Better with beer
A splash of beer in your batter can make a world of difference to the festival season’s fried snacks, says Rahul Verma
Bhaja. One word, and a million ideas. So let’s mark this festival of feeding and feasting with bhajas, or fries. If friends come home unexpectedly, you can quickly rustle up some pakoras — with anything that is there in your kitchen: veggies, boiled chicken, fish or eggs — in a swiftly whisked batter mix.
The batter can be readied with wheat flour, rice flour or chickpea flour. But how about making our bhajas a little different this time? Chefs tell us that beer batter gives our snacks a deliciously crunchy crust.
“Beer acts as a natural start-up for fermentation,” chef Mayank Kulshreshtha of ITC Maratha, Mumbai, explains. “And the flavour of hops masks the fermentation smell,” he says.
But you need to add ingredients to the batter that would enhance its taste. For instance, Chiranjib Chatterjee, corporate chef, The Grid, Calcutta, adds some wasabi paste to his batter of beer, flour, corn flour, salt, baking powder and oil. And he fries quail breast nuggets after coating them with this mix.
Wasabi gives a sharp kick to the taste — which is what many chefs look out for. Chef Kulshreshtha similarly spices up his beer batter with something like jalapeño paste or green Tabasco for scallops, asparagus and bocconcini cheese.
Japanese flavours tend to complement the taste of beer. So chef Chatterjee prepares phulka tacos with pomfret flavoured with ponzu, a Japanese citrus-based sauce. To serve four, he prepares the batter with 100g flour, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp baking powder, ½ cup beer, 1 tbs oil, 5g light soy sauce and 1tbs ponzu. He takes 12 pomfret fingers (marinated with lemon juice, salt and black pepper), fries them and sprinkles Cajun spices over them.
“Now make hot phulkas and rub them with garlic butter. Put shredded raw cabbage, carrots and onion on them, and then top with the crisp fish fingers. Sprinkle some more Cajun spice and add avocado slices. The soft phulka tacos can be served with spicy fresh tomato salsa,” chef Chatterjee says.
Beer batter mixes go especially well with seafood, chefs hold. “It works very well for fish, squid, octopus and prawns. I fry Calcutta topse fish in beer batter after adding grated gondhoraj zest to the batter. It comes out crunchy, fluffy and aromatic,” says chef Pradip Rozario of K.K.’s Fusion, Calcutta. “I love beer batter-fried calamari rings,” adds chef Sonu Koithara of Taj Bengal.
Spicy beer batter can be used for some popular Indian snacks too. Chef Chatterjee fries pakoras after dipping a mix of vegetables in a batter of beer, flour, salt, baking powder, egg, vegetable oil, honey, Madras curry powder and red chilli powder. And he sprinkles the pakoras with Maharashtra’s goda masala and serves them with aam chunda sauce.
Chef Sonu likes to add the Rajas-thani Mathania chilli paste to beer batters for its flavour and golden colour. “And the batter is light and crispy,” he stresses.
But beer is not just about spicy snacks. You can prepare some nice desserts with it too. Chef Chatterjee, for instance, uses a cinnamon flavoured beer batter for his apple fritters with caramel sauce.
For six-eight servings, whisk flour (1 cup), baking powder (¼ tsp), nutmeg (¼ tsp), cinnamon (½ tsp), sugar (2 tbs) and salt (¼ tsp). In another bowl, whisk one egg with 1¼ cups of buttermilk and 50ml of beer. Now whisk this well into the flour mixture. Slice four large apples into rings about a quarter of an inch thick. Heat oil. Dip each slice in this batter. Fry, blot the oil, and serve with caramel sauce.
As you can see, there is more to beer than meets the eye. Calls for a hops, skip and jump?
Photographs by Subhendu Chaki;
Location courtesy: The Grid, Calcutta