Friday, 18 May 2012

Chai Tea, FYI the proper way

I love the ceremony involved with making tea and coffee. The wait, the patience and the routine makes the process unique to every individual. Whether it's you're early morning caffeine hit or a warming mug of herbal tea after a meal, every cup has a comforting quality. The “ummms” and “ahhhhs” that follow after the first sip are evident of the pleasurable and familiar aroma that warms our cockles and helps us deal with whatever may be thrown our way.

Those who know me, will know I love a tea. The two shelves in my kitchen dedicated to a wide variety of teas and coffee is ever growing is now spewing over to the third shelf. Without a fail, though, I will always have my regular four cups of chai a day.... with lots of brown sugar. Every time I make chai, I do it from scratch in a saucepan with lose tea and fresh spices, the way it should be done. This may be seen as time consuming to some, but to me it’s a ritual I look forward to, and if you are lucky enough to be around when my Chai clock strikes, then I'd be more then happy to provide a cup of spicy sweetness.

I've been asked how to make chai tea many times, and I always explain my precise tried and tested method, but I think this scares people. I have friends who have tried to chase the authentic flavour of chai they've tried in India, and end up buying pre-packaged cheap tea bags that claim to be “chai tea”… no… this is not right, and I am telling you now, you will never find the true taste of chai in a pre packaged box in any supermarket. The only brand I found to be pleasing is Clippers Chai Tea, and even though it isn't truly authentic, it has the right spice blend, and has a milder taste to true Indian Chai. But, the proper way to make chai follows a few simple, but very essential dos and donts:

Use a saucepan, non-stick is good as this prevents the milk from burning
Use lose black tea, Fair Trade always and only
Use fresh spices or Chai Masala
Use a tea strainer

Use tea bags
Use a kettle
Use the microwave (yes… I have seen it be attempted)
Use skimmed milk… why would you really?

So why so strict? Well, to understand the actual science behind a decent cup of chai, you have to look at the essences of flavour infusion:

1. A saucepan allows for a decent amount of space for the flavours to permeate and mingle.

2. Lose tea contains essential tannic acid which gives tea it’s slightly bitter but moorish quality. This flavour potential isn’t fully released when packed closely together in a semi porous bag. The longer the tea is brewed, the more the tannins are released. This gives the tea a darker bitterer taste.

3. Fresh spices have more flavour then dried spices. Chai masala is a blend of spices, which can differ from manufacturer (if bought) and households (if blended at home). The spice blend is a personal reference, and because of this, I think it is better to blend your own spices. I also vary my combination of spices depending on my mood and the time of the day. For example, in the morning I like a fair bit of lemongrass, ginger and cloves in my chai blend as I feel this helps wake me up. But in the evening, I prefer my spice blend to only include cinnamon and cardamom, as I find this to be more relaxing. It is entirely up to you what you want your chai to taste like, some people even like mint in their chai tea. 

Chai Masala Blend (foreground) and typical spices that
go into a Chai masala Blend (background)

The method bellow is how I make chai. The ratios don't have to be followed to the “tea”… and can vary depending on personal taste, so experiment till you find your perfect mixture. You could even grind down your individual spice selection and make your very own Chai Masala. Chai is a great digestive after a meal and is a perfect accompaniment to Indian nasto (spicy snacks). You could even try cook with chai in cakes, porridge, or even ice-cream. 

The following method has been tried and tested by my own fair hands. I believe this method brings out the right amount of flavour and aromas from the ingredients, without "over cooking" the tea.  

Ingredients (two cups):
1 cup Water
1 cup Milk
1 tbsp of Fair Trade Lose Tea
20 Cinnamon seeds (not pods)
Pinch of Grated Nutmeg
4 Cardamom Cloves 
2 Cloves
Quarter inch Grated Ginger
Fair Trade Brown Sugar, According to taste

Place the water, milk and the lose tea in a saucepan. Place on the hob on full heat. You could add more or less water/milk depending on your taste.

Either use a pestle and mortar or a grinder to crush the spices. Add to the saucepan.

Add the sugar if desired. I think 2 tsp is enough, although traditional chai is a great deal sweeter then this.

