Chai souffle

I like Indian masala chai. A lot. Maureen once posed the following question: if you could only drink coffee or only drink chai forever more, which would you choose? For me the answer is masala chai. It is much more refreshing in the throat and exciting on the tastebuds.

But I do need to be clear about what we’re discussing here. If you’ve ever ordered a chai drink in a coffee shop, or bought a box of chai teabags, you are not even remotely close to having a proper cup of masala chai. Even if you find a place that says it does “authentic masala chai” you’ve probably only got a 50/50 chance of a decent cup. I ‘splain…

The first thing that often goes wrong is feebleness of spice. Look at the recipe below for what goes into brewing two small cups of chai. Now, can you fit all that into a teabag? Second problem is sweetness. I don’t have my ordinary builder’s tea sweet, but masala chai has to be properly sweet. The tea and the spice should be too strong to be enjoyed unsweetened. Third problem is the milk, which has to be properly cooked. I’m no chemist, but there’s a big difference between milk that has been simmering for ten minutes and milk straight from the carton. So those are the three essentials of masala chai, and it is ridiculously hard to get here.

If you want to try proper masala chai you really have only three options: (1) find one of the handful of places in England that brew a proper cup, (2) go to India and happily drown yourself in endless little cups of the real thing, (3) make some yourself.

I can help you with the last option. Whether you end up loving it or hating it, this is the right stuff.

Masala chai (makes 2 cups, not mugs)

2 cups water
1 cup condensed milk
1 inch piece fresh ginger
5 green cardamom pods
6 black peppercorns
1 inch piece of cinnamon
5 cloves
1 star anise
1 tbsp black tea
  1. Put all the ingredients in a saucepan
  2. Bring to the boil and bubble on a medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes
  4. Phew! Glad you caught that. Cook for up to 15 minutes, or basically until you’ve boiled off about a third of the volume
  5. Strain the tea into two cups. Drink and enjoy!

Now, this is a pretty strongly spiced chai I’ve made here. It’s also seriously sweet. Love it. But you can reduce any or all of the spices to reduce the strength. Likewise the tea. You can also swap the condensed milk for the same quantity of ordinary milk plus four teaspoons of sugar – that will be less insanely sweet.

But what about chai souffle?

Masala chai souffle (makes 4)

3 large egg whites
pinch cream of tartar
1 dessertspoon caster sugar
2 large egg yolks
25g caster sugar
5g plain flour
1 level tsp cornflour
200ml chai
  1. Make chai according to the recipe above, but after straining it simmer for another 10 mins to reduce and concentrate the flavour. You will only need 200ml of it
  2. In a bowl whisk the egg yolks with the 25g caster sugar until pale, then whisk in the two flours
  3. Whisk in the 200ml chai while it is still quite hot (but it must have cooled for a good 30 seconds)
  4. Pour back into the empty pan and simmer for a minute, whisking continuously – it should suddenly thicken into crème patisserie. Put it in a large bowl to cool
  5. Now whisk the egg whites in a large bowl with the pinch of cream of tartar, until you have stiff peaks
  6. Add a dessertspoon of caster sugar and whisk for another minute until glossy and stiff
  7. Mix a tablespoon of the egg whites into the crème patisserie to loosen it, then add half the rest of the whites and fold them loosely in, then add the remainder of the whites and fold in
  8. Fill four buttered ramekins (five if there’s enough) and bake in the oven at 170C for 12-15 minutes
  9. Ta-da!

This masala chai creme patisserie would also make an awesome filling for choux buns or profiteroles.

Review: The Painted Heron, Chelsea

It’s impressive to see a menu that includes partridge, quail, pheasant, grouse, venison and pigeon. Now that’s what I call seasonal goodies. It’s even more impressive to see them all on the menu of an Indian restaurant.

I can completely recommend The Painted Heron on the weight of one dish alone: my main course of tandoori grouse with a curry gravy was basically perfect. Perfect gamey bird, perfect hot and sour curry, perfect scorchy tandoor flavour.

The Painted Heron isn’t a place likely to get much passing trade. Sat on the Chelsea Embankment with the nearest anything at least five minutes walk away, they’ve survived and thrived for many years through the excellent cooking and inventive menu. Surely one of the earliest “progressive Indian” restaurants in the country? I admit, I’m no historian. The dining room is smart and unpretentious, the service good.

