{How to cook} Fish Perfectly

Caveat: Long post ahead

While at school, a typical day in class (for me) was divided largely into two halves. In the first half, between beginning of school and the mid day lunch I would dream of what was packed in my tiffin. In the second half I would dream of what would be cooked at home for lunch. The ringing of the final bell at school would mean a sprint back home. To be welcomed by mum and the all time Mangalorean favourite staple of fish curry and rice. Even today, as I sit back and smile when I remember these incidents, I guess there was where my love affair with fish began. Partly my Mangalorean genes, and to a large extent that I live in Mumbai where thankfully the supply of fish is abundant all year round; this love affair with fish continues. I have scarcely come across someone who doesn’t like eating fish. And, I know quite of few of them who are terrified of cooking fish. Ever since I started the blog, I have had a lot of readers write back with questions on cooking fish. So then, in this post of the ‘How to cook’ series I will try and answer all questions that you would have about cooking fish. Of course, there are some delish recipes for you to tuck in to towards the end. So, lets get started.

Before we begin the process of cooking, it is essential to understand the kinds of fish available. Each of the varieties mentioned below is different from the other in terms of texture (when cooked), flavor and most of the times cannot be used inter changeably.

  • Crustaceans- Simply called shell fish. These are fish who have a hard external shell, covering the delicate flesh. In most cases, the shell is discarded or used to make a nice little fish stock. This is one variety of fish that is prized for its sweet and delicate flesh. E.g. Crabs, Scallops, Lobsters, Prawns, Mussels.
  • Firm Fleshed- In other words, white fleshed fish. This variety of fish is one that has a flaky white colored fleshed, that is firm to the touch (if the fish is fresh). This flesh is covered by a thin silver skin.  E.g. Kingfish (Surmai), Basa, Cod, Pomfret.
  • Oily Fish- One of the more healthier variety of fish, this one is rich in healthy oils. These are usually used in salads or shallow fried. E.g. Mackerels, Sardines.

Now that we know the basic varieties of fish, lets proceed to the cooking.

That, we must use fresh ingredients while cooking is a given. But this thumb rule take all the more precedence when it comes to cooking fish. Fish should be fresh to taste best. A good thing to do is buy just when you have to. But if that’s inconvenient, here’s how to identify the freshest catch of the market.

  • Go by the eye- Both yours and the fish- Fresh fish will always always proclaim itself. The first thing to do is check the eye of the fish. It will be white and clear. If you find it a bit bit dull or off whitish. Move on to the next fish monger.
  • Fresh fish will smell salty (like sea breeze) and not fishy.
  • Next tip a finger to the fleshiest part of the fish. If the fish is fresh, the flesh will spring back. Else, your fingertip will leave a dent in the flesh.
  • Check the scales on the fish. It should be firm and tightly packed. If the scales are off or loose. Leave the fish alone.
  • Take a look at the gills. They should be bright, and red.

So, you have sourced the best fish possible. Now move to cooking.

Prepping the fish

One of the biggest debates of the culinary world is should we prep fish or not. Especially since it has a very delicate flavor and strong marinades may tend to over power the natural taste and texture; but on the other hand prepping the fish accentuates the flavor. So, the choice of prepping or not according to me depends on the dish you are making and the cooking style. Personally, I like prepping fish, before cooking.

  • Whatever you use to marinade or prep the fish; don’t do it for more than 10 to a maximum of 15 minutes. Anything more than that, especially if your marinade includes an acidic ingredient will begin reacting with your fish and affect the end product.
  • One of the simplest and most basic prepping methods is by simply rubbing it with salt, pepper, lime juice and turmeric powder. Keep in mind that when you cook fish, you need something acidic like lime juice or vinegar in the cooking process. I’m not sure where and how this theory originated,but my grandmum used to  say the acid will dissolve any small bones that are not visible to the eye. Lol 🙂 Nevertheless, I have found adding acidity to fish only accentuates the flavors. So, Amen to that.
  • Other ways you could marinate a fish are by preparing a concotion of olive oil, lime juice, salt, pepper and herbs of your choice. For a more citrusy kick, replace lime juice with orange juice.
  • ALWAYS, ALWAYS bear in mind the style of cooking and then prep the fish accordingly. For example, don’t use the orange juice marinade for a fish curry. 😛

And so, to the toughest part. Cooking the fish.

Once your preps are done, cooking the fish is almost a breeze. Like I’ve said before fish actually doesn’t need time to cook. Especially the crustacean variety like prawns get done in less than 4 minutes. So, listed below are the only some of the cooking methods that are popular across the world.

