The French Connection -Provence meets Pondicherry

Pondicherry (officially renamed as Puducherry) is located in the southern part of India, along the coastline of Bay of Bengal and often referred to as the “French Riviera of the East” about 160 km south of Chennai . The town served as the capital of French territories in India until 1954 when it was ceded to the Government of India. Dutch were the first to settle down before handing it over to the French. Pondicherry is synonymous with French Heritage in India and centuries of French rule has imparted this place a strong French feel in its architecture, monuments and food.

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The restaurants in Pondicherry are Indo-French. Indian restaurateurs offering authentic French food or Creole cuisine, it’s not just French cuisine that blends with a Tamilian style of cooking; there are also influences of the Portuguese, Malaysian and Mughals, among others. The food is surprisingly mild. Pondicherry cuisine is a unique and vibrant fusion of Tamil and French cuisine. French dishes in Pondicherry have been adapted to suit tastebuds used to spicier Indian food yet with minimal use of spices. The textures and flavours are far less robust. The thick gravies that we know so well are notably thinner, like the French sauces. Other highlights are the use of chicken or seafood stock in cooking and the appearance of baguettes amidst local desserts.Even the style of cooking,  is slow and elaborate. The spices are far more delicately used and do not overwhelm. The use of dried spices, fresh local catch from the sea and ample use of pungent vinegar much more than tomatoes or tamarind make this cuisine a delicious mix of flavours, and a melting pot of many cultures.

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To experience more I would suggest that you should pack your bags and visit this beautiful paradise. In the meanwhile please try my simple Seafood stew recipe thats an ode to the two great cuisines.

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Fruits de mer Pondichéry curry

 

Ingredients

1 kg Cod fillet

12 king prawns raw and headless

12 Fresh mussels scrubbed and beard removed

250 Gms squid

4 tbsp vegetable oil

8 – 10 shallots

8 garlic cloves

2 tbsp chopped ginger

1 tbsp. coriander seeds

1 tbsp. cumin seeds

1/2 tbsp Black Peppercorn

4 dried whole red chillies

1 tsp turmeric powder

½ tsp aniseed powder

Salt to taste

2 cups of coconut milk

½ cup of fresh grated coconut

12-15 curry leaves

1 tbsp vinegar

 

Method

  •     Cut the fillet of cod into 6 -8 pieces. De vien and remove the shell from the prawns keeping the tails on. Clean and wash the mussels in cold water, removing the beards and discarding any open ones. Clean the squids and cut them in rings. Set aside.
  • Finely slice the shallots and roughly chop the garlic.
  • In a cooking pot heat vegetable oil, once heated add cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorn and whole red chillies. As the seeds crackle add the chopped ginger and garlic, sauté on medium heat for 2-3 mins. Now add the sliced onions and cook unit soft and translucent. Add the grated coconut and cook for further 5 mins.
  • Add turmeric powder  and cook for another couple of minutes.
  • Remove from heat and let the mixture cool before transferring it to a blender. Blend the mixture to a thick smooth paste by adding ½ cup of water. Add more water if desired to reach the right consistency.
  • Transfer the paste back to a clean cooking pot and add 1 cup of warm water and bring to a boil. Cook for further 7 mins. Add salt and continue cooking for 2 more mins.
  • Now add the coconut milk and bring the sauce back to boil. Stir in the aniseed powder and curry leaves. Start by adding the cod first and cooking it for 5-7 mins on medium heat. Be careful while you stir from this stage onwards as you don’t want to break the fish. Now add the prawns, mussels and squids. Carefully fold the seafood in the sauce, cover the cooking pot with a lid and simmer on medium heat for another 5-7 mins. Be careful not to over cook the seafood.
  • Once cooked add vinegar and mix. Remove from heat garnish with some fried curry leaves. Accompanied perfectly with steam rice.

 

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Mithai

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RAS MALAI, WHITE CHOCOLATE AND MANGO MOUSSE TRIFLE

The Hindi-Urdu word used to refer to sweets and confectionary is mithai. True origins of mithai are unknown. Some varieties, like Habshi and Sohan halwa, originate from Persia. Its roots have been traced as far as the early 1500s when the Moghul Emperor Humayun was exiled to Persia. When he re-conquered India, the makers of mithai were called by him to India. The mithai makers were not allowed to share their mithai with the common public and it remained for exclusive consumption of the Emperors for around 300 years. Later, in 1835, the makers of mithai were allowed to open a shop in Ghanta Ghar Delhi  I have created a unique fusion of mithai by blending the techniques from the western hemisphere and the best ingredients from the eastern hemisphere.

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GULAB JAMUN AND WHITE CHOCOLATE TERRINE.

The biggest challenge in creating these desserts was the complex taste of the Indian Mithai and the intricate techniques of the Puddings from the west. I spent days and days in my test kitchen trying to create the perfect balance between both. I tried combining mousse with various Indian mithais but eventually settled with Ras Malai, an Indian dessert which consists of sugary white, cream or yellow coloured balls (or flattened balls) of paneer soaked in malai (clotted cream), flavoured with cardamom.

The reason to choose ras malai was plainly because it was light textured and beautifully complimented the light and airy mousse. The next step was to add the flavours and unarguably mango was on top of the list. Fresh Alphonso mango pureed and incorporated with freshly whipped cream and white chocolate gave exceptional results. The next stage was the spices and an Indian Inspired dessert would have been incomplete without the addition of appropriate spices. I tried cinnamon but i felt it overpowered the whole dessert. Then i tried cardamon powder and it worked brilliantly, however, I still felt the dessert was lacking flavour so i decided to incorporate saffron and voila, that made a world of a difference. Little did i know at that time that this dessert would be the highlight of all my menus at the restaurant as well my bespoke catering. 

 

I will be posting the recipes soon.

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GAAJAR HALWA PANNA COTTA IN TARTS

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