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Master The Menu

Friday, December 06, 2013

With international restaurants, delicatessens and patisseries springing up all over the city, deciphering the strange names and cooking methods on your menu can be quite a task. Rhea Dhanbhoora & Dev Goswami help you sample the fare like a pro by telling you what it all means

The cheesecake sounds delicious, but what the hell is a coulis topping? And while you really want to try the lamb, what’s that ‘au jus’ that comes with it? Menus have come a long way. From simply listing out dishes, they’ve begun to list out impressive sounding descriptions under each, either telling you the contents of the dish or the method by which it’s been made, which can be confusing for a casual diner. So, if everything seems like Greek to you, don’t worry. Asking the staff is one way to figure it out, but wouldn’t you rather go prepared? We speak to Chef Azad Taslin Arif, executive chef at Otto Infinito, who simplifies a few processes, methods and names that are most likely to appear on your menu so that you know exactly what you’re ordering.

Food menus can often be quite confusing, but don’t let that stop you from experimenting with different dishes. From basting to searing and gratin to poached — we tell you what to expect:

Bisque: Want to order the Lobster Bisque at a continental restaurant but don’t know what the ‘bisque’ is? People these days call any thick, creamy soup bisque, but it’s actually made specifically with shellfish. Shells are roasted and added to the soup for flavour (making the bisque) while the meat itself is added at the end. It’s extremely high seasoned and usually very creamy.

Pan frying: You’ll think we’re silly for putting this here. After all, haven’t you had a pan-fried noodles, prawns, chicken, potatoes… but do you know what it is exactly? Pan frying is a method of cooking when you use very little or no oil. It’s used to allow the food items to retain their moistness.

Basted: Christmas is around the corner and you’re going to see a lot of Basted Turkey on menus across the city. Basting is when you apply the juices a meat has expelled onto the meat to retain its moistness. It roughy means cooking meat in its own juices. Turkey has a tendency to dry out, which is why it’s a popular method that’s used while cooking this meat.

Caramelised: If you read that there are caramelised onions in your dish and you’re not fond of a tinge of sweetness in your food, we suggest giving it a skip. With this method, onions are lightly pan fried to expel juices and flavour while gaining a golden brown appearance. You can also caramelise sugar for desserts.

Emulsified: The next time your menu tells you that something has been ‘emulsified,’ here’s what it means. It’s the process of mixing two or more liquids that wouldn’t normally mix well. It’s usually used in dressings — like mustard in vinaigrette dressing.

Juliennes: This is a term that you’ll find in sentences that explain a particular dish like ‘noodles cooked in shezwan sauce with vegetable juliennes’; you might also find it as toppings in curries, described as ‘clams cooked in coconut gravy with coriander and garlic juliennes.’ It’s a culinary knife technique which refers to chopping vegetables or fruits into thin, proportionate sticks.

Macerated: With the way it is used on menus (Red Wine Macerated Lamb/Chicken), you might think it is a marinating technique. It is actually a process of softening produce by soaking it in water or any particular liquid, such as wine.

Par boiled: Usually seen in recipes, this cooking technique also finds a mention on many menus as par boiled rice or par boiled vegetables with stew. The technique is actually the first step of the cooking process, where the food is partially boiled before other cooking techniques follow.

Poached: We doubt we need to tell you about this. Poached eggs are a common breakfast choice. When you read poached, it simply means that the food has been cooked by placing it into a liquid — usually water with a dash of salt or vinegar.

Reduction: You might not come across this term often. However, it finds a spot in several recipes and a few menus include phrases such as ‘lamb cooked in a red wine reduction’. What it means is that the liquid mixture or sauce has been thickened to provide better texture and to intensify the taste by heating the sauce.

Sauté: Another term that we’re sure you’re familiar with is sautéing. It finds mention in recipes as well as menus and has become an extremely popular, healthy way of serving up vegetables to retain their crunch. It could either be a side dish such as sautéed mushrooms, or the base of a dish, where you’ll have meat cooked with sautéed onions. The process of sautéing is simply cooking food in a small amount of oil in a shallow pan. While pan frying is used to cook larger pieces of produce, sautéing is used for chopped pieces.

Sear: Salmon is a popular dish on menus these days and Seared Salmon is one of our favourites. We’re sure you are familiar with this too. But do you know what seared means? Well, searing is what gives you that delicious crisp coating while leaving the centre soft and melt-in-your-mouth. It is the technical term of cooking meat, poultry or fish on the surface at a high temperature giving it a crispy caramelised crust. This method is usually done to lock in the moistness of the meat.

