Image used for representational purposes only
Image used for representational purposes only

Utterly gheelicious

Currying favour with India’s fine-dine brigade, good old desi ghee is making a mighty splash in the pan

Chef Sarah Todd deftly splashes a generous spoonful of the intensely aromatic, caramel-hued fat every now and then over the slowly basting filet of pomfret. As the culinary executive and brand ambassador of The Sanctuary Bar & Kitchen in Anjuna, Goa, she cooks her favourite fish dish with her newest fat of choice—ghee. It blends seamlessly with the zing from her caper salsa and the freshness of the citrus and parsley sauce.

Ditching good old butter for ghee seems to be the most prudent move by chefs across the country. No wonder that the recent edition of the well-respected Godrej Food Trends Report 2024 has predicted that ghee’s natural goodness and its traditional link to Ayurveda will contribute to its renewed appeal as a healthy kitchen staple this year. And we see umpteen instances of the revival in preparations as diverse as Western-style desserts and even cocktails.

The Good Fat

“Unlike butter, ghee can withstand higher cooking temperatures without burning, making it perfect for achieving that delicate balance of searing and simmering,” believes Todd, adding, “Moreover, its nutty, caramel-like flavour profile adds an extra layer of complexity.”

But then ghee, or as the French call it, clarified butter, has always been a bit of a culinary chameleon. The journey of ghee from being a staple in Indian households to becoming a beloved ingredient in high-end restaurants is a testament to its versatility and the global culinary community’s appreciation for its rich flavour and high smoke point.

However, it may not be a one-stop fat solution to all Western-style dishes. Chef Matteo Fracalossi, the executive chef at the Andaz Delhi, uses ghee in his fresh herb risotto that has ghee-poached Japanese scallop, prosecco foam, lemon zest sitting atop it. “Not all preparations can use ghee as a replacement for butter, but if you find the right combination, it will certainly result in a surprisingly different taste,” says Fracalossi.

Indigenous Interpretations

Giving us a fine dining desi perspective on ghee is a truly unique concept restaurant called VARR Temple Food of India by Hotel Ganga Kinare in the holy city of Rishikesh. Here the entire menu is made only with pure ghee. “Ghee serves as a premium ingredient in both traditional and fusion cuisines, adding richness and depth to a wide array of dishes, from savoury to sweet,” opines corporate chef Deepak Bhatt, adding, “We even use it in our drinks such as panchamrit (cow milk, ghee, honey, Ganga jal and tulsi) and dhuaan chaas—a buttermilk drink smoked with ghee and sizzling coal.”

Nut chocolate butter; Paneer chilgoza kofta
Nut chocolate butter; Paneer chilgoza kofta

Unusual Suspects

Speaking of drinks, riding the whole ‘fat-washed’ cocktail wave is an interesting ghee-washed cocktail called Cha available at House of Nomad at the Taj Holiday Village Resort & Spa in Sinquerim, North Goa. “It pays homage to India’s rich flavours with a blend of ghee-washed dark rum infused with cinnamon, a Darjeeling tea concoction, palm jaggery and homemade Nagpur orange bitters. This exquisite cocktail captures the essence of India’s diverse culinary heritage,” says Archita Gupta, the former assistant director of food and beverage of the resort.

Ending the ‘ghee renaissance 2.0’ on a sweet note are not one, but two desserts that reflect the desi fat’s prowess. On one hand we have Chef Tushar Malkani of The Yellow House, Anjuna IHCL SeleQtions, Goa, who talks about his ghee chocolate truffles that he gives a twist to along with grated coconut added to it to enhance the strength and character of ghee. While on the other, Chef Niriksha Reddy, sous chef at the ITC Grand Central, Mumbai makes a nut chocolate butter using ghee. “By incorporating ghee into drinks and desserts, chefs can blend traditional Indian flavours with Western influences.” May the steady stream of ghee continue to drench us all in its goodness.

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