  • Curried fish: Any Mangalorean worth his salt would willingly part and arm and a leg for his staple fish curry and rice. A nice, spicy preparation of earthy spices ground along with fresh coconut to a fine paste. Simmered to perfection. Add your fish towards the final stages and turn off the heat let it rest a bit. have it with rice to experience nirvana. Best Suited for white fleshed fish like pomfret, king fish and crustaceans like prawns and crabs
  • Fish Fry: No one. Trust me no one is able to resist a piece of fish that is coated with a batter and fried to perfection. From the simplicity of the Indian masala marinade of ground red chillies, turmeric, salt, pepper and vinegar which is shallow fried to the very British thick beer battered fish and chips. This one is food for the soul. Best suited  for white fleshed fish like pomfret, king fish and crustaceans like prawns
  • Grilled fish: This one is for the outdoors. Heat up the grill to its highest point. when there, reduce the heat and add a dash of oil and add your fish. Always remember to first out the skin side down. Cook for about 2 minutes, then turn. and cook for about a minute. Remember when you grill, sear fish you don’t need to cook it on both sides for an equal amount of time. One side needs to cook well and then the other side needs to just heat up. A test for done-ness is to check the flaking of the fish. The natural seems in the flesh of the fish will just begin to separate. That’s when your fish is done. If the flesh is disintegrated, your fish is over done. Best suited  for white fleshed fish like pomfret, king fish, cod, red snapper. Always remember to rest the fish for atleast 10 minutes before tucking in to it. If you cut the fish straight out of the grill,  the essential juices will flow out and you will end up with dry fish.
  • Pan Seared- Much like the indoor version of the grilled fish. Follow the same techniques mentioned
  • Stir fry- Usually preferred in Asian style especially Chinese style of cooking. Heat up your wok to the highest point (but be very careful if you’re doing it the first time or are not confident) add garlic, aromatics and other veggies along with sauces and seasonings mentioned in the recipe. Add the fish and stir fry for a minute or two and serve. Prawns and other crustaceans are best cooked in this manner.
  • Ceviche (pronounced – Say- B- Che): An all time American favorite. But some say the French invented it. But nevertheless, a nice way to enjoy fish that is allowed to marinated in some citrus juice that could be orange, lime usually overnight. Then, flavored with peppers, salt and other mild herbs.
  •  En – Pappilotte (pronounced On- Pa- pee- otte): Trust the French to device cooking methods that bring out delicate flavours. In this french cooking technique you need to cover the fish in parchment paper or foil and immersed in water that is boiling at a temperature of about 160- 180 C. Anything more than that will destroy the fish.

Roughly, white fish should not take more than 10 minutes. Like i mentioned in the post on pasta start looking for done-ness in about 8 minutes. Similarly, prawns etc should not be cooked for more than 3 to maximum of 4 minutes.

Well, that was a long post. I do hope that by the end of it, you would have garnered enough knowledge to go about cooking fish.

Recipes

Sicilian Seared fish in White Wine Sauce and Roasted Potatoes

They say, no one cooks fish like the Italians do. Coupled with Italian favorites like white wine and roasted potatoes. This one is a perfect meal for the winter nights.

Fish in White wine Sauce

Ingredients:

For the fish

  • 1 fillet of any firm white fleshed fish
  • oil for searing
  • Dash of salt and pepper
  • Juice of half a lime

For the potatoes

  • 2 baby potatoes
  • Huge dash of rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil
  • Water for boiling

For the white wine sauce:

  • 5-6 pods of garlic
  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Italian herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage and oregano)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chilli flakes
  • 1 small stalk of parsley
  • 15 grams butter
  • 30 ml olive oil
  • 100 ml dry white wine
  • 80 ml chicken stock.

Additional

  • 4-5 French beans blanched OR a bunch of baby spinach blanched.

Method

Keep the dish in which you want to plate ready. We will be preparing each of the components separately and building up the dish.

Firstly, blanch the french beans or spinach  and keep on the plate

For the potatoes:

  • Peel, wash & boil the potatoes till they are about 80% done.
  • Once cooled, drizzle with rosemary and olive oil and bake in a preheated oven at 200 C for about 12-15 mins till the potatoes are charred.
  • Take out from oven and keep on one corner of the plate as shown in the photograph.

For the fish:

  • Clean, Wash and marinate the fish with the lime juice, salt and pepper
  • Heat the pan to smoking point and them lower the heat
  • Add oil and when it gets hot, add the fish skin side down and cook for 2 mins. Then turn and cook for a minute.
  • Remove from flame and place on the french beans as shown.

