The delicate flavour of Indias favourite beverage has found its way into many sweet and savoury dishes
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 across the city. The high-end sushi lounge,Wasabi at the Taj Mahal Palace serves a sweet and creamy mixture of green tea ice-cream. Pali Village Cafe in Bandra serves a fragrant Jasmine Tea Scented Duck Breast. Juhus Silver Beach Cafe poaches fish in green tea whereas the JW Marriott uses it in their Punjabi Chhole and Macha Tea Mousse.
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, he adds.
Chefs use a variety of methods to incorporate the flavours of tea into their dishes such as infusing,steaming and poaching. But some prefer to add tea leaves while smoking the meat or 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 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.
But the trend isnt 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 wrapped in a muslin cloth and dipped into boiling water, says Rohit Gambhir,executive chef of Trident in Bandra Kurla Complex,who loves experimenting with tea in cakes,tiramisu and other specials on his menu.
While tea is gaining in popularity for its mild flavour,rich colour and fragrant properties,chefs warn it must be handled carefully during cooking. It is a delicate ingredient to handle, says Chef Irfan Pabaney,corporate chef of dimsum tea house,Yauatcha,in Bandra Kurla Complex,which uses tea in three desserts jasmine and green tea truffle and the earl gray macaroon and the deep fried Sweet Green Tea Sesame Ball. If you over-brew the concoction for cooking or drinking it can make the dish taste bitter. This could completely ruin the preparation, he adds.