Onion is regularly used in Indian cuisine. Have you ever wondered how the taste of onion changes according to the different cooking techniques that we use? Imagine the difference in texture, aroma and flavour between frying and deep-frying onions; or even, grilling or roasting! Think of the change in the onion when you do a quick stir-fry over high heat, versus doing a light sautéing over low heat.
Now think: are sizes of onions important? What are the different types of onions available in the market? Can I really just substitute one onion for another? Ever wondered why South Indians use shallots in their sambhar? – That’s why in India, we call them Sambhar Onions! Also, what’s the taste difference when using boneless chicken when preparing grandma’s chicken curry versus the chicken-with-bone curry cuts? Which cuts of chicken are better – thigh or breast? Which chicken is better – the wild chicken that is available at the local butcher, or the ones in the supermarket fresh counters?
Now, not all of these questions are reserved for the beginners. As we progress, there will be more questions that we’ll ask ourselves. Remember, how we follow an aunt’s recipe and we still can’t get that same exacting yummy taste? It’s this ingredient knowledge. This is the missing ingredient in every recipe. Without it, you’re just taking a shot in the dark every time you step into the kitchen and begin to cook. This should be your foundation.
In May 2014, I was on a road trip with friends. One of my friends, Ravish Makhani; took over the kitchen of a small restaurant at Khanatal in Uttarakhand to cook us Chicken Masala for dinner. I tell you, it was the best chicken dish that I have ever eaten in my life. It was spicy as hell and I knew that I would be burning up in the morning; but I didn’t care. When I asked for the recipe, I was surprised that the ingredients were extremely simple. Am sure that every household in India would have those ingredient. Ravish just said, “…..it’s how you use these ingredients is important”.
Until you understand the impact of the ingredients that you are throwing into your pot or pan – why they do what they do – you’re leaving a lot of your cooking up to chance. Many, who claim to have cooking experience, tend to miss this understanding. And then, when things go wrong, you won’t know why. So change that.