For the white wine sauce:

  • Heat the butter and olive oil in the same pan as the fish.
  • Once it gets hot, add the garlic and celery and give it a quick stir allowing the garlic to turn reddish brown. Don’t let it burn too much else it will give out a bitter aftertaste.
  • Now, deglaze your pan with the white wine and let it simmer.
  • Once the wine has reduce, add some more olive oil.
  • Add in the herbs and red chillies.
  • Lastly, add in your chicken stock. Allow it to simmer.
  • Once done, take off the heat and pour generously over the fish and potatoes.
  • Enjoy with a glass of white wine.

Coastal Fish Biryani.

Coastal Styled FIsh Biryani1The authentic Biryani has many fans across the world. I am sure this Mangalorean take on the Mughal classic would have them tearing their hair apart. But fact remains that coconut milk gives it a nice cushion on the spicy marinade. And, after all fried fish is something no one can resist

Fish Cutlets

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Whether your craving for a mid week protein and carbs fix or have planned a weekend night party with friends keep this ready in the fridge. Take my word, the guest and you will come back for more.

 

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{How to cook} Perfect Pasta

Note: I wrote this post with a lot of input from my dear friend Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal (twitter:@RushinaMG). Rushina owns the uber cool A Perfect Bite Cook Studio in Mumbai and is an author as well. Rushina has written a post on cooking pasta on her blog which you can read here.
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The world of food today is fast moving and innovation is the name of the game and traditional dishes being given a contemporary look and feel hardly evokes a surprise. In this scenario, Italian is one cuisine that hasn’t lost its old world charm. Minimal ingredients,  oodles of love, a huge dash of EVOO and you’re done!! But, it is in this simplicity that the actual beauty of Italian food lies. Someone rightly said, “When you cook Italian food well, it sings”.  I thought of doing an entire post dedicated to Italian cooking, but I thought it would be nice to do a post on something that is Italy’s best culinary gift to the world. Pasta. Pasta. Along with Pesto and Pizza, Pasta forms the holy trinity of Italian cuisine. But it is extremely important to cook pasta perfectly else, you could end up with a mess. So lets begin 🙂
1. There are so many variants of Pasta available. Which one should I  buy?
I always prefer buying the Italian brands that are made from durum wheat flour or Durum wheat semolina. Durum is a extremely hard variety of wheat that retains shape on cooking. Since this is wheat, it also has more nutritional value. These are a bit more expensive than the local brands but are worth every penny.  And for heavens sake, don’t buy those multi coloured pastas.
2. So then, How do I cook pasta perfectly?
The best thing to do is cook pasta just before you’re ready to eat. So, plan your meal accordingly and get all the mise-en- place done. I usually begin by heating the water to cook the pasta and simultaneously I begin to work with my sauce, depending on what dish I’m making.. So here’s how to get done.
Water– Pasta needs to cook in enough water. So, use a large vessel that has space to accommodate both the pasta and the water. Make sure that the pasta don’t clump together. The thumb rule is to use 1 litre of water for every 100 grams of pasta is good enough. Only add the pasta little by little when the water comes to a nice boil. DO NOT add oil to the pasta as oil sticks to the pasta and prevents the sauces from sticking to it.
Salt- Pasta requires lots of salt while cooking. So add in a generous handful.
Cooking Time: Usually most packs will carry instructions on how long the pasta needs to cook. So read the pack carefully. A safer trick I use is to cook the pasta for a minute or two less than what is mentioned on the pack. e.g. If the pack mentions to cook pasta for say 10 minutes, you could cook it for say 8 or 9 minutes.
The term ‘Al- Dente’ (to the tooth) is used to describe that stage in the (pasta)  cooking process when the pasta is cooked but firm to the bite. It is when the pasta is about 75 % to 80 % done. Once the pasta reaches this stage, drain out the pasta on a colander. Retain a ladle or two of the water to use in the sauce if you like. Its flavourful 😛
Always remember that pasta absorbs sauces well when its hot. Drop the pasta into the simmering sauce, add a huge helping of EVOO and some cheese and enjoy.
Here are two of my favorite pasta recipes:
Spaghetti Alio E Olio
One the most traditional yet simplest of Italian Classics, this one is a year long favorite due to the easy availability of all ingredients. Simple chopped garlic in olive oil with red chilli flakes and some white wine. Traditionally, cheese is not added to the recipe. I had made this one for ‘The world on my plate series’ and have kept making this since then for almost every week. Simple food at its best.
PAsta
Pasta in Spicy Tomato Sauce
Another classic method of preparing pasta in pairing it with tomato. This one is so simple that you cannot get it wrong. I used the piquancy of red chillies, the delicate kick of white wine and generous helpings of EVOO and then that ever so Italian favorite, Pamesan Cheese.
 Ingredients:
  • 1 pack spiralli pasta (Or any pasta you like)
  • 10-12 garlic cloves, slivered
  •  Tomato concessae (Refer notes below)
  • 120 ml Extra Virgin olive oil (do not substitute with any other oil)
  • 1 tablespoon, butter
  • 1 teaspoon, red chilli flakes
  • 4-5 leaves of basil
  • 80 ml dry white wine
  • 60 grams Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon, dried Italian herbs (I used thyme, rosemary and oregano)
  • 3 sprigs flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (2 to cook and 1 for garnishing)
  • Salt- use some more than your regular amount
  • Water- to cook the pasta (refer directions above)

