Whisky and kebabs on a chilly evening, ahh! That’s what makes winter worth the wait. Few close friends, a dinner with colleagues or just an evening in front of the television calls for a drink, and in India we like to drink whisky. Not just any whisky, Scotch whisky. So I decided to bring in the season of celebrations with a Johhnie Walker whisky tasting at ITC Maratha, Mumbai. The whisky was paired with food from China and food from Japan by Chefs at the Pan Asian restaurant for China Japan debate on a plate.
More than wine, whisky is something we already know and love. In fact one of our prominent politicial leaders carries around his bottle of Johhnie Walker Black Label wherever he goes to dine! I know so many of my friends, even my father’s friends who like to stick to their favourite brand of whisky wherever they go. It is safe to say that whisky has been in my blood for generations. If you too love the flavour of whisky, here are 6 ways to enjoy whisky in every way. Drink, pair & cook with whisky!
It’s not easy being the guy everyone wants to party with! Have fun being the bartender this season and mix some charming new drinks. Classics like Rob Roy are made with vermouth, angostura bitters and Scotch whisky, or Whisky Sour (Whiskey with an E*) with lemon juice and sugar have always been on the list, why not come up with new custom-made classics for your party this season.
Here is something that you could try. Adding a theme to the cocktails, like tropical, Spanish or Japanese flavours. Here’s how Johhnie Walker made their cocktails borrowing some ingredients from the Oriental kitchen. We were welcomed with two interesting cocktails made with Johhnie Walker Black Label. The Rising Sun cocktail with a mélange of sweet, sour and spicy Japanese and Chinese flavours like wasabi and pomegranate made it very suitable for the Indian palate, it had the charm and excitement of a paani puri. The other cocktail was one called the Mao’s Tipple served in a Martini glass and made with Oolong tea and Sichuan Pepper syrup flavours.
If you want to try them out with Johhnie Walker Black Label at Home, here is how you can make them
Oriental Flavoured Cocktails
Johnnie Walker Black Label – 45ml
Fresh Lime Juice – 20ml
Pomegranate syrup / Grenadine syrup – 15ml
*Soy and wasabi mix – 5ml
Fresh Egg white – 10ml
Shake all ingredients well and strain into a glass filled with ice. Garnish with a side of Japanese pickled ginger.
* Soy and Wasabi mix –
Combine equal parts by weight of light soy sauce and grated wasabi root / paste and Mirin (optional). Eg. 100gms soy to 100gms wasabi to 100gms mirin.
Johnnie Walker Black Label – 45ml
*Oolong Tea and Szechuan pepper syrup – 15ml
Sweet vermouth – 20ml
Stir all ingredients well and serve in a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a light sprinkle of oolong tea leaves and cracked sichuan pepper.
*Oolong Tea and Sichuan pepper syrup.
2 tbsp of loosely cracked Sichuan peppers
2 Oolong Tea bags 4gms each
500ml hot water
500gm of caster sugar
Add tea and pepper to hot water and let it seep for 10 minutes. Remove tea and pepper from the brew and add in sugar. Stir until all the sugar dissolves. Do NOT boil tea and pepper in water. Do NOT boil to dilute sugars.
It is hard to give-up the straight drinks of whisky, neat and perfect, yet every once in a while it is fun to mix it up! For those that enjoy the subtle notes of whisky but not the harsh taste of alcohol, here is a simple and homely recipe you can experiment with.
Scotch Whisky 1 measure
Lemon Squeeze half a lemon
Orange Juice ½ measure
Mint 5 leaves, muddled
Himalayan Pink Salt (Sendha Namak) a pinch
Sparkling water cracked ice
Garnish with a spiral of lemon
Method: Stir in all ingredients except ice in a tall glass.
Fill the bottom half of a martini glass with cracked ice.
Pour the drink into the martini glass, garnish with a spiral of lemon.
2) What’s the Best Temperature for Drinking Whisky
The Whisky guru from Diageo, Raveen told us, ‘when it comes to drinking whisky, it’s all about temperature’. For instance the light smoky flavour of Johhnie Walker Gold Label along with notes of cocoa are best communicated when it is served ice cold. We were served Gold Label with ice water, but without a dark chocolate truffle, which it is best paired with.
Richer whisky such as the Johhnie Walker Platinum Label and Johhnie Walker X.R 21 have more intense flavours with deep fruity notes, and these are more pronounced at room temperature.
In whisky drinking you can nose the aromas 15 degrees Celsius onwards, so sipping at room temperature for richer blends where you want to relish the aromas is a good idea. Whisky tastes different at different temperatures, and it is a good idea to read the label on the bottle to drink it right.
3) Pairing Scotch Whisky with Hot or Cold Food
It is not only the temperature of whisky itself but also the temperature of the food that it is served with, that adds to its flavour. This is a lot like smelling coffee beans when you’re trying out different perfumes. When you sip the whisky at room temperature and alternate it with a cold dessert, the flavours are clean in every sip. The contrasting temperatures amaze and alert your senses each time.
For instance we really enjoyed the way the cold wasabi ice cream that hits the nose and at the same time intensifies the deep flavours of Johhnie Walker XR 21 that was served at room temperature. The sharp flavour of wasabi also makes the fruity notes in the whisky definite, and that’s the beauty of a whisky drinking experience, isn’t it?
