Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Kit Perera: your Chef For A Night

KIT PERERA is indeed Your Chef For A Night. He started this gig 10 years ago and specialises in Sri Lankan cuisine though he's equally au fait with cooking traditional French and Moroccan cuisines. Chef For A Night is indeed a showcase for Kit's creativity with spices and flavours that he grew up with as a child in Sri Lanka, where he gathered fresh herbs and whole spices for help grandma cook.

Kit won a cricket scholarship to the UK when he was 17 and it also opened up his culinary passion. He was coaching young cricketers at Lords and in 1985, he embarked on 6-month stints in the UK and New Zealand, and continued this dual periods of coaching and mentoring for the next 15 years.

It was while he was cricket coach and Master at Christ College in Christchurch that the idea for Chef For A Night was born. Parents were always looking at ways to fund-raise trips to Australia and at a fund-raising dinner Kit cooked at, he was auctioned as Chef For A Night for 12 people. His network grew from all his cricketing contacts in the UK and New Zealand, and his 2-year stint at Canberra Grammar School resulted in my dinner parties via the parents of students in the diplomatic corp.

In 2003, Kit was back in Auckland and set up Chef For A Night, while continuing his cricket coaching and mentoring, up to Black Caps level.

WE WERE TREATED to a night of Sri Lankan cuisine at the Fisher & Paykel show kitchen at buzzy Ponsonby Central. To whet our appetite, the dinner started with panfiried king prawns (with sweet chilli lime & coriander dressing) and onion bhaji (with chilli tomato jam and mint yoghurt), pictured above right.

The chilli roti with accompaniments returned spicy hints with a kick of fresh chilli. The bread mix is made from plain high-grade flour and egg and yoghurt with turmeric, cumin and paprika.

Prepare the spice blend of finely chopped chill, garlic, coriander and ginger, sprinkled on top and rolled into the roti before frying with olive oil. This is Kit's preference, rather than ghee (used more by Indians). In Sri Lanka, most villagers use coconut or vegetable oil as they have a high heat tolerance.

For the coconut sambal, ingredients include fresh red chill, freshly grated coconut, shallots, salt to taste and lime juice. No sambal is complete without Maldive fish, akin to bonita flakes in Spanish cuisine.

So this is the classic hot, sweet, sour salty Sri Lankan accompaniment for vegetarian, beef Ceylon or beef dishes.

Beef Ceylon is a Sri Lankan classic. Use cheaper cuts of chuck steak, in a claypot (chatty) slow cooked for 3 hours over open wood fire/charcoal. Kit remembers making this in grandma's open clay oven. For the spice blend, dry roast all these ingredients: dried red whole chilli, whole cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamon pods,  fennel seed and dried curry leaves, then pound in a stone mortar and pestle. Add roasted ground rice to thicken the sauce.

Kit added okra to the the Village Chicken Curry to give it a different dimension, as do Malaysians add potato to their curries. Pan-fry the okra to rid it of its inherent stickiness. Add to curry 10 minutes before turning the curry off the heat.

Use basmati for the aromatic pilaf rice. Soak couple of hours, drain, set aside. Saute sliced onion in olive oil (Kit's preference). Put in cinnamon sticks, cardamon pods, fresh curry leaves and cloves. Add rice and fry, then pour in hot water, bring to boil, cover reduce heat and cook/steam for 10 minutes. This absorption method yields a fragrant and aromatic pilaf rice.

No Sri Lankan dinner is complete without a fish component. Tonight its Monk Fish Coconut Curry. Monk fish is readily available and doesn't flake. Fillet and cut into chunks and marinade in Sri Lankan spice mix (see above) and add tumeric and paprika.

For the coconut gravy: fry in olive oil the spice mix of sliced onion, curry leaves, mustard seeds, 2 chillis sliced half-length ways, seeds left in.

Brown the onion, add one thumb-size grated or chopped ginger plus 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic. Add tumeric, paprika and Sri Lankan spice blend.

Bring to boil 400ml of light coconut milk, transfer coconut gravy with all the spices to the baking dish. Arrange monk fish pieces on top, grill 10 minutes in the middle part of the oven or bake half hour at 200ºC.

Once cooked, add chopped fresh tomato and fresh coriander.

Eggplant Pahi is another traditional Sri Lankan dish. Cut eggplant into 2cm thick rounds. Sprinkle both sides with turmeric, brown on both sides in a frypan or alternatively brush with olive oil and grill on rack. When cooled, cut cut each eggplant round into three.

Get gravy going, pop mustard seeds in a frypan, add 3 to 4 dried chilli. Together with onion, cinnamon stick broken into 2. Saute onions till brown, add grated ginger and chopped fresh garlic, paprika, Sri Lankan spice blend. Stirfry spice blend 2-3 minutes, add 400ml light coconut milk, heat up but not boil. Add eggplant, stir though coconut gravy simmer uncovered until cooked.

What better way to end a glorious evening than have home-made cardamom pistachio ice cream with pineapple carpaccio and minted mango.

Kit Perera
Chef For A Night
Also Kit's Kitchen at Ponsonby Central
0274 883003

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
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