Procedure:

  • Cook the pasta as instructed on the pack. Drain and keep aside.
  • Keep about 3 tablespoons of the olive aside and heat the rest along with the butter till you hear a sizzle.
  • When the oil is hot, add the garlic and allow it to cook till it is reddish brown. Add the basil, parsley, the red chillies and the herbs and stir well.
  • Add the tomato concessae and mix well. Now de-glaze your pan with the white wine.
  • Lastly add the pasta and mix well.
  • Serve in a plate, drizzle with the remaining olive oil over the pasta and then garnish with parsley and parmesan cheese.

To make the tomato concessae:

  • Make a horizontal and vertical slit on the tomatoes a
  • Bring water to a boil and add the tomatoes. Let them remain in water till you see the skin peeling off.
  • Take off the heat and add keep under cold running water for some time.
  • Remove the peel and seeds and chop finely.

{How To} Food Blogging 101

I tried long and hard to write something for my dear friend Renita Mascarenhas (twitter: @renita_m). But, like Kotler used the 4 P’s to describe marketing; I would use two P’s to describe her Passionate and a Perfectionist (to the point where many a times I tease her “the female Aamir Khan”. The fact that her blog’s name is Culinary Zeal should tell you a lot. Renita is passionate about baking and her speciality is the good ol’ Red Velvet. After the awesome post on taking good pictures by Namrata Jain,I felt it would be nice to do a post on food blogging as well. So, I requested Renita to speak to you on what goes on behind managing a food blog. I’m sure both readers and my blogger friends would like this one :).

And ohh, there is a nice post on baking the perfect red velvet on Renita’s blog. But I’ll be a bit partial and say I like the post on the Mangalore trip more.

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(Grab a cup of coffee if you please, this will take a while. 🙂  )

My journey as food blogger started off a bit…umm…should I call it like a “Leap of Faith”? I don’t remember clearly if I wanted to be a ‘Food Blogger’ back then. I gaped at the amazing food photographs I saw online, I wanted to learn to cook different cuisines, I wanted to share my ideas, my recipes. With tons of enthusiasm I decided to start blogging…*sigh* and then I actually learnt about Food Blogging!

Food Blogging = Cook/Bake + Write & Click pictures + Post

Done! See, so simple right? Or maybe not…

Sometimes the cake gets burnt, sometimes your camera acts pricey and nobody even warned me about writers’ block! Welcome to my world of Food Blogging  🙂

Ok so I don’t mean to scare you off! I am going to share with you a few things that I learnt along the way (read mentally preparing you :P) So here’s Food Blogging 101 – Creating a food blog, maintaining it, some dos and don’ts and the way forward.

Creating a Blog:

1) Registering: All you need is an email ID to sign-up on a blogging platform like Blogger/Blogspot, WordPress, Tumblr, etc…Each of them do have their differentiating factors. As a beginner you need not worry about all that, as and when you evolve you can compare features and shift base (yes, most allow you to import all your previous posts too.)

2) Christening: The name of your blog will go on to be your brand, so get as creative as possible and select a name for your blog (even hound friends and family for suggestions if need be!) Keep it simple (so that it is easier for people to understand when they ask you what your blog is called); let it convey what your blog is about. Coming up with a name is not easy, I chucked out 10-12 names before I settled for Culinary Zeal. Even if you do manage to come up with a brilliant name, it might not be available, so always have a backup or 10 more!

3) Avoid identity crisis: To build your blog’s identity, consider getting a logo designed. It is also nice if you can get a domain name and link it to your blog so that instead of, say yourblog.wordpress.com, you can have yourblog.com. The blog can be like your own website, so cool right? Right!

