Food and Wine Magazine ©

I don’t mean to be boastful, but give me two hours, a decent cookbook and enough Tequila to keep me lubed up, and I can go fajita-to-fajita with any Mexican restaurant. Ditto French, Italian, Thai and Chinese, which becomes less of a mystery every time you put your gloves on. Try as I might, though, I still can’t get my curries to taste anything like the ones I get from my favourite Indian.

This being bad for a man’s self-esteem, I decide to seek professional help from the Executive Chef at the Jaipur restaurant in Dublin, Kaushik Roy.

“As long as you stick to a few basic rules, it’s easy to prepare authentic-tasting Indian food,” he insists. “The most important thign is not to leave out anything that’s in the recipe. You might think, ‘Oh, it’s only a couple of grams of mustard seed’ or ‘a bit of cinnamon’, but all the spices are there for a reason.

“Rule number two is that if it says ‘fresh’, use fresh. Cooking is like chemistry – the different ingredients react together in a very specific way. Which isn’t to say that you can’t alter things to suit your own taste. A good chef is one who’s willing to experiment, and learn from both their sucessess and their failures.”

While immediately falling in love with Ireland, Roy admits that moving here from Bombay was quite a culinary culture shock. “A lot of the dishes that Irish people regard as Indian don’t exist back home. The best – or should I say the worst? – example of that is Chicken Tikka Masala, which is totally unauthentic. What my colleagues and I are trying to do is move people away from Tikka Masala culture and introduce them to different subtler flavours. We want them to explore the unique taste and cooking traditions that every region of India has.”

Jaipur certainly seems to be succeeding in its mission, with word of mouth leading to bookings from not just Dublin, but all over the 32 counties. While others might see this as an excuse for laurel-resting, Roy is constantly perfecting new recipes.

“I’ve just created a steamed fish dish, Bhapa Machchi, specially for Food and Wine Magazine . It’s very quick and easy to prepare, and shows what can be achieved with simple ingredients.”

Despite haaving only six components parts, Bhapa Machchi has a wonderfully complex flavour that’s a million miles away from anything you’ll find in the local take-away. Fortunately for amateur kitchen bumblers like me, it’s not the only trade secret that Roy’s willing to share.

“The order in which ingredients are added is very important. If you put, say lemon, juice in too early, its flavour is lost. It’s the same with fresh coriander, which should always be added last. As a rule of thumb, you should start by cooking the onions until they turn a golden brown colour. After that comes the fresh garlic and ginger paste followed by the dry spices and tomatoes. At that point, you add your main ingredient such as chicken or fish.”

The likes of turmeric and cardamom may be commonplace in Irish pantries, but there are other leser-known spices that are just as essential in the preparation of Indian food.

“A very good one is adafoetida, which is available in both powder and rock form. People should also experiement with aromatic seeeds like carum and nigella. Another thing I regularly use is sweet basil.

Where does he stand on the ghee (clarified butter) debate? “I generally prefer sunflower oil because it’s neutral in flavour. Ghee is very dominant and masks the subtler tastes.”

Having given me those invaluable tips, it’s back to the kitchen where Roy is putting the finishing touches to Jaipur’s new menu.
“We’ve dishes such as Lamb Chettinad and Kale Moti Biryani which are totally new to Ireland. I like to think that we’re taking Indian food here to the next level.”

They sure are.

Peter Rowen, Food and Wine Magazine (July/August 2001)©