On one of his visits to Australia a few years ago,Mumbai-based chef Vicky Ratnani tasted a duck salad that was smoked with green tea. Fascinated by the unusual use of tea in the gourmet preparation,he decided to try something similar back home. Thus came Chai Poached Chicken,a dish that features regularly on the specials menu at Aurus restaurant in Mumbai. Instead of water,I used a Darjeeling tea bag,which I infused with star anise,pepper corns,cinnamon and cloves, he recounts. The tea gave it a nice brown colour and the spices infused it with aroma and flavour. You could say that it was a masala chai poached chicken, laughs Ratnani,corporate chef at Aurus. The dish,which received a great response,is also the inspiration for his Jasmine Smoked Duck with Guava and Dragon Fruit Salad.
Used in both sweet and savoury dishes,tea has trickled into food at many high-end restaurants across the country. The Smoke House Deli in Delhi offers Green Tea Risotto served with sole. Chef Shamsul Wahid from Smoke House Delhi says,Tea can add a really earthy flavour to dishes. Indians identify with tea and are comfortable with its taste. Also,the wide variety of teas makes it a really fun ingredient to play around with. Sometimes,we put lamb in a brine and tea solution,which helps the lamb retain its moisture content as well as give more body to the dish. Green and black teas are also a great source of anti-oxidants,which is another reason for their growing popularity.
Adds Chef Saby of Delhis Olive Bar and Kitchen,There are a lot of reasons for tea being used as an ingredient in the kitchen. First,they add an unusual taste and aroma to dishes,depending on what variety you use. Teas,specially the herbal ones ,have a lot of nutritive value. Then,of course,there is the colour factor. A tea glaze,for example,can add really interesting hues to a dish. Tea is likely to play a prominent part in Olives summer menu,which is out in April.
Chefs use a variety of methods to incorporate the flavours of tea into their dishes such as infusing,steaming and poaching. But some chefs prefer to add tea leaves while smoking the meat or stir the Japanese powdered green tea,called Matcha,into their recipes. Tea contains tannins,which helps balance sweetness or richness of other ingredients in the dish,making it extremely versatile, explains Chef Rajdeep Kapoor,executive chef at ITC Maratha,Mumbai.
But the trend isn’t confined to international cuisine. Tea is also used in the preparation of a few Indian dishes as a colouring and flavouring agent. Chickpeas in Pind Da Chana or Punjabi Chhole get their brown colour from tea that’s wrapped in a muslin cloth and dipped into boiling water, points out Gambhir,executive chef of Trident at Bandra Kurla Complex who loves experimenting with tea in cakes,tiramisu and other specials on his menu. It’s not exactly the right method though. Originally,Amla was used to lend the dish its colour as well as a nice sour taste.
Still,chefs warn that it must be handled carefully in the cooking process. It is a delicate ingredient to handle, says Chef Irfan Pabaney,corporate chef of dimsum tea house Yauatcha in Mumbai,adding,If you over-brew the concoction for cooking or drinking it can make the dish taste bitter.
With inputs from Shantanu David