If you are a techie or can get some help with coding, you can buy hosting and get the blog customized. If not, either learn about it else don’t bother, just Keep Calm and read the next step  🙂

Maintaining a Blog:

1) What to share: In the world of food blogging, I was like Alice in Wonderland, totally lost! That is till I figured out what I wanted to write about. What is your blog about? Baking, vegan recipes, food photography or restaurant reviews? No, you don’t have choose just one. But identify where your strengths lie and leverage it rather than trying to do everything. Build a niche. This is only meant to give you a direction and not to be restrictive. Try a lot of things, after all experience teaches you what no professor can. But that does not mean you have to blog about everything you try.

2) Getting Inspired: Content is a challenge every blogger has to deal with. It’s like a big wall that you need to climb. I told Elson I can’t write this post because I don’t know what to write…and look at me going on and on and on… Sometimes, you just need time and space to come up with something worthwhile. And like Elson says, look around little things in your day to day life can inspire you. For example, I got the idea to write this post when Shanti (Riot of Flavours) was discussing with fellow food bloggers about the process to register a domain name.

3) Prose & Pictures: Different bloggers have different writing styles, identify your style. Writing style…err what it ez! Let me explain, check out these blogs Nonchalant Gourmand by Nikhil Merchant and The Purple Foodie by Shaheen Peerbhai Kiswani. See how these bloggers have their unique style of writing? While Nikhil elaborately builds a story connecting with the recipe shared, reading Shaheen’s blog is like reading a letter from a pen friend. The manner in which thoughts/ideas are shared is a reflection of the blogger’s personality too. You can get as elaborate or as specific to-the-point as you wish. And how you present your story, that will be your style. Also spare a thought for those who will be reading your posts (your target audience) and write accordingly.

Pictures make a post interesting. They can sometimes convey effectively what you would otherwise struggle to explain with words. Not every post needs pictures though. Like this one.

4) Get some visibility: When you start off, no one knows your blog exists. Share it with family, friends, and friends of friends (the more the merrier!). Twitter and Facebook do help a lot to spread the word. You can also get listed on sites like IndiBloggerblogadda, PetitChef, The Daring Kitchen, etc…

5) Monetization: Once you have established yourself as a Food Blogger, you can look at generating some revenue out of it. While one way is having Ads displayed on your blog, a lot of bloggers opt against it to keep the blog clean and to avoid distracting the readers.

Dos & Don’ts on Food Blogging:

• Blogging is about adding some value, if you are just going to replicate something that already exists, spare yourself the trouble!

• Plagiarism is a big No No! There is just no excuse for that.

• Ask for permission to use material and always give due credit (while using images, recipes, content, etc)

• If you are writing for the purpose of getting freebies, I will judge you!

• Be unique, be yourself.

• Stay open to learning – from books, online sources, friends, (also network with other bloggers… xoxo for my food blogger friends!)

The way forward:

Food Blogging need not be your destination. It is a great stepping stone for future ventures as well. Perzen Patel (Bawi Bride) caters Parsi cuisine, Amrita Rana (Life Ki Recipe) conducts food workshops and also provides consultation as a food stylist while Kalyan Karmakar (Finely Chopped) conducts food trails. Going forward, here are a few things you can consider:

• Catering for events

• Selling (gourmet/organic/home-made) food products

• Conducting food workshops/customized classes (Take-home chef’s)

• Taking up food writing/ food photography/food styling assignments with food magazines, restaurants, etc

• Conducting food trails

• Authoring cook-books

Too much of gyaan there, I don’t know about you, but I am 3 cups of coffee down!

So I’ll just leave you with some ‘Food for Thought’: Don’t participate in a race if you don’t enjoy running.

A Big thank-you:

  • To Elson, for pushing me to write this post and believing in me, even when I myself did not.
  • To all the Food Bloggers mentioned in this post, for allowing me to use their names, their blog names and blog links.
  • To you, readers, I know it was a lengthy post but I hope you have found it meaningful.

Disclosure, Photography Secrets Revealed, a guest post on The Tummy Tale

Remember the time when you ogled on seeing a plate of spaghetti perfectly plated? Or did you ever see a chef create something wonderful on TV and you wished technology could download food. Personally, I believe we eat with our eyes first and then with our tongues. Many a times, we create a lip smacking plate of food and then we wish we could click it to save it for ever in our memories. Alas, there is no DSLR, no focus light and other jazzy camera equipment. But that is one aspect atleast we food bloggers attempt to master. So, do you really need all that equipment for a great food picture. I asked my friend Namrata Jain to tell you about it. But more than that, she would also tell you how to take great pictures without all that fancy stuff you see. Namrata authors the blog My Food Tapestry; I have many a times drooled over the pictures on her blog and quietly wished the screen would allow me to grab a bite.. Alas 😦

