Techniques – #E for Emulsification
Indian cuisine relies primarily on natural ingredients like cream and butter for creaminess. Many chefs sternly warn you against going easy on butter/ cream, lest ‘creaminess’ and ‘richness’ is lost.
Mediterranean cuisine discovered that an overload of cream/ butter/ fat is not necessary for ‘creaminess’. It found a way to convert oil to ‘cream’ by whisking it with garlic paste. It discovered that just 4-6 garlic cloves, pounded into a paste with salt can absorb over 1/2C oil, becoming a creamy sauce. This creamy garlic sauce is still popular in many cuisines. It goes by various names. Lebanese call it “Toum” (Garlic). Egyptians call it “Tooma”. Greeks call it “Skordalia”. Spaniards & French call it “Aioli” (Garlic- Oil). Escoffier dismissed Aioli as a minor sauce built from Mayonnaise. He couldn’t have been more wrong. This ancient sauce cooked across cuisines is the ancestor of all our creamy dips including mayonnaise. With Aioli, mankind finally figured out how to create creaminess on demand, by the technique of emulsification.
Now, why does oil stay mixed with garlic paste & does not separate? If you use a microscope, you would see numerous tiny oil droplets coated with garlic paste. Oil has become an emulsion by being blended with garlic. This process of turning oil into ‘cream’ is called Emulsification. Mixing oil and water (or any two liquids) that do not normally mix, is possible by using an emulsifier. The emulsifier is the ‘glue’ that sticks oil with water. In Aioli, the emulsifier is garlic itself. Egg yolks, mustard are all natural emulsifiers and can be used to ‘stick’ oil to water.
To create creamy emulsions, we disperse and suspend tiny droplets of the oil into water (or water into oil). For example, in mayo, oil droplets are suspended in water using eggs as a glue to hold them together. Many thick and creamy dips are emulsions.
In OPOS, we maximise creaminess and minimise oil/ fat usage by various techniques, all based on emulsification.
1. Blend oil with raw chutneys
The traditional recipes for chutneys do not call for blending in oil. At best the oil from tadka is mixed in. This makes the chutney oily, not creamy. In OPOS, we blend oil with raw chutneys , to make them creamier. Using infused oil takes them up another level.
2. Blend oil with uncooked curry bases
In raw curry bases, like aviyal, oil is mixed in at the end, to add flavour. The OPOS recipe calls for blending in coconut oil with the coconut-cumin-chili paste. This creamy, blended paste is then mixed with the vegetables. The same technique can be applied for all uncooked curry bases, which can then be mixed with cooked ingredients.
3. Blend oil with cooked chutneys
Traditional recipes call for sauteing a ground paste of onion & tomato with spices. In OPOS, we follow the Aioli technique loosely by blending cooked garlic, onion and tomatoes with the oil in which they are cooked. This converts a dense chutney into an emulsified, creamy dip. The same logic can be extended to all cooked chutneys.
4.Blend oil with cooked curry bases
Many OPOS recipes call for blending the curry base after cooking. This causes air to be mixed in, turning the base into a semi foam ( which is an emulsion too!). This also disperses the oil/ fat into the curry and converts an otherwise oily curry into a creamy one.
5. Avoid oil separation while cooking
Many traditional recipes call for cooking till oil ‘separates’. This separated oil makes the curry oily. This separated oil also forms an unappetising thin film on the surface and sticks to your hand. In OPOS, oil separation is frowned upon. We cook with minimal oil, which is blended together with the curry base at the very end.
6. Blend in hot water with butter
In traditional Indian cooking, butter/ cream is mixed in at the end, for creaminess. The French have a better technique. They whisk butter with hot water into a creamy emulsion, the Beurre monté. This technique cuts down the use of butter and adds more creaminess. In some OPOS recipes, the curry base is cooked with butter and after cooking, hot water is blended in. It combines with butter and becomes a creamy sauce.
7. Blend in milk/ coconut milk
The Spaniards make an interesting thick sauce, Lactonesa, by blending skimmed milk and oil together. Milk is an emulsion by itself, and like butter, can become a base for another emulsion. We can use the same technique and blend in skimmed milk/ coconut milk at the end with the curry base. Milk & the oil used in the base blend together into a creamy emulsion.
8. Use of nut pastes/ nut powders
Many traditional recipes call for boiled nut paste. This can make the curry dense and too rich. In OPOS, we use nut powders/ whole nuts, which get blended at the end with a fat, making them creamy and less dense. This technique is loosely based on the Spanish Ajo Blanco, which manages to create a creamy emulsified cold soup by using almond paste.
9. Use of stabilizers
Aioli is finicky and soon separates if not done right. Spaniards pounded in bread with Aioli, along with other ingredients into a stabler emulsion – the Gazpacho. This theme is again echoed in Ajo Blanco. In most OPOS recipes, we use minimal/ no water. This ensures the emulsion does not separate. In cases where separation is an issue, we can blend in a stabiliser like cooked potato/ soaked bread.
Blending in air with many purees can create an emulsion, some of which are fairly stable. Cooked carrot puree produces a great foam, which is stable even when frozen.
We can use this technique in a wide variety of soups, to create interesting textures.
Thanks to emulsification, we can now make our curries/ chutneys creamier without pumping them full of butter/ cream.
1. The more powerful a blender, the better the emulsification.
2. When using a hand blender, use a tall and narrow jar to hold the ingredients to be emulsified. The width of the jar should be almost the same size as the blender head.
3. Use liquid fats – frozen fats do not emulsify well.
4. Do not heat after emulsification. Many emulsions separate on heating.
5. Add natural emulsifiers like mustard, honey, butter for stabler emulsions. A squirit of non stick spray works wonders as it contains lecithin, a very powerful emulsifier.