CHENNAI: There is a saying in Hindi – Sahaj pake so mitha hoye — which translates to ‘The dish that is slow cooked is the sweetest’. I grew up in Kasauli, watching food being cooked over fire, Mughlai aromas filling the kitchen. As a chef, I experience the magic of slow cooking everyday. Nature teaches us this concept in many ways; nothing beats naturally ripened mangoes, apples or vine tomatoes. And the same logic must be applied to cooking techniques, the slower and more patient you are, the more concentrated the flavour.
In fact, you may not have heard of it but there’s even an initiative called The Slow Food Movement that was founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986, as a reaction to the mushrooming fast food joints in Rome. The movement aims to celebrate regional cuisine, preserve traditional ingredients and techniques, and encourage local marketplaces.
Slow cooked preparations accentuate natural flavours of ingredients, as opposed to dishes made in the microwave, or pressure cooked. At Hilton Chennai, we use slow cooking techniques even for simple preparations like dal. The beans and lentils are soaked for a day and boiled slowly the next day without any artificial softeners like cooking soda. Many of our dishes at Ayna, our specialty Indian restaurant, are prepared in the dum technique. This means that the food is cooked in steam inside a sealed container and retains all of its essential nutrients. Vegetables are slow cooked after tempering them. They are not boiled or fried and tossed with masala. We recently hosted a Hyderabadi Food Festival as part of our Culinary Express, which featured an eight-hour slow-cooked Hyderabadi Salim Raan. The key to this much-loved dish is the deliberate cooking at the right temperature, and the constant basting of the Raan. The end result is just delightful, further reinforcing my belief that this is indeed one of the best cooking techniques.
We also serve western dishes that are cooked at low temperatures for a long period of time at Vasco’s, our global cuisine restaurant. Slow cooking demands attention and care, whether you are cooking in a hotel, restaurant or at home. It is this attention that can make all the difference between cooking slowly with local produce, and preparing fast food with preserved ingredients.
Quick tip – while cooking dal tadka at home, do not boil or pressure cook the lentils. Start with the tempering, adding the raw dal to the pot. Roast for a few minutes and then slow cook it in water. You will be surprised at the difference in flavour!
(The writer is the executive chef at the Hilton Chennai)
Slow Cooking Techniques
- Make sure that the burner is always on simmer
- Use a thick bottom pan (copper/iron/steel pan with a copper bottom)
- If you are cooking meat, use cuts of meat with more muscle and fibre. Example: lamb shanks, shoulder
- Soak beans like kidney beans or chickpeas overnight before slow cooking them the next day
- Cover the utensil while cooking