One of the best known personalities in the world of food and cooking is Chef Rick Stein, a celebrity chef and television presenter who travels all across the globe in search of traditional (and of course, exotic) recipes and cooking techniques. He has been awarded the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his immense contribution to the culinary arts.
As part of a food and travel television series for the BBC titled India – The Search for the Perfect Curry, Stein travelled all over India, exploring regional recipes and wandering through local spice and vegetable markets to buy the ingredients himself, as part of this unique culinary journey. He would then retreat to a quaint little bungalow set amidst the languid backwaters of Kerala. This became his culinary command centre during his sojourn in India. This is where he would do most of his cooking – and a significant part of the television series is shot at this location.
In several episodes of the series, Stein talks about his experience with Mustard Oil. He had never encountered a cooking medium with such an overwhelming flavour and aroma. At the same time, he discovered that it cannot be replaced with any other oil. Not only does the authenticity of the recipe take a beating, the overall taste experience gets ruined completely. Eventually, Stein realized that Mustard Oil wasn’t just a cooking medium – it was also a taste agent, an aromatic ingredient and a delicious gravy-maker. That’s why it could not be replaced with any other oil.
Eventually, Stein got a handle on the “Indian” way to use Mustard Oil, balancing its pungency and drawing its rich flavour into the dishes being prepared. This was one of the keys to recreating the dazzling and multifaceted flavours of Indian cuisine – in particular, the “Perfect Curry” that Stein was in search of.
The story also has a rather intriguing follow-up anecdote. Back in England, Stein was not able to find cold-pressed Indian Mustard Oil easily. So, as a stopgap, he tried to create the same flavour by infusing regular edible oil with mustard powder. Naturally, it didn’t work.
The reason for this is clear – Mustard Oil is irreplaceable!