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Gin enters salads, pastas and desserts

The intense botanical flavour of gin has made it the star ingredient in savoury and sweet dishes at restaurants across the country

Conchiglie pasta with dill caper sauce at Le Cafe, Mumbai.
Conchiglie pasta with dill caper sauce at Le Cafe, Mumbai.

Kolkata-based consultant chef Shaun Kenworthy loves to throw a “red herring” at his diners every now and then. At a recent pop-up dinner, organised as part of the Spring Tea Trail foraging trip by Gurugram-based OMO Café and AMPM Cafe and Bar Calcutta and held at the Glenburn Tea Estate near Darjeeling, he did just that.

Also read | Travel for tea

Kenworthy asked his audience, which included fellow chefs, mixologists and food and drink writers, to identify the source of the distinctly herbaceous flavour of the syrup in which he had marinated his tree tomatoes, or tamarillo. These tiny, halved wild tomatoes sat in a liquid moat that surrounded a quenelle of sweetened, hung buffalo curd. Just when all were almost ready to give up, he uttered the monosyllabic “Gin!” to the surprise of the diners.

Clear and Simple

The botanicals-saturated clear spirit is finding a new calling for itself: as an ingredient and flavouring agent in a range of sweet and savoury preparations. “Gin is known for its intense botanical fragrance and taste. By incorporating it into this creamy, curd-based dessert, I saw that it added zesty complexity and a refreshing twist along with the slightly umami notes of the tree tomatoes,” says Kenworthy.

With 11 gin-infused dishes on its new capsule menu, Mumbai’s Le Cafe in Chembur seems to be another flag-bearer of this “ginfusing” trend. Launched in mid-April, the first edition of what they are calling a “Gin Fest” has everything from a rhubarb and “gin-ger” millets salad and a chicken ginball with smoked paprika sauce, to a conchiglie pasta with dill-caper-gin sauce and a chicken terrine, which is finished off with a gin and beetroot reduction.

“For this special menu, we decided to go with ingredients that are light and that would soak the gin and hold it long enough for the flavour to infuse properly at each stage. Gin brings its herby and botanical flavours to the dishes with a refreshing, yet bitter balance,” says Ajay Samtani, the executive chef at Le Cafe.

How does he ensure that the inherent flavours and slightly alcoholic zing still remains once the gin is cooked through? “We have used gin in different phases of the cooking process. For some dishes, we infused gin in the sauces, for others we have it tossed in at the end or sprayed on top to ensure that the botanical punch kicks in with every bite,” explains Samtani.

A Sweet Kick

Radhika Khandelwal, chef-owner at Fig & Maple in Delhi and Goa, kept technique at the forefront when she designed her gin-based dish, a boozy take on an Eton mess-style pancake dessert.

“I put gin-soaked Eton’s mess pancakes on the Delhi menu for several reasons. First, we have over 76 gin infusions at the Fig bar to showcase the versatility of gin and be able to use hyper-seasonal ingredients by infusing them,” says Khandelwal. “Second, the botanicals and the complexity of gin, with its notes of juniper, citrus, and various herbs, wonderfully complemented and elevated the sweetness of Eton mess’s meringue and cream, balancing it out while adding a refreshing contrast.”


Mango appletini crumble at  Le Cafe, Mumbai.
Mango appletini crumble at Le Cafe, Mumbai.

Veering away from contrast to complementary seems to be the mantra for sous chef Mozanne Karbhari at Mumbai’s ITC Grand Central in Parel. Her gin and tonic lemon tart is what she claims to be a celebration of a very likely coupling. “By combining the fresh acidity of the lemon and the complex botanicals of gin, we have produced a dessert that dances over the tongue with each bite. The gin not only adds depth and richness to the custard, but it also imparts a delicate floral taste that enhances the whole experience,” says Karbhari, who adds gin twice in the making of the tart. Once when the lemon curd is made and the second time when the gin is drizzled on the top after the tart shell has been filled with the lemon curd (see recipe).

Flavour of the season

With gin being the flavour of the season, it is no great surprise that incorporating the taste of the spirit sans the alcoholic hit seems to be the mantra for a few, like artisanal chocolate brand Paul and Mike. Their gin and ginger chocolate bar begins with a base of 64% dark chocolate, offering a rich and deep cocoa experience with hints of citrus and floral notes. What sets it apart is the infusion of juniper berry oil, which encapsulates the essence of gin without its alcohol content.

“This infusion lends a subtle yet distinct gin flavour that intertwines beautifully with the chocolate. To complement it, candied ginger is added, enhancing the overall flavour profile with a zesty and aromatic touch. The result is a chocolate bar that harmoniously balances the boldness of dark chocolate with the refreshing and citrusy tones of gin,” says chef Omkar Dabhane, the R&D head of the chocolate brand.

This omnipotence of gin can easily be seen as a paradigm shift in the way India is now looking at pairing its new favourite tipple. One that’s happily skipping off the bar counter and finding itself migrating to the sweet, savoury and even candy side of culinaria.

Recipe by sous chef Mozanne Karbhari, ITC Grand Central, Mumbai
Makes 15


For the pastry crust
300g flour
100g butter
160g icing sugar
2 eggs
One and a half tbsp chilled tonic water

For the lemon curd filling
200g sugar
200g butter
Juice of 4 lemons
12 egg yolks
3 tbsp gin

3 tsp candied lemon zest, chopped


Make the pastry by creaming the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and tonic water gradually together until fully incorporated. Add the flour and mix to make a smooth dough.

For the lemon curd, cook sugar, butter, yolks, and lemon juice together in a water bath. Let the lemon curd cook for about 15-20 minutes until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Take it off the heat and add gin.

Line a flan mould with the pastry dough. Let it rest for 30 minutes.

Bake in a preheated oven at 165 degrees Celsius. Once it turns golden brown, take it out of the oven and let it cool completely.

Remove it from the flan mould and fill with the lemon curd. Before serving, top with candied lemon zest, and drizzle with some gin.

Raul Dias is a Mumbai-based food and travel writer.

Also read | Flavouring gin with fragrance

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