And if you ever thought vegetarian food was boring, her blog will change that perception as well.
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Hello Dear Friends,

Elson asked me to do a guest post for his on-going How To series. I was excited and eager. Elson writes beautifully and his love for food is evident in his words and his posts. Well, he wants me to cover a topic which brings out the biggest critic in me. He loves the pictures that I take and I for one am highly critical of my own work. We eat with our eyes first. A picture speaks a thousands words. Quotes like these kick me in my butt every time I shoot my food. If truth be told, I have drooled over and stalked many a sites purely for their outstanding photography. Desperately trying to figure out styling and photographing ideas, I struggle and stumble with my limited resources. They say you can take excellent pictures even with the most basic digital camera, you really don’t need an SLR. So with that motivation, I make use of the resources around me. I try to take shots where each picture tells a story of its own. I aim really high, and for those who frequent my blog know that I still have a very long ladder to climb. Still, in spite of all this, the little that I have learnt in my one year stint, I would love to share it with you. Thank you Elson for giving me this wonderful opportunity.

Let’s get started –

1. The camera –

I have the most basic one. Learn to ditch the auto mode and start fiddling with the manual settings. Learn all about ISO, aperture, shutter speed and white balance. Read all about it here. Just learning the basics can have an alarming difference in the quality of your photographs.

PIC 1

2. Light/Setting/Studio –
Ideal food pictures are shot in studios or you could make one for yourself. Since I don’t have the expertise or the space for it, I mostly go natural, that is, take my pictures out in our terrace garden or in the balcony. I play by one basic rule… lighting. Too much light spoils a photograph, too little makes for a very dark one. Inside the house, there is glass and shiny surfaces which reflect a lot of light rendering a not so good picture. Evening or night times with the tungsten bulbs all on, again the picture quality suffers. So, I prefer taking my food cutlery and all to the garden outside my house which is covered by walls on either side and a roof on top. Light flows in only through one side making it ideal for my photographs. The best time I have noticed is mornings and early evenings as the sun rays are warm and not so harsh. Once it gets dark, I refrain from photographing.

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3. Background Props/Boards and Work Surfaces –
You can surely make mundane boring food look sexy and gorgeous. I secretly lust for props like these. But we make do with all that we have and can find, coz buying antique and silver ware is not easy on our pockets. What we can do is make optimal use of stuff at home. Do not ignore old well used scratched metal or wooden trays. My garden provides me with a wonderful wooden bench ideal for placing my food.

My Work Station

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Old baking trays, an extra board of laminate left or your child’s wooden study table, all make great backgrounds.

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4. Cutlery and China ware
Now for the food to be placed in. Silver, brass, antique and expensive crockery make great photographs – FACT. Decrepit copper bowls or cups make excellent pictures. Your red sauce would look more sanguinary in rich china ware. But since they are difficult to procure, I have found solace in inexpensive china ware, mostly in white!

White bowls, chutney pans, cake mounts, platters – buy them in white, as food displayed on it looks best. Visit your dollar store or your local market and pick one of all the serve ware that you use. It will be mostly enough to complete a pretty picture.

Keep an open eye for newer variety of cutlery or forks or platters, especially when you are traveling. I usually get very good stuff where I am least expecting it.

One look at my crockery section and you can see how WHITE it is 🙂

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An attractive wooden soup bowl often makes very good pictures. Be it rice or some curry or stew or soup, it serves as a perfect container to be photographed.

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5. Other props

So its been a year or so since I have started blogging, and I have collected twines, twigs, coils, brown shopping paper bags, ribbons … anything you name. My most prized finds are these small cute little gunny bags which we use here in India to gift or as wedding favors. One time, my MIL was coaxing me to take a pair of beautiful anklets which she got as a party favor, but I was more interested in the bag. 🙂 I let her have the anklet and was ecstatic with the little bag.

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Scarves make such pretty pictures! I use my colorful stoles as a mood enhancer in plain pictures. Your child’s little toys can prove to be a wonderful place to pick your ware from. I have used Milee’s toy spoons and little plates and no body could tell. 🙂

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Crumpled baking paper or brown paper makes very good background for your baked food dishes. So you baked a beautiful loaf of bread? Now wrap part of it with brown paper and twine, set it against a well crumpled baking paper and there you have a great picture waiting to be captured!

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Use your dish cloth, or apron or kitchen napkins and dinner napkins to good use by laying them in an informal way against the food.