I personally think it is essential to stir only once all the ingredients are added, but only once, as this can disrupt the heating process and allows for oxygen to escape.  Oxygen is very important in any liquid as it helps carry flavour

Allow for the tea to boil. Once the chai has boiled, you should turn down the heat and not boil to the boil again, as it makes the tannins from the tea too strong and bitterly over powering.

Once the tea has simmered for about a minuet, strain into individual mugs. In India chai is normally served in small glasses in cafes, and in small clay cups on the streets, almost like little shots of sugary, milky, spiciness. A ceramic mug is just fine though. Enjoy your Chai with a pista cookie or a couple of Palle-Gs, or spicy Indian Nasto. 

Friday, 4 May 2012

Kimchi/Kim Chi/Kimchee/Gimchi

Good Kimchi, is like a good chutney, or a fine cheese, or even a perfectly baked loaf of bread: after much experimenting, and after making many mistakes, the perfect ratio and combination of ingredients is found, and stuck to for all future batches. So for my first ever batch of home-made kimchi, I expect there to be a few flaws, and for a few changes to be made in the future. Although to avoid it tasting totally rank, I did a fair bit of research…. Internal and external…. What makes good Kimchi for me? 

Findings? Well, texture of good Kimchi is as important as the level of spice. The use of crunchy Chinese (nappa) cabbage is absolutely essential. Other cabbages like savoy just don't have enough crunchy stem that retains some bite during the pickling process. The nappa cabbage also has more of an equal leaf to stem ratio, which means you don't end up with a total mush when the cabbage starts to ferment. To add extra crunch, some recipes call for radish, spring onion, or even cucumber. But that is when personal taste comes in, I prefer not to have too many extra bits in my Kimchi as it doesn't really suit me when making kimchi-based soups and stir-fries. I added roughly sliced leeks though, as I like the taste, and I feel it gives the mixture an extra dimension. The way the cabbage is cut also depends on the individual. Some prefer to keep the cabbage whole, and this is the traditionally method, peeling back each layer and stuffing it with the spicy paste, then finally placing it in large clay pots which are buried under ground for up to a year. I don't have large clay pots… so I chose to chop my cabbage up as it makes it easier to pack into medium sized jars. Once chopped, I left the cabbage to soaked in a water and salt solution for about 3 hours before being used.

I have tried a fair few batches of kimchi, and I have never been too keen on excessive, complicated flavours in the paste. I like my kimchi paste to be a little bit acidic, very garlicky and spicy, and very very smelly… the good kinda fermented kimchi smelly. Kimchi has a reputation for attracting flies, and this is defiantly down to the fermented/fishy smell. I know it doesn't sound all to attractive, but this is what gives the pickle its distinctive aroma. So to keep things simple, I blitzed up one onion, six gloves of garlic, one inch of ginger, two small skinned apples, 8 generous tbsp of fish sauce, 1 tbsp of sugar and a pinch of salt, 6 heaped tbsp of red pepper powder and 8 heaped tbsp of Gouchujang or red pepper paste. Kimchi recipes normally calls for just red pepper powder, but I also used a ready made paste, which is a mixture of fermented soya, rice and red pepper powder. My reasoning for this is simply to speed up the fermentation process. I’m not sure how it will effect the kimchi in the long run, but I don't think it’ll make too much of a difference. I like the taste of Gouchujang as well, so I doubt it will ruin the flavour too much. A final tasting before jarring is crucial. Be warned, you ay be left with a raw/hot taste in your mouth for the rest of the day. The Koreans have a saying, that after a meal, your guests should be sweating and burping… so I made sure to make my kimchi really hot!

So my spicy pickled cabbage, jarred and stored in the fridge, is left to ferment till it smells bad enough to eat. How to tell if your kimchi is fermenting successfully? Open the jar a few days into the fermenting process and you should notice bubbles in the red sauce. I could eat the it straight away, but I think I’ll test my patients and wait for a week at least. Kimchi can last up to a year in the fridge. The older the kimchi is, the more sour it tastes. Old kimchi is ideal for soups, stir-frying with rice or noodles, simply eaten as an accompliment to a main meal, or even on a toasted, buttered slice. Stir frying kimchi before using it in cooking brings out more flavour, just like when making a stock. I’ll will update on how it turns out and if its good to use will use it to make Kimchi Jigae… fingers and toes crossed.