From Terrine To Tagine Terrain
Before you even walk into the Doubletree by Hilton in Gurgaon, your eye is drawn to the large standalone structure to the side, which houses the hotel’s Moroccan restaurant Casablanca. I first get a walkthrough of the restaurant – dark and cool, especially for a summer afternoon in the NCR, the tables are set with colourful tagine pots. Private nooks create an air of intimacy even in the high-ceilinged space. Chef de Cuisine Rashid Choukki, from Morocco himself, is away during my visit and the restaurant is being ably helmed by Sous Chef Puneet Sethi. We walk through to the main hotel and into Asia Alive – a serene dining area which is an able canvas for the eastern fare available here, though we are only using the open kitchen for a Moroccan and continental cook-off.
We are soon joined by Executive Sous Chef Mukul Agrawal – the Kanpur native with a wicked glint in his eye has worked extensively in the Middle-East. It is obvious where his preferences lie though, as he says, “I loved working in Dubai, because as far as the food is concerned, they experiment with many new technologies and exciting new restaurants are always opening there so that is very attractive. The themes in the hotels are very different and you will always find something new, so as a chef and a person there is a lot more to do. But when it comes to working, India is much better. We still have the human touch here in India and the people are more humble.” As he sets preserved lemons on the counter, to chop up for the quail terrine, he talks about his career. Having compiled a book on modern Italian cuisine and represented India at Dilmah’s tea gastronomy challenge in Sri Lanka, Chef Mukul also helmed a team that won Oman Today magazine’s Best Italian Restaurant Award four years in a row in Muscat. All this from a man who says he was afraid of lighting the stove as a child.
Chef Puneet chimes in now. “I was afraid of the pressure cooker when I was younger,” he says. “The noise used to irritate me. And I wouldn’t touch the lighter when the gas cylinder was changed because I was always afraid of leaks!” Standing in for Chef Rashid, he has had plenty of experience with Moroccan cuisine. “I worked in Abu Dhabi and the head chef at the restaurant was Moroccan too,” he says, “so a lot of the buffet was Moroccan.” He worked there for one and a half years and says the typically Moroccan ras el hanout is his favourite flavour. “It is a blend of 16-18 spices and it is a lifesaver – if anything goes wrong, we just add a bit of ras el hanout and it is sorted,” he says with a happy grin. And I check to see how much is being sprinkled into the quail tagine.
Chef Mukul on the other hand, loves working with scallops. He may be well on his way to plating up the terrine here, but at home it is the simple pleasures that keep him happy. “For myself, I’d maybe make pasta in olive oil and some cheese. I like to keep it simple; I don’t like to mix too many ingredients. The dish should taste like the best version of the main ingredient, so a pasta should taste like a pasta – you’re not putting too much sauce or too many flavours.
For Chef Puneet, cooking at home isn’t quite so simple. “I cook for my wife and mother. My wife is Filipino, she doesn’t know much about Indian food so I cook to please her. I actually cook to please both of them, my mom only knows Indian food. If I have to cook pasta or anything, I have to make two versions of it – one vegetarian and one non-vegetarian, and one spicy and one a bit less spicy.” But the first thing he ever prepared for his mother was khandvi and that was a definite hit!
Ingredients: Quail meat (boneless), 500gms; Quail eggs (half-boilded), 4; Preserved lemon (seeds removed and chopped), 1; Colonnata lard or pork fat (chopped), 100gms; Unsalted butter, 15gms; Heavy cream, 25ml; Egg, 1; Spanish chorizo (chopped), 50gms; Black Forest ham (chopped), 50gms; Fresh rosemary (chopped), 10gms; Semi-dried tomatoes (chopped), 25gms; Cognac or brandy, 15ml; All-spice powder, 1 tsp; Nutmeg powder, ½ tsp; Kosher salt, 1 tsp.
Method: Grind the quail meat in a food processor or in a mincer and add chopped preserved lemon, pork fat, chorizo, ham, semi-dried tomatoes and rosemary. Mix cream, egg and cognac in a bowl with all-spice powder and nutmeg. Add the cream mixture and salt to the meat and mix well. Line the terrine mould or a 2 ½ inch deep bread mould with plastic wrap by completely covering it from inside and leaving enough to cover the meat from top. Put the mixture in the mould and place the half boiled and peeled quail egg in the centre. Pat the base of the mould on the table to remove extra air and to make the terrine compact. Preheat the oven to 140°C. Place the terrine in a bath and cook it for 40 minutes. Cool it and cut slices as required. The terrine will taste better if the mixture is kept marinated for at least four hours. If the terrine is rested and kept chilled for 24 hours it will have a better texture. Serve cold, garnished with lemon jelly, some lettuce, herbs and peppers.
Ingredients: Quail (skin removed and cut into pieces), 1; White or yellow onions (very finely chopped), 2; Fresh cilantro (chopped), 1 small handful; Fresh parsley (chopped), 1 small handful; Cloves of garlic (finely chopped or pressed) 2 or 3; Ginger, 2 tsp; Pepper, 1 tsp; Turmeric, 1 tsp or Moroccan yellow colourant, 1/4 tsp; Salt, 1/2 tsp; Saffron strands, (crumbled – optional), 1/4 tsp; Smen (Moroccan preserved butter – optional), 1 tsp; Green or red olives, 1 handful; Lemon (quartered and seeds removed), 1; Olive oil, 1/3 cup; Water, 1/4 cup.
Method: Remove the flesh from the preserved lemon and finely chop it. Add the chopped lemon flesh to a bowl along with the quail, onion, garlic, cilantro, parsley, spices and smen, and mix well. If time allows, let the quail marinate in the refrigerator for several hours or even overnight. Add enough of the olive oil to the tagine pot to coat the bottom. Arrange the quail in the tagine, flesh side down, and distribute the onions all around. Add the olives and preserved lemon quarters and drizzle the remaining olive oil over the quail. Add water to the tagine, cover and place on a diffuser over medium-low heat. Give the tagine time to reach a simmer without peaking. If you don’t hear the tagine simmering within 20 minutes, slightly increase the heat, and then maintain the lowest heat setting required for maintaining a gentle, not rapid, simmer. Allow the quail to cook undisturbed for 45 to 50 minutes, and then turn the quail over so that it’s flesh side up. Cover the tagine again and allow the quail to finish cooking until very tender. Turn off the heat and let the tagine cool for about 10 to 15 minutes before serving. The Moroccan tradition is to eat directly from the tagine, using Moroccan bread to scoop up the quail and sauce.
(Instead of chopping the parsley and cilantro, tie them together into a small bouquet and place on top of the quail during cooking.)