Like bears woken in mid-hibernation, the combination of whisky and chilli on the palate can produce a volatile and violent reaction. So, as you would imagine, matching Indian food with single malts is a delicate business – but it is one that chef Cyrus Todiwala believes is worthwhile.
“You can’t go down to the local curry house and expect to match it with the malt. You need to go for more refined Indian cuisine,” he says.
Cyrus’s approach is to reverse engineer his recipes. He discovers the flavours in the single malt first and then creates a dish with complementary flavours – unlike matching wine, which he said is “a hundred times easier”.
His pairing process starts with a sniff – in fact, 10 sniffs – and then a first taste with warm water (“to open up all the florals”) and then another with a little cold water to see the difference.
His mind then roams in search of the main flavours in Indian food – chilli (used in moderation), peppers, cumin, mustard, coriander and coconut, for example.
It’s then a case of developing the recipe while keeping in mind a few key rules of thumb. “Very oily, as well as very fiery, foods react violently to the high alcohol content,” he says. “However, using judicious amounts of oil and chilli can be used to cut through the flavour of heavier, peaty malts.”