5 Familiar Ingredients That have Caught the Attention of Chefs
How do you bowl over a food connoisseur? Eke unexpected flavours from everyday food.
ROOT OF THE MATTER
Celeriac is an odd sight with its gnarls and twisted tendrils, but there’s a reason the root is cultivated. For one thing, its nutty undertones are a welcome change from the slight bitterness of its more famous sister, celery. And, while its raw form is excellent when grated over salads, chefs here are increasingly proving that celeriac is a star on its own. When chef Julien Royer launched two-Michelin-star Odette last year, celeriac risotto was a dish on his opening menu. In his hands, the humble root is turned into a multi-textual beauty of puree, chips and crumble.
Few market stalls carry fresh sea coconut as it spoils too quickly in the heat. While the glistening milky flesh is typically used with red dates and white fungus in traditional Chinese desserts, we spotted an interesting take on the tropical fruit in new modern European restaurant Pyxie Moss. Here, British chef Tim Ross-Watson uses the sweet fleshy meat to stand in for raw shrimp in his cheeky vegetarian spin on seafood ceviche. The sea coconut is sliced, diced, then lightly cooked in extra virgin olive oil.
SICHUAN AND CHEESE
Unlike black or chilli peppers, Sichuan peppers have slightly tart notes that set the stage for heat to follow. A key ingredient in Sichuan hotpot, it has found its way into Western dishes like grilled cheese panini at new restaurant Birds of a Feather. The gentle heat from the peppers lends itself well to desserts, too – the chocolate fudge and Sichuan pepper log cake from Resorts World Sentosa this festive season is a stellar example.
The movement to support home-grown produce has gained momentum, and with good reason. Local barramundi farm Kuhlbarra has found its sweet spot – in the southern waters off Singapore, where the sea is a light, clear emerald, instead of a dark murky green. As saltwater currents are stronger here, the fish produces more amino acids to counter osmotic pressure. The result is firm, tender flesh amped up with flavour. Little wonder then that the local fish has found a champion in big restaurant groups like Unlisted Collection – Cheek by Jowl does a delicious version with black scallion sauce and charred leek – and the popular Tunglok Group.
Buah keluak is a truly bewitching ingredient. The native fruit of mangrove swamps in Malaysia and Indonesia is known to contain traces of cyanide and is toxic if not treated properly. Yet its earthy black meat is delicious enough for one to risk the danger. Usually used in hearty Indonesian or Peranakan cuisine, buah keluak now graces the menus of Michelin-star restaurants like Candlenut and The Kitchen at Bacchanalia. At the former, the meat is mixed with Valrhona chocolate and turned into a luscious ice cream, paired with salted caramel crumb.
PHOTOGRAPHY Tan Wei Te
ART DIRECTION Norsham Husaini