My starter of crispy fried quail with a pair of sauces was good. Suitably tart mango sauce, suitably fiery chilli. Unctuous quail bits go nicely under crispy batter. Around the table there was some tasty duck liver soured with tamarind and fragrant curry leaves, some competent soft-shell crab and a pheasant tikka that was pronounced good.

As well as the epic grouse, mains included a more traditional but very good lamb neck rogan josh and a zingy Southern Indian pepper chicken curry. The whole meal was stuffed with wave after wave of spice, as a great Indian meal should be. I can only think of a couple of other occasions where I’ve had such a satisfying mouthful of crackling energy by the end of dinner. Aficionados will know I’m not talking about pure chilli heat, this is much more complex and pleasant.

Desserts were probably bound to be a slight come-down. There was a good blackcurrant sorbet and a good mango kulfi across the table. I pushed the boat out and chose a “milk jam cheesecake”, but this turned out to be a rather solid baked cheesecake drizzled with a sauce reminiscent (not unpleasantly) of jammy dodger filling.

We rounded off the meal with masala chai, as is traditional. Good, but not spicy or sticky enough for me. That said, we had our best Indian meal for a while at The Painted Heron and would go back. The wine list is pleasantly long and diverse. Price is about right; around £35 for three courses without drinks. I suggest you give them a try!

Not wine but nearly?

Many’s the time I have rocked up at a restaurant as the designated driver and been forced to abstemiously sip nothing but expensive water like a Franciscan penitent, while my fellow diners guzzle buckets of good wine. But in fact I’m only too pleased when it’s my turn to drive, for with only the universal solvent passing my lips I am better able to appreciate the subtle flavours of the chef’s creations in enlightened sobriety right through to the petit fours.

Who am I kidding? Point of fact, I just nurse a single glass of wine through the meal, two if it’s going to be a feast. However, sometimes I don’t want a drink and I also have friends who are much more sensible than me and won’t touch any alcohol if they’re going to be driving. The conversation in far too many otherwise excellent restaurants used to be tragically familiar: Do you have anything non-alcoholic? Yes, we have coke and lemonade, also juice. What kind of juice? Orange, apple, pineapple. Oh and there are some non-alcoholic cocktails.

BAH! Yes, that Grenadine Sunrise is going to pair very nicely with the venison. And nothing more refined than a burger deserves to be washed down with coke. What’s more, not only is your orange juice sure to be some vile concentrate out of a bottle, but also NAME ME ONE PLATE OF FOOD THAT YOU WOULD SERIOUSLY PAIR WITH ORANGE JUICE?

I’ll have water, please.

Times have changed (haven’t they?) and there’s now a host of more sophisticated options from the likes of Belvoir, Loseley, Fentimans and co. Any restaurant still offering only coke and juice needs a hefty boot applying to their rear end. But although these splendid fizzes are tasty and work okay with food, they never come close to the satisfying elegance and complexity of a glass of wine. So is it even possible to create a non-alcoholic drink that approximates the refinement of decent plonk?

Which brings me neatly onto these Pixley Court drinks that I spotted the other day. I purchased a couple of them on the spot. Because I feel strongly about this. They offer up Blanc, Rosé, Rouge and Noir varieties, bottled and labelled to give the distinct impression that these are nifty fruit-based wine substitutes. Let’s see, shall we?

On pouring, the Rosé is fairly opaque and an unappealing brownish-pink that is the sure sign of strawberry juice that hasn’t been mucked about with to keep it pink. Which is usually a good thing, I like honest colour, but if I’m really honest here it does no favours. The Noir is much more like it however, exceedingly dark and mysterious.

The Noir also drinks very dry indeed; lots of blackcurrant and rhubarb, although in this case I’m talking about the literal ingredients rather than a wine-buff’s fanciful imaginings. However it is also mighty powerful and after a few swallows leaves a strong tang in the back of the throat. No surprise really. It also has a big problem with the nose: the first whiff from the glass cheerfully shouts “hello! I’m a glass of Ribena!”

The Rosé is by contrast a more immediately pleasing drink, the rhubarb taking some of the sweetness off the strawberries and apple providing the base. I like it a lot. The trouble is, it’s quite definitely a juice, sweet and fruity and a distinctly more viscous than wine.

