Spice of life
Some of the world’s top chefs have spice expert Arun Kapil on speed dial. He tells MARIE-CLAIRE DIGBYhow he plans to use subtle spicing in his Christmas cooking
Arun Kapil and his Irish wife Olive, who run the Green Saffron spice company in Midleton, Co Cork, bring their work home with them when it comes to cooking Christmas dinner.
“Any dish can benefit from a little, delicate touch of spice; just enough to help bring out an accent, to encourage the dish to dance. Spices can create smoky notes; menthol notes; delicate, fragrant subtle aromas; sweet tingling and vibrant flavours.”
For a smaller gathering, or a post-Christmas treat, Kapil suggests cooking the pheasant recipe on these pages, with his Indian-influenced side dishes. But when he cooks for his extended family, it’s a grand affair, and he usually roasts a goose.
“This is the first year I’ll be staying in Ireland, with Olive’s family. We normally pop back to Lincolnshire to celebrate with my family there, but this year we’re off to India on December 27th.”
Kapil cooks Christmas lunch with his brothers. “We tend to go totally over-board. Sunil makes some sort of seafood cocktail, normally a prawn cocktail, to start. When I lived in London, I’d pick up the goose on the way back home, from a farm in Grantham.
“I stuff it with potato, Bramley apple, orange zest, fresh thyme and white pepper. Spiced pears help cut the richness of the goose. I poach them in a sugar syrup infused with chilli, star anise, ginger and cubeb pepper.
“I cook Savoy cabbage with pancetta, white wine and whole toasted cumin seeds. Anil’s turnip gets cooked in chicken stock, then blitzed with loads of butter, a little cream and freshly chopped chilli. Parsnips, par-boiled, coated with Parmesan, black pepper and tapioca flour are then finished off in the oven. Roast potatoes are cooked in goose fat and finished with sprigs of fresh rosemary. We also do a ‘clean’ green veg, most often steamed and salted kale, and a buttery veg, such as Brussels sprouts.
“Mum always insists on bread sauce. I love it too and have taken to using the delicate influence of Indian bay leaves; they add a really excellent, subtle citrus-type note. And finally gravy, made from the juices of the bird, finished with port and Grand Marnier. Mum used to despair at the amount of food we’d cook, but I think she’s just given up worrying and lets us get on with it these days.”
To make good use of Christmas left-overs, Kapil developed an award-winning vadagam spice blend, a south Indian coconut and lime-scented curry that gets renamed Turkey Delight at Christmas (it also works with chicken). If you haven’t remembered to pick up a packet of this spice blend, here’s Kapil’s suggestion for a quick store-cupboard curry.
“Grab an onion, chop it into chunks, sweat it down in butter. Add two or three cloves of finely chopped or minced garlic and a ‘finger’ of grated fresh ginger. Cook gently for a minute of two.
“Add a generous teaspoon of turmeric, two teaspoons of ground coriander, one teaspoon of cumin, half a teaspoon of chilli flakes and three whole cloves. Add a tin of coconut milk and half a tin of chopped tomatoes. Turn up the heat and allow it to bubble for two minutes. Pop in your cooked turkey, heat it through, then take it off the heat, squeeze in the juice of half a lime, a grate of fresh nutmeg, some chopped red chilli, and serve with leftover roast potatoes or freshly cooked fluffy Basmati rice.”
Kapil sees spices as colours when he is working on a spice blend. “In a world of monochrome seasoning – black pepper, white salt – I see spices as flecks of bright, glorious colour. And the more we capture these beautiful colours in our cooking, then the better, more varied our food will be. I believe that everyone can cook and everyone can cook with spices.”