Mandeep Grewal, Johnnie Walker brand ambassador, pairs his whiskies with some classic Indian dishes.
• Chicken Tikka Masala (tandoor-cooked chicken in a creamy tomato sauce)
A classic dish deserves a classic like Johnnie Walker Black Label. Although Chicken Tikka Masala seems a fairly simple dish the preparation is very complex: from marinating the chicken with selected balanced spices to putting it on charcoal fire and then using a number of natural flavours like tomatoes, nuts, spices and fresh cream. There is a lot that goes behind the scenes. In a similar way the natural flavours of Scotch whiskies present in Black Label make it a complex but a very balanced whisky, using whiskies from all the regions of Scotland. There are creamy vanilla notes from the Lowland Grain whiskies, fresh fruit and citrus notes from the Speyside malts, rich and dried fruits from the Highlands and a hint of smoke or barbecue from the Islands and Islay. Also, just like the slow marination and slow cooking process of Chicken Tikka Masala, nothing is rushed to produce Black Label. Only whiskies aged in oak casks for 12 years or over are selected for the blend. Try the whisky on rocks or with a splash of spring water.
• Lamb Vindaloo (very hot with a little vinegar)
This robust classic deserves a robust beauty such as Lagavulin 16 year old malt from Islay. It is the only whisky that can tame the fiery nature of this dish. Also Lagavulin has a meaty body that complemnets the red meat in the dish. Try this whisky with a splash of mineral water.
• Prawn Dhansak (sweet and sour with vegetables and lentils)
Fairly hot, sweet and sour prepared with lentils this is a great sea dish that would be complemented by the only whisky from the Isle of Skye – Talisker 10 year old malt. The flavours of the sea in the prawns are further enhanced by the sea weed, salty notes and a warm peppery finish of Talisker. Try this whisky with a single cube of ice or a splash of chilled mineral water.
• Chicken Korma (mild, aromatic and creamy)
This extremely pleasant and mild creamy dish can be lifted up by the balanced flavours of the sea, forest and fruit present in the blended malt Johnnie Walker Green Label. The four signature single malts in this blended malt – Cragganmore (Speyside), Talisker (Isle of Skye), Caolila (Islay) and Linkwood (Speyside) – are subtly apparent but work in harmony to form a smooth flavour that changes each time you pick up a glass. Each of the single malts in the blend are matured for a minimum of 15 years in oak casks. The smoothness of Green Label complements the smooth and nutty flavour in Chicken Korma. Try this whisky with just 2-3 ice cubes and let the ice melt slowly while sipping it.
• Onion bhaji (spicy onion in batter)
This spicy and herby starter is balanced with the robust blend Johnnie Walker Red Label. These Indian dumplings are fried with flavour and work just right with the younger whiskies present in Johnnie Walker Red Label. As it is a starter I would recommend to enjoy Red Label with lots of ice topped up with either soda water or dry ginger ale. It’s a great refresher that would complement this classic starter.
• Kulfi (Indian ice cream)
Finally the dessert whisky. My choice would be frozen Johnnie Walker Gold Label or frozen Clynelish 14 year old. Gold Label is a blend of whiskies aged 18 years or more and is the lightest blend in the range. The malt whisky that sits at the heart of this blend is Clynelish whose distillery’s water prospectors once panned for gold deposits released from the red granite rock. When frozen these whiskies give a honey heather flavour that finishes with some dark chocolate notes, making it a unique dessert or after dinner drink. Serve from the freezer and sip from a frozen shot glass along with the creamy kulfi.
• This article first appeared in the SA Whisky Handbook 2009