I’m not sure I’ll be investing in more of these Pixley Court drinks. The Rosé was pleasant, but it’s really just a juice blend and there’s plenty of great juice blends that go just as well with food at less than half the price. The Noir at least has the distinction of being very serious and original, looking the part and probably containing 10,000% of your RDA of anti-oxidants, but it’s more overpoweringly fruity than even the most forward South African Merlot and leaves an awkward aftertaste. It lacks elegance. Interestingly, it became better when I cut it with about one third water.

So what’s missing? I’m no chemist. I think a berry-based juice is along the right lines, it will have the tannins to give our drink the required dryness. I’d like to think we could get some complexity from herbs and spices, without going over the top. Some sort of infusion. You’d have to wonder whether certain earthy vegetables, like beetroot or celeriac, might offer a good bass note. And finally I’d want to dilute it down, because the sticky mouth-feel of juice just spoils any sense of refinement. I wonder if a green tea would be a more interesting solute than just water? Of course the one thing you can’t do that fermentation does is remove the sugars, and I’m pretty sure that the alcohol does more than just get you tipsy; all those volatile compounds resulting from the fermentation must be having all kinds of fun on your nose and in your mouth. I’ll bet there’s lots of fun to be had in a chemical laboratory but I’d have no idea where to start.

Besides, I’m not actually trying to replicate the taste of wine. My beverage to compliment good food can be entirely different, I just need it to be refined, satisfying, delicious and not fizzy. Tall order, perhaps.

You know, I think I feel some experimentation coming on. Watch this space. Oh, and I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts (or any useful links) on this subject. Does the subject ever even trouble your thoughts?

PS: Just to be crystal clear, I bought the Pixley Court drinks in a shop, myself. I’m not the kind of blogger who blags freebies by offering to write a review! Not out of principle you understand, but because no-one has ever offered me a freebie.

Chef’s Table at Savoy Grill

Having never booked a chef’s table before I have nothing to compare with, but I still think the experience at The Savoy Grill is a bit special. See what you think…

The room is a cosy little booth for no more than eight, all of whom have a great view out onto the kitchen through a thick glass window. It admirably keeps the noise and heat out, although the occasional expletives from chef at the pass were still audible. We liked that. In fact we loved the whole experience of watching a kitchen at work for five hours. You can watch all the episodes of Masterchef you want, nothing beats seeing it in the flesh.

Yes, five hours. We were welcomed at midday and finally sauntered out at five, very well fed and entertained. I love a leisurely Sunday lunch, and this has to be close to a record.

One of the chefs would come in with each course to talk us through it and answer as many questions as we could throw at them. Well, at least until their body language made it clear that the tickets were stacking up back in their section! These guys were all working their butts off, most on a seventeen hour shift, and they still had to stop and have a friendly chat with seven nosey diners.

The highlight was just before the main course, when our waiter brought in aprons. Er… what? We all emerged into the kitchen to a chorus of hello’s from the brigade, and then took turns to cook our own dinner. I dealt with seasoning the meat and cooking it in the Josper Grill. My dad sliced the sizzling hot meat for presentation.

“5 minutes on Chef’s Table!” shouted my brother, to a chorus of “Oui!” from the whole brigade. Only those who wanted to were given tasks, and nothing technical, but everyone felt the experience of ten minutes in the heart of a big, hot, busy kitchen right in the middle of service. We certainly kept talking about it throughout our splendid mixed grill of sirloin, rib-eye and a wonderful brined pork chop. The appropriately trad accompaniments – sprouts, red cabbage, creamy mash, bearnaise, peppercorn and bone marrow sauces – were all excellent.

Yes, I really should return to the food. This is the Savoy Grill, so it is all entirely classic and simple. Canapes were merely some exceedingly good smoked and cured salmon on a wheaty soda bread with

just a hint of sweetness. An amuse of roast garlic and potato soup was a little too homely to impress. Despite my recent whinging about foie gras, our starter was my favourite dish. Wafer thin smoked duck had been pressed in layers with the foie gras, and the whole served at room temperature. This gave both beautiful presentation and a delicious dish, the smoke just potent enough to cut the richness of the liver. Brioche and chutney, naturally.