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6. Important Pointers/Tips

  • The first on my list is to pull back. A newbie photographer will have the impulse to “move in” on their subject. Get that beautiful crumbly crust of a muffin as close as can be. But really, the most beautiful shots are when you can “pull back” from your subject and make the intended focal point “pop” as opposed to “fill the shot”. It’s a simple phrase to remember when shooting: “pull back” – taken from here.
  • Think of what you want to do, how you would like to shoot, what cutlery you would like to use. Imagine. Create a scene. First in your head and later on paper. Roughly sketch it up, so that you have a clear vision when you execute it. I am going to be honest, I don’t always do this step, but all those times when I plan and create, the results are much better than expected.
  • Partial photographs of food look more enticing than the whole picture. I learnt this a tad late.
  • Rule of Thirds – The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts. The lesson is that a direct face-on, centered shot is not always the most interesting or pleasing to the eye. You want your photo to have movement and flow. Basically it means, you place your focal point of interest not in the middle but on the intersections of the imaginary lines, that is, on the sides of the pictures. Here is a good tutorial on the rule of thirds.
  • Color and shapes are a great way to add beauty to your scene. But be subtle. For example, if it’s a very plain looking dish, try and season with a twig of some bright green herb or if it’s a dessert, which looks very boring, fruits or sugar dust or drizzled sauce can create a very inviting atmosphere.

So with all said and done, here is one of my most favorite shots –

PIC 11

Thank you Elson for giving me this wonderful opportunity to write and share my stint with photography basics. I would not have had the courage to do it ever but this guest post makes me contribute, share and help many a novice newbies out there, drooling and lusting after those gorgeous food photographs 🙂

{How to cook that Series} Asian Cuisine- Guest Post by Purabi Naha

Many years ago, an enterprising young man changed the way we Indians ate international food. He covered bite sized chicken nuggets in flour batter and deep fried them. Then, he dunked these nuggets in a sauce and called it Indo Chinese food. From then on, to this date, we never really have come out of that frenzy. Thankfully, with the coming of the internet and advancement in travel, home style Chinese or Thai or Japanese is becoming more accessible. But, seekers of the truth like me want to delve deeper. What exactly is the kind of food they eat across the Himalayas. What are the kitchen secrets a Japanese mother-in-law shares only with her daughter-in-law and not with her daughter so that secrets stay only in the family. Purabi Naha (twitter: @purabinaha), my friend and author of the blog Cosmopolitan CurryMania (http://cosmopolitancurrymania.com) will tell you. Purabi has spent some of her years in Hong Kong and is an expert in Asian cooking. I have personally diverted many of my queries regarding Asian cooking to her and come back feeling confident of being able to tackle the dish. I decided to request her to share her expertise so that you can recreate the same magic right back in the comfort of your kitchen. She will tell you about the basics of Asian cooking and how to ace it. There is also delish recipe to cover and awesome post. Enjoy the ride 🙂

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Sambal fishballs a2

Hi Tummy Tales readers! When my talented foodie friend Elson Sequiera asked me to write a post on Asian Cuisine, Indonesian Sambal Fish Balls were the first thing which came to my mind. Once you master the art of making Asian fish balls at home, you can create a number of Asian dishes using these. These are used in Hong Kong style curried fish balls, different kinds of Asian fishball soups, braised dishes and in noodles. Come with me to an enthralling journey to making a unique gastronomic Asian delight, smeared in spicy Indonesian Sambal sauce. This recipe is my personal favourite, as it has a medley of choicest vegetables, which adds freshness and colour to the whole dish! I hope you will like it. Thank you, Elson, for giving me an opportunity to write a guest post on your wonderful blog!

Indonesian Sambal Fish Balls with Vegetables

Asian fish balls are found in different flavours and cooked in different ways across Asia. Fish balls- on-a-stick and fish ball soup in different avatars are the quintessential street foods in many parts of Asia. I have to admit, making fish balls from scratch isn’t that easy, but it is not impossible either. It requires a little practice and lot of patience, but then, at the end of the day, you get authentic Asian fish balls right in your kitchen, sitting in India (or anywhere else in the world)! When we were living in Hong Kong, I rarely made these. Fish balls are available in Hong Kong wet markets in plenty and there are so many (Read more here) kinds to choose from. But here in India, these are rare. So it makes sense to make these if you are determined to surprise your guests with not-so-common Asian dishes. The right fish balls are those which spring back when pressed with a finger. I will tell you how to make springy fish balls from scratch!

