Cognac & Indian Food, Bombay Style
Cognac has always been considered as a digestive or an after dinner drink savored slowly over lumbering conversation. While it is great to have after a meal, the spirit is also known for its complexity and richness which is a perfect complement to food. The tendency is to think of exotic and European fare, think Foie Gras, cheeses, mushroom, etc.
But how about more desi fare? We know that Indian food can be quite a challenge; exactly the reason why pairing them with wines is a difficult task even for the best of experts. Cognac, even though is made from wine, is better suited because of its complexity. There are so many flavor profiles that can be explored and spices are not an obstacle, as long as pungency and heat can be kept under control. Alcohol and heat together can be a fiery combination for the palate, and not in a good way.
Indian food uses multitudes of spices and herbs and the end product is an explosion of flavors. Cognac is perhaps one of those very few spirits which can handle this explosion with great elegance and élan creating a spell binding combination which enhances not just the food but also the drink. The reason we are in a position to make this claim is because it has been tried and tested at our headquarters with Remy Martin VSOP. This Cognac is known for its floral and sweet notes on the nose like that of vanilla with hints of spice while the palate is fruit forward with apricots and floral notes with honey on the finish.
On the menu, 14 dishes, right from Bhel Puri, Galowti Kebabs to Bombil Fry, Keema Pav and Berry Pulao. What was really interesting was how certain food did not only make the Cognac even smoother, but enhanced certain flavors of it as well.
Many of these pairings worked and some did not. The final 3 pairings we fell in love with were Berry Pulao, Pav Bhaji and Grilled Bombay Sandwich – quintessentially Bombay! The fatty nature of these dishes enhanced and evolved the complexity of the Cognac. If there is one hipster dish to try in Mumbai, it would be the Berry Pulao from Britannia & Co. It’s been 32 years since they have been serving this and the recipe remains the same, with the key ingredient being the Iranian berries. Sweet and slightly tart flavors of the berries in the pulao brought out more of the fruity notes like apricots and figs out of the Cognac. The way this pairing worked was beautiful; no one expected it to work so well.
Yes, we know what you are thinking, Pav Bhaji and Cognac? One wouldn’t think so but it works. Cognac pairs well with rich and fatty food and that is something a Pav Bhaji can really boast about. As the butter took a little bit of the bite away from the Cognac, the tomato and spices brought out pepper and warm spices notes like cloves in the Cognac.
Those who have been in Mumbai long enough the cult status of the humble Bombay Sandwich. White bread slathered with butter and green chutney, and stuffed with all imaginable veggies, it would put a club sandwich to shame. We had 2 versions, grilled and non-grilled. The grilled version was the winner as the heat fused the various flavors in the sandwich better along with a slight toasted notes which enhanced rather oak and wood flavors, almost like the Cognac itself which has spent time ageing in barrels.
Surprisingly, some of our regular favorites from the food lore didn’t work at all. The Bombil Fry for example, battered in a semolina, rice flour mixture and deep fried Bombay Duck was completely lost when paired with Remy Martin VSOP. The pairing was bland, despite the fact the oiliness worked so far with the Cognac it did not in this case. The batter was too much for the Cognac to manage and the freshness of the delicate fish was lost. We also had great hopes from the Galowti Kebabs known for its nuanced flavor profile and smooth texture, but the spice combination of the kebabs with spice notes of the Cognac were not in sync. The pairing simply did not come together to create the harmony we expected them to.
This experiment again reminded us of how important it is to have an open mind when pairing wine and spirits with food. Some of our most memorable Cognac moments have been with gourmet food abroad, pairing Remy Martin VSOP with some not so fancy Mumbai food worked pretty well too!