4) Pairing Whisky with Cuisines
Juicy kebabs, spicy curries and naans with whisky are the perfect desi combination. I find Scotch whisky to be the perfect desi pairing with Indian food. Pairing is really about personal taste, you can even pair French fries and ketchup if you prefer. There’s no wrong, yet depending on the light citrusy or fruity flavours of a whisky certain foods add to the experience.
Whisky is believed to enhance the flavour of food due to its wide flavour profile. Our Indian palate is used to bold flavours like those in Sichuan style of Chinese cooking, and we enjoy our whisky with Chinese food because of the contrasting bold and subtle notes and its familiarity factor. I’d say it pairs well with Japanese food, because due to the subtle taste of this cuisine, the taste of the whisky is boosted and easier to identify and enjoy.
5) Flaming Food – How to flambe food with Whisky?
This is all drama, drama & more drama! Because flaming food with alcohol is done just before serving and right in front of the guests, you can imagine the impact it creates. This lends great flavour to food too. It works best on meats and desserts. The food, sauce or cake gets the flavour of whisky and the alcohol is burns when you light it. It adds more character and depth to the flavour because the food caramelizes or chars lightly when flambé it.
Flaming sauces is an old school gimmick for fancy French restaurants. The way we like to do it here, is make flaming kebabs.
How to flambé your kebabs?
What you simple need to do is take alcohol in a ladle, carefully light it up and then pour the flame on to 90 percent cooked kebabs on a stone tile that doesn’t break, or a cast iron plate will also work well.
This does two things, one, it flavours the kebabs with whisky and secondly, it lightly caramelizes the kebabs and makes the flavour deeper.
If you do want to go about flambé-ing sauces in the traditional way, it is a great way to flavour meat and dessert sauces and here’s how you do it in two simple steps.
Two Steps to Flambeing you sauces with Whisky.
Step 1: Make your sauce, so you sauté the shallots for you steak sauce, add in the mushrooms, sprinkle paprika and stir in the cream.
Step 2: Then lower the heat, and slowly add in a cap of whisky by pouring it along the sides and stirring into the sauce. Be careful, and make sure no one, including you is standing close enough to catch fire. (Have a fire extinguisher ready, kidding!). If you do want to create more drama though, (have a fire extinguisher ready, not kidding), increase the heat on the pan, move back and pour a cap of whisky along the sides of the pan, make sure the sauce is on that side of the pan. The sauce will flame up directly for just a second, and longer if you pour more alcohol and the heat isn’t too high.
This is really all about experience, once you do it at home safely a couple of times, you’ll have the confidence to showcase your skills at a party too.
6) Flavouring Food with Whisky
Whisky has a great flavour spectrum, with the flavour of oakwood, citrus and even herbs that enhance the flavour of the food. In fact it is believed that whisky in many ways acts like salt in its ability to enhance the flavours in a dish. I just love adding in that X factor to my food.
This is a great way to spruce up even a simple vanilla ice cream.
Foodmantra for Whisky Ice Cream
Vanilla Ice cream 4 scoops
Scotch Whisky 3 tablespoons
Honey 4 tablespoons
Almonds, sliced 6-8
Cinnamon Powder ½ teaspoon
Mix in the whisky, honey, almonds and cinnamon into softened vanilla ice cream.
Freeze to desired consistency and enjoy!
Foodmantra for a Whisky flavoured Meat Sauce
Once you are done grilling or roasting meat in a pan, pour 3 tablespoons of whisky and deglaze the pans with the remaining tit bits. Add in some grilled/ roasted shallots and mushrooms (you can roast them on the side when your meat is cooking), add in fresh herbs and parika and sour cream to the pan. Lightly heat it up and pour the sauce to be served on the side.
You can also add in leftover marinade from the grill or the roast if you like.
The Johhnie Walker Scotch Whisky tasting was a delight. It was great to know so more about drinking whisky and pairing it up with the right food. I’m a Japanese food lover and inclined towards seafood. Whisky is said to bring out the aromas of the sea in seafood, so my food went nicely with the beverages that were served that evening. While I loved the modern Japanese appetizer of steamed river sole roulade with prawn coulis and miso, the main course of Atlantic salmon and a special kind of ginger called Hajikami (or something!) was only average. I was just missing my wasabi hints in the food and also sushi, which I love. Nonetheless, modern Japanese food was a good experience if you treat it as French instead Japanese cooking. The cherry tart was very appetizing but the wasabi ice cream was a winner for me, especially with that Johhnie Walker XR 21.
I did not opt for any of the Chinese dishes, because I was in the mood for something above the usual. I did try some of the garlic prawn appetizer that tasted a lot like bhajiyas, the fried rice with the main course meat looked very, desi, spicy yet appealing because of the fragrant spices and the fried ice cream reminded me of ice cream pakoras in Sharma uncles’s son’s shaadi. This so-called chinese dessert was very gharelu (home-style) for me, but if you like it, you like it. The sizzling fried rice was very dramatic as Chef Liang poured the sizzling sauce on to the rice. Every grain of rice was crispy, like puffed rice crispy and with it was a sweet and spicy sauce that reminds you a lot of american chopsuey! This dish is great for kids. Overall, the whisky was good and the food was decent, that turned out to be a lovely evening.
*Funfact: Whiskey with an ‘e’ stands for Whiskey from Ireland and the United States, while whisky stands for Scotch, English, Wales, Canadian and even Japanese whisky.