Mixing food and drink
November 10, 2011
Years ago, when i was in my teens and had not been introduced even to beer, I used to marvel at dishes that combined food and alcohol, or at least pretended to. So fancy names such as drunken chicken and mushroom flambéed in brandy Invariably used to catch my fancy in restaurants. A few bites into the dishes, i used to think I was drunk and that alcohol probably tasted sometimes like Chinese chicken curry and at other times like stir-fried mushroom!
I got the first real taste of liquor, very very late by today’s standard, during a graduation party at my hostel. Five of us had smuggled in a 750ml bottle of cheap whisky, but by the time the seal was broken, there were, by a moderate estimate, 20 thirsty souls crowding in a room for a sip!
Fifteen years hence, I am slightly luckier: my cellar boasts of Bombay Sapphires and gold tequilas and Absolutes and Bacardi Blacks, and one of those 20 hostel mates opened a Chivas Regal just for me the other day I went to his Dubai house.
So then, back to where we started from: My love for dishes that mix food and drinks. Seafood, malleable as it is, probably renders itself best to be cooked with alcohol. Try frying squid in beer batter, splash some vodka while stirring a slab of shark meat (cheaper than bekti) in olive oil and marinate a pomfret in a peg of whisky before firing up the grill and you will see how well the results come out.
All these thoughts owe their birth to a recent conversation. The other night, a colleague of mine was telling me how he cooks his own version of a quick prawn curry by browning onions, sautéing tomatoes, adding lightly fried prawns to the mix and rounding it off with coconut milk. I told him that he ends up cooking, without his knowledge, prawn malai curry (or Malay curry or malaikary) of sorts (without grated coconut, of course).
The next Sunday, i found myself trapped in the kitchen with around 400 gm of medium-sized prawns. Lunch was just half-an-hour away and a hungry friend was twitching his legs in anticipation. I thought I would cook a curry. But, there was no coconut milk. Neither was I in a mood to rustle up mustard prawns, nor did I have the necessary vegetables to stir fry the insects.
Minutes were ticking by. Half clueless, I marinated the prawns in salt and pepper, rough-chopped a couple of onions, battered some garlic pods and heated up white oil. In went everything and a bit later, a chopped tomato. After a bit of stirring, I found myself staring at what looked like a so-so dish, one that would probably not taste bad with a pint of beer.
Suddenly, there was light! I rushed to my cellar and fished out an Old Monk. A generous drizzle of the brown nectar, a toss of the pan and the prawns were absolved of mediocrity. Adding the rum gave the dish a somewhat Chinese zing, though we had no idea as to why it happened. The taste could have been enhanced with the help of a blowtorch just after the rum was added. Nevertheless, we polished off the dish, promptly dubbed Prawn Old Monk, with steamed rice.
My next venture? A tequila squid. Come down on a Sunday afternoon and i will have reason enough to again mix food and drink.