The fish was classic too, a neat chunk of halibut with a beurre noisette, celeriac puree and some braised razor clam. I have to say the fish was just a tad over, though everyone accounted it delicious. Our main course was seasoned and cooked to perfection – well, it

would be, I did it myself! After a palate-cleansing pre-dessert and a selection of English cheeses (to which our French waiter, Benoit, added a small Vacherin Mont d’Or, bless him) we were treated to a selection of six desserts. These made for a delicious ending, a series of classics all perfectly executed and with just the odd twist: tonka bean profiteroles, rosemary crème brulee, caramelised apple millefeuille with a cider sabayon, chocolate marquise with lavender and a pannacotta.

As a special occasion for anyone who is at all interested in the world of restaurants and kitchens this is a real treat. At £85 a head including a glass of bubbles it’s expensive but entirely worth it (and you don’t need to fear the wine list). Of course, you are nowhere near the world of molecular gastronomy, foraged oddities and theatrical plating. This is the Savoy Grill after all! But it is a very real kitchen, enthralling to watch, and the food was perfect for a Sunday lunch. Of course such an experience would live or die by the service, but as you’ll have probably guessed we were treated splendidly by everyone on the day, from our waiter and sommelier to all the team in the kitchen.

Thanks guys. Brilliant.

Scotch quail eggs

Guest post by my good friend Vanessa Johnson
These scotch eggs are perfect, and I guarantee that everyone at your party will give them a very impressed “oooOOOooo!” Without further ado, over to Vanessa…

I love scotch eggs, always have, they’re great for parties and picnics…. however, most of the ones you end up buying in supermarkets are a sorry excuse for a scotch egg. Over the past year I’ve decided that I must be able to have a go at cooking some fab scotch eggs. I’ve made them with normal hen eggs, but then decided I’d try them with quails eggs and since I’ve swapped to quails eggs, I’ve not gone back. I’ve made these a few times for parties and for a champagne picnic in the interval of the opera at Glyndebourne and they are easy to cook and even easier to eat.

Scotch quails eggs (makes 12)

12 quails eggs
500g-600g good quality pork sausage meat
cracked black pepper
2 beaten hen’s eggs
panko breadcrumbs
vegetable oil for cooking
  1. Start with boiling some water in a saucepan. Once it is up to boil carefully add in the quails eggs. As soon as the last one is in, set an alarm for 100 seconds. Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice and when the 100 seconds is up put the eggs into the cold water to stop the cooking process.
  2. When the eggs have cooled a little, peel the eggs being really careful as the yolks should still be runny and therefore the eggs will be a bit delicate.
  3. Mix the sausage meat with pepper, and any combination of herbs and spices that you want – I put in a little mixed herbs and cayenne pepper.
  4. Divide the sausage meat into 12 balls and then press one out to be fairly thin and to be the size that will wrap around one of the little eggs. Mould it around the egg, ensuring that the joint is hidden so that the sausage meat won’t separate when it’s being cooked. Wrap all 12 eggs and put aside.
  5. Put 2 beaten hen’s eggs, flour and breadcrumbs into 3 separate bowls. Now it’s time to get messy. Put one of the eggs and sausagemeat balls into the beaten egg, then into the flour, then back to the egg before finally finishing in the breadcrumbs. Repeat for the other 11 balls 🙂 The balls should now be totally coated in breadcrumbs ready for cooking.
  6. Bring a saucepan of oil to the right temperature. The oil should be sufficient to almost cover the top of the scotch egg when it’s put in the pan – I use a smallish pan that I will be able to comfortably fit 4 scotch eggs into for cooking – test that the oil is up to temperature by dropping in a little bit of bread to see if it cooks. If there is no bubbling then it’s not hot enough. If it goes brown really quickly, it’s too hot. It should bubble and go golden brown in a couple of minutes.
  7. Slowly drop 4 of the scotch eggs into the pan – the oil should be almost to the top of the egg. Leave the scotch eggs in the oil for about 10 minutes slowly turning them. When the breadcrumbs are golden brown, take them out and put them on some kitchen paper to drain.
  8. Leave to cool and then enjoy, but if you can’t wait they are even better still hot 🙂 Cut them in half and see the yolk ooze out of the eggs.

If you want the yolk to be hard in the scotch eggs, cook for a bit longer…. but try these with the runny yolks as they are fab!

Page 30 of 49« First...1020...2829303132...40...Last »