Any white, firm fish works fine. The popular ones are mackerel, snapper or herring. In Hong Kong, they love to use cuttlefish, octopus and lobsters. Sometimes, these balls have gooey stuffing in them.

fish paste

We need to make the fish paste first, by removing the bones and the skin of the fish and then mincing the fish in the food processor, along with seasoning, egg white and little cornflour. Some people also add tapioca flour and potato starch to the balls, but cornflour works fine. After mincing, the real work begins. We have to beat this paste until it is sturdy, springy and easy to handle. This beating is best done by hand, so as to activate the fish protein in the fish, which in turn makes the balls bouncy. Authentically, the balls are made by throwing the paste multiple number of times on a plate or a bowl. At the end, the paste will incorporate a lot of air and is also much easier to handle. Chilling the paste at this stage (just for 30 min), before plunging them in boiling water, is a good idea to get round fish balls.

fishballs after boiling

Before I tell you the recipe, let me share with you some Asian cooking tips and tricks which I follow often in my kitchen:

1. If you are confused whether to use light or dark soy sauce in your Chinese recipes, this will help: use light soy sauce for seasoning and dark soy sauce to add a caramel colour to your dish.

2. I often prefer to use Chinese cooking wine and vinegar together in my Chinese dishes, especially when I am cooking seafood. It really gives a different kind of flavour to your dish and also helps in lessening the fishy smell. In Chinese cooking, three kinds of wines are used: Shaoxing wine (having the least alcohol content), rice wine and rose wine. When you cook with wine, be cautious to keep a check on the flame, as alcohol catches fire easily.

3. If you are making a slow-cooked Chinese soup with pork, beef or chicken, it is advisable to first blanch the meat in boiling water for a minute or so. This water should be discarded and the meat can be used for further cooking. This process helps in removing the musky taste, blood clots and grease from your final soup. You will also get less scum at the surface of your soup on doing so.

4. Use chicken bouillon powder to make your dishes more flavourful. Vegetarian can use vegetable stock in place of water, in any Asian savoury recipe.

5. A cast-iron kadhai (wok) is perfect for cooking Asian dishes on the gas stove. However, slow- cooked dishes (like soups) can be done in electric slow cooker as well. Another equipment I love is the clay pot. I use it when I want that rustic, charred taste in my Asian dishes. This works perfectly well for beef brisket and for making clay-pot rice!

6. Use Shiitake mushrooms in place of your regular button mushrooms, if available. These have tons of flavour! Also, unlike Indian cooking, in other Asian recipes, the vegetables are eaten best when these retain their crunch. So do not overcook the vegetables.

Sambal fishballs a1.jpg

Indonesian Sambal Fish Balls with Vegetables

Ingredients for fish balls:

  • Any white fish fillet (basa): 400 g
  • Shrimps (deveined): 400 g
  • Black pepper powder: ¾ tsp
  • Spring onion greens (very finely chopped): 1 tsp
  • Cornflour: 2 tbsp
  • Egg white: 1
  • Salt: ¾ tsp

Ingredients for the Stir-Fried Veggies:

  • Onions: 2 (chopped in cubes)
  • Red bell pepper(cubed): ¾ cup
  • Yellow bell pepper (cubed): ¾ cup
  • French beans (chopped): ½ cup
  • Garlic (minced): 1 tsp
  • Pumpkin cubes (blanched previously for five minutes): ¾ cup
  • Sesame oil: 5 tbsp
  • Dark soy sauce: 1 tbsp
  • Plum sauce: 1 tbsp
  • Fish sauce: 1.5 tbsp
  • Tomato ketchup: 2 tbsp
  • Chicken powder (dissolved in one cup of warm water): 1 tbsp
  • Indonesian Sambal Oleek paste: 2 tsp
  • Black pepper powder: 1 tsp
  • Salt: according to taste

Method:

Combine all the ingredients, except the corn flour, for the fish balls in a food processor and make a fine paste. It is sticky at this stage. Pulse once again with the cornflour. Now, transfer into a big bowl and take handfuls of this paste and slap it back into the bowl. Continue this process for around 20 min, or until you find that the paste is less sticky and full of bounce.

Fish balls 4.jpg

Chill this paste for 30 min. After that, make small balls out of the paste and transfer them carefully to a wok of boiling water (to which 1 tsp salt has been added). Remove the balls after 10 min.

adding sambal.jpg

Heat oil in the wok. Add the onions and garlic. Sauté on high heat for 3 min. Add the veggies, except the pumpkin. Let the veggies cook for 10 min. Add the sauces now. (I combine all the sauces together in a small bowl and then add this mix to the veggies.)Cook on high heat for 2 min. Add the pumpkin and the fish balls. Cook for another 5 min.

Adding the pumpkin.jpg

Add the chicken stock. Adjust the seasoning. Add the black pepper powder and mix well. Cook for 5 min. Serve with steamed rice or boiled noodles.