Friday, March 31, 2006

Live from New York City

In my mayo-related posts (see "Making Mayonnaise" and "Tuna Sandwich, Transformed in Bengal"), I wrote about the twist I give to the classic tuna salad. The tuna sandwich becomes, in my hands, a bekti sandwich, which tastes as good.

Another classic salad made with mayonnaise is the Waldorf salad, which is a fruity variation of the regular chicken sandwich filling. Waldorf salad originated in New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in the 1890s.

I replicated exactly the classic Waldorf salad recently. This time I hadn’t wanted to give any twist of my own to a classic. I wanted it to be 100 percent authentic: You could have it in the hallowed NY hotel or the tacky duplex I inhabit in a seedy Calcutta neighborhood, and the taste should exactly be the same. This was my goal from the very beginning.

Every ingredient of the salad that I would normally have in my pantry would be the same anyway – except the apple’s variety. All a Waldorf salad would need is cooked chicken (I prefer breast for a mild flavor), mayonnaise, celery, spring onion, walnuts, lemon (or lime) juice, apple and, of course, seasoning.

For the apple, I wanted Granny Smith, no other. Not that apples are in short supply in Calcutta. In crowded Sealdah, the largest market of its kind in Asia, fruit vendors sell several kinds, among them Red Delicious, round the clock. They are red and sweet, the kind most popular in India. They come from Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, two Himalayan states in the north of the country.

But, I wanted Waldorf-Astoria in my humble home; I wanted Granny Smith, which is crunchy, juicy, and tart. So, off I went to New Market.

And, lo and behold, I found plenty. Green, round, smooth, firm, with a label, “Washington Apples,” in boxes with the lids ripped off. What more could I have asked for? But, the price? Rs. 150 (about $3.5) a kilogram, which is about 2 lbs. That is a prohibitive price in India. But, I wanted authentic; so, I picked a single apple weighing a little less than 200 grams (7 oz) despite the storekeeper’s murmur of discontent.

“We make no money on one,” he said, putting the apple in a thonga, or a newspaper bag, which is a smaller and cheaper version of the staple brown-paper bag at US supermarkets.

I returned home with the booty. I created the Waldorf salad. Just to compare, I prepared a second batch with a red apple. They weren’t the same. The red apple-Waldorf salad was too sweet for my taste despite my effort to balance the flavor with extra lime juice. Sweet is good when used in desserts or eaten plain, but in chicken or something predominantly savory, I prefer tart. That is another debate, another story, another post, though.


deccanheffalump said...

It is lunchtime. Not a good time to be surfing food blogs. After looking at this post of yours my mouth is watering.I am off to eat.

Rushina said...

Hi Angshuman

I really am looking forward to reading more in these here pages!