Phyllo: From sautéed veggies stuffed in a phyllo pastry to cheese phyllo parcels, this is a term that you’ll find in a number of café and restaurant menus. Phyllo is the name for the paper-thin sheets of dough that are used to make pastries.

Gratin: Vegetable Au Gratin — you have to have come across this term. It is commonplace in restaurant menus but we are pretty sure that you don’t exactly know what it means. Well, it is basically a culinary technique that gives produce such as vegetables a crispy brown crust.

Au jus: You’d love to try the prime ribs at the latest steakhouse, but you’ve got no idea why it says Prime Ribs Au Jus. The French word simply means, with its own juice. It’s drizzled on top or served at the side.

When you order a steak, you get to choose how thoroughly cooked a cut of meat is. Here’s a quick guide if you don’t know what to pick:

Rare: Cold red center; soft and usually made at 52–55 °C

Medium rare: Warm red center; firmer and usually made at 55–60 °C

Well-done: Gray-brown throughout; firm and usually made at 71–100 °C

Steaks are all the rage these days and even a resto-bar will offer up a delicious cut. If there’s several options and you don’t know what to opt for, here’s a quick guide:

Ribeye: These steaks, which you’ll also see on fancier menus as Scotch fillets, are beef steaks from the rib section of the animal, spanning the ribs from 6-12!

Top sirloin: If your steak is a top sirloin, both the bone and tenderloin and bottom round muscles are removed in this steak.

Tenderloin: Strike you as familiar? This is one of the most common types of steak and is cut from a place near the kidneys.

Fillet mignon: If you don’t have such a big appetite, opt for this. It’s a cut taken from the smaller end of the tenderloin.

Got a sweet tooth but can’t figure out what you’re in for when you order a brioche? Want to know what they’re talking about when they say your pudding comes with tuile? We help you decipher your dessert menu:

Dacquoise: It might take you a while to learn how to pronounce that, but with French desserts becoming popular, you might as well learn what’s in your Fresh Fruit Dacquoise. It’s a cake that takes its name from the French town it originated in. If you don’t like hazelnut, almond, meringue, whipped cream or butter cream, you may not like this dessert because the cake consists of layers of these.

Nougatine: Several upscale restaurants now serve desserts such as Nougatine Salted Toffee, but if you read that on the menu, don’t be confused — just think of a bar of Toblerone and you know what nougat is! It’s a mixture of sugar or honey, whipped egg whites and roasted nuts.

Streusel: You’ll see it in the form of Apple Streusel at a patisserie and you should try it if you haven’t already. Be warned though, the guilty indulgence may be filled with fruit, but its crumb topped with butter, breadcrumbs and sugar.

Éclair: You should know what this is because these delights have been on menus in the city for years now. The choux dough pastry is filled with cream and topped with icing; most popularly a thin layer of chocolate.

Brioche: We love Brioche Butter Pudding and we’re really glad the French pastry has made its way to so many restaurants in the city. But, if you’re on a diet, stay far away from it! What’s a brioche? It’s a dense dessert made with its fair share of egg and butter.

Coulis: Whether it’s a raspberry coulis drizzled over your panna cotta or one accompanying your cheesecake, it’s only made its way to dessert menus at the moment — but can be used on top of meats and vegetables too. It’s basically a fancy name for sauce made out of the purée of vegetables or fruits.

Shortbread: If you’re told that your dessert comes with shortbread, don’t wrinkle up your nose and wonder how bread can be served with dessert (although with bread puddings, that’s possible too!) It’s actually a type of Scottish biscuit that’s buttery and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

Tuile: If you’ve ordered a sorbet at a restaurant recently, you’ve probably had it topped with something fancy sounding like a tuile. The French origin sweet is wafer thin, crisp and sweet and only used as garnish over desserts such as panna cotta and sorbet. It can also be made of cheese.

Strudel: Don’t confuse this with the streusel. This Hungarian sweet is a layered pastry, filled with sweet cream or fruit. You’ll mostly see it on the menu in the form of Apple Strudel.

Danish: Some dessert aficionados swear by Danish but confuse its origin. Of Viennese origin, the flour, yeast, milk and egg dessert is loaded with butter and topped with sugar, icing, jam or even custard.

Profiteroles: Fancy name for a cream puff, don’t you think? That’s right, order a Praline Profiterole and that’s what you’ll be served. It’s French, filled with custard, whipped cream and sometimes even ice-cream.

Zabaglione: Don’t let its unassuming custard-like appearance fool you. The popular Italian dessert is made with egg yolk, sugar and sweet wine and can also be had as a drink.

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