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Playing up single-ingredient dishes

Staying true to one ingredient brings out its beauty in different forms.

Just as an entire song can be built upon a single note, it is possible too to have an entire dish – showcasing a symphony of flavours and textures – to be built entirely out of a single ingredient.

At Bacchanalia, executive chef Ivan Brehm gets to exercise his creativity, while diners get to enjoy the results. A dish named Mushroom Fantasia features a portobello mushroom confit that’s deep-fried, steamed cloud mushrooms, and oyster mushrooms that are shredded and presented as ceviche. “Textures, more than anything, help flavour nuances assert themselves,” shares Brehm.

This is also how side dishes get their chance to shine. “At most places, vegetables have always been sidelined for the mains,” says Polo Seah, head chef at Sugarhall bar and grill. So, while Sugarhall’s main focus is grilled meats, Seah takes no less effort to liven up his side dishes. Think a plate of sliced pumpkin coated in cinnamon then deep-fried, grilled as wedges, and blended with butter to form puree – an accompanying dish that stands out in its own right.

Vegetables aren’t the only stars in chefs’ playgrounds, either. Pork, for instance, is given good play at modern European outfit Portico. The skin is cooked in a pot of water until it expands, taken out to dry, then deep-fried for a poufy crispiness.

Pork loin is done sous-vide style and then pan-seared for a melt-in-your-mouth feel, while pork belly is marinated with dried herbs, cooked as a slow-roast in the oven and then shredded for a textural effect. “Different cuts bring out different flavours, and preparing them in various ways enhances the overall taste of the dish,” explains head chef Nixon Low.

These single-ingredient dishes give chefs the full value for their dollar too. “We try to minimise wastage by utilising a particular ingredient in many ways,” says Low.

Executive chef and co-owner of Bar-Roque Grill, Stephane Istel, highlights: “As the knowledge and skills of chefs improve, they are able to do more creative cooking with just one ingredient.” Sausage stuffing, minced meatballs, grilled racks and stock reduction are just some of many elements in his dish of lamb, showing how it doesn’t take fancy equipment or an array of produce to get something multi-textural.

“There is just something gratifying about being able to create magic with one ingredient,” says Istel. And, yes, diners leave gratified too.