Green zucchini, 40 gms; Yellow squash, 40 gms; Button mushrooms, 20 gms; Asparagus, 40 gms; Radish, 40 gms; Carrots, 20 gms; Doenjang (Korean fermented bean paste), 60 gms; Sliced garlic, 12 gms.
For the buckwheat noodles: Mix all the ingredients to form a hard dough; let it rest for 45 minutes. Sheet it out into 1 mm thickness. Now with the help of a sharp knife slice up the sheet to form thin strips.
For the Gochujang Aioli: Put peeled garlic cloves, egg yolk and a pinch of salt into a blender and blend it until a thick paste forms; add the olive oil, drop by drop, until the aioli is thick and creamy. Remove it in a mixing bowl and add the gochujang and mix well to form a uniform mixture, set it aside.
Purple potato crisp: Slice the potato very thinly and deep fry till crisp.
Blanch the noodles for about 3 minutes and set aside; heat oil in a pan, sauté the doenjang till fragrant, add the garlic and vegetables. Let the vegetables cook in the paste. Then add in the noodles, give it a toss.
Steam the crab meat for 3 minutes. Now carefully place the crab meat on one side of the plate, and coat it with the gochujang aioli and gratinate it for a minute. Arrange the buckwheat noodles and the vegetables on the other end of the plate, Garnish it and add purple potato crisp.
ALASKAN CRAB AND GOCHUGARU TORTELLINI
For pasta dough: Buckwheat flour, 400 gms; Eggs, 6 nos; Olive oil, 40 ml; Gochugaru, 10 gms; Coriander leaves, 10 gms; Fennel leaves, 5 gms.
Stuffing: Potato, 200 gms; Butter, 40 gms; Black pepper, 10 gms; Nutmeg, 1 gm; Basil leaves, 10 gms; Alaskan crab meat, 400 gms, Orange zest, 10 gms; Lemon juice, 20 ml; Coriander stem, 30 gms; Egg yolks, 12 nos; Gochugaru, 10 gms; Salt, 15 gms.
Leek and pumpkin cannelloni: Onion, 100 gms; Olive oil, 60 ml; Pumpkin, 150 gms; Parmesan, 40 gms; Thyme, 6 gms; White pepper powder, 5 gms; Mustard sprouts, 40 gms.
Salad: Edamame, 80 gms; Green apple, 50 gms; Cherry tomatoes, 50 gms; Kochuchang chilies, 10 gms; Olive oil, 15 ml; White wine vinegar, 25 ml. Garnish: Chilli oil, 20 ml; Cilantro oil, 20 ml.
Make the dough with buckwheat flour, eggs, olive oil, gochugaru, coriander leaves and fennel leaves. Cover the dough and let it rest for an hour. Boil and mash the potatoes to a creamy smooth texture. Blend in butter, cream, gochugaru, grated nutmeg, coriander leaves. Add sage, orange zest, lemon juice, salt and chopped coriander stem to the crab meat. Sheet the pasta dough about 1 mm thin and cut into about 4 inch squares. Place the crab mixture in the centre and brush the sides with beaten eggs. Pipe the mashed potatoes on the crab mixture in the shape of a hollow crown. Place an egg yolk in the centre over each pasta square and shape into a tortellini. Roast the pumpkin and puree it with thyme, parmesan, white pepper and olive oil. Blanch the leek barrel split it, pipe the pumpkin puree in it. Top with some carrot chips, caramelised onion and some mustard cress. Toss edamame, thin wedges of green apple, cherry tomatoes, lettuce and sage in white vine vinaigrette spiked with gochugaru. Blanch the pasta in salted water with a little bit of olive oil for about three and a half minutes. Heat a non-stick pan and brown some butter, add some fresh sage leaves, lemon juice and sea salt. Toss the tortellini in the sage butter.
On the plate arrange the tossed tortellini on the extreme centre. Arrange the leek cannelloni on the right side. Arrange the tossed salad on the left. Splatter the plate with chilli lemon cilantro oil.
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