The delicate flavour of India’s favourite beverage has found its way to a range of sweet and savoury dishes in India
Highly sweetened tea sessions at tapris and Amrutulyas define the typical Puneri trysts with the beverage. The supermarkets here over the years have widened their tea shelves to include many a specialised and exotic flavour,and indeed tea bars have cropped up with hopes of capitalising on the new-found awareness. So,gourmet experiments with tea shouldn’t surprise anyone in this environment.
On one of his visits to Australia a few years ago,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,Juhu. 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,who is the corporate chef at the restaurant. 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 restaurants. Tea flavours are typically delicate and do not overpower the flavour of the food ingredients, says Chef Alain Coumont from Le Pain Quotidien,whose Mumbai branch serves Grilled Chicken Cobb Salad with a green tea dressing. One needs to consider the body,flavour,acidity and texture of the key ingredients to gauge if tea will lend a complementary touch to the dish or blend in.
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,known as 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 of ITC Maratha that has serves a turkey brined in Oolong tea and a green tea lacquered Salmon.
Pune is still to dip into this trend with gusto,but the dessert sections of a few menus have been willing to experiment. Vivanta by Taj in Koregaon Park serves that delectable oxymoronic dessert called Green Tea Creme Brulee. “It is fascinating for me to be able to enjoy a dessert that’s made of green tea,primarily because I am not a fan of the bitterness of the drink at all!” says Shraddha Upekar,a freelance writer. At the cozy Cafe Maroo,Aundh,one can balance the big Korean food portions with a sweet,nutty tea version called Soo-Jeong-Gwa,and more. But the surprise is the Green Tea Cream Roll Cake. It takes some getting used to.
While tea is gaining in popularity for its mild flavour,rich colour and fragrant properties,many chefs warn that it must be handled carefully in the cooking process. If you over-brew the concoction for cooking or drinking it can make the dish taste bitter. This could completely ruin the preparation, says Chef Irfan Pabaney,corporate chef of dimsum tea house Yauatcha in Bandra Kurla.
(Pune inputs by Shruti Nambiar)