Uncovering the secrets behind Mauritian flavours: Selina Pariampillai

Uncovering the secrets behind Mauritian flavours: Selina Pariampillai

Posted on: Mar 16, 2015

Here at Spice Kitchen HQ we totally love Mauritian food, with its light, fragrant spice blends. So it was a real honour recently to catch up with one of the UK’s leading lights of Mauritian food, Selina Periampillai.

She’s creates dishes for Jamie Oliver and her supper clubs and pop-up events in London are really cooking up a storm in the capital. Her website, Taste Mauritius, is a Mecca for everybody interested in the unique flavours of the island - and we hear she also has a book on the way.

We jumped at the chance to uncover some of the secrets behind Mauritian cooking. Here’s what we found.

What makes Mauritian cuisine stand out - and can you tell our readers how you create these kind of dynamics with spices?

Mauritian food seems to use light cinnamon and is more fragrant than spicy. We use cinnamon in our cuisine. Mauritian food can sometimes be quite spicy too - we use lots of green/red chillies in some dishes and satinis (chutneys).

It’s all about balance of flavours and to remember to keep tasting what you’re making as you’re going along, so you can adjust seasoning and spice if needed. I love grinding my spices from scratch to release the aromas - I find they take on flavour more when they are freshly ground. I do this when making a spice rub for my Mauritian creole 6 hour lamb - blending spice, chillies, garlic, ginger and ingredients to a paste and marinating meat in it.

Our cuisine is very fragrant, light as well as spicy, its not rich or heavy to eat. It’s unusual, has similarities and influences historically from Indian, Chinese, Creole and French cuisine/heritage.

This is what we love about Mauritian food here at Spice Kitchen! It seems to be a melting pot traditions, languages and cultures -- indigenous, Portuguese, Chinese, French, Creole, Indian. At Spice Kitchen we are very much about how spices can take you on a journey. Which spices do you use to take the guests on a journey to Mauritius?  

I use fresh thyme a provencal herb, French inspired which is used in a lot of Mauritian dishes especially the rougailles. Chilli of course as well a turmeric, garam masala, mixed spice, cinnamon, cumin and coriander are used as a basis for Mauritian curries.

What is your earliest memory of spice?  

My mum using spices like cinnamon in her cakes at home, you could smell it wafting around the house, that and mixed spice.

Managing spices can be intimidating to the uninitiated — do you have any tips to demystify this gorgeous art?

Keeping spices in clean separate containers, labelled, is my advice. Its always useful to know when they were bought so they can be replaced if left for too long.

I recommend keeping spices in groups of similar flavours. For example, I tend to keep curry spices, chilli powder, cloves, fenugreek together. Whereas for baking, I might keep my cinnamon, nutmeg, mixed spice together.

If there was a cooking explosion in your kitchen, what would be the one spice you would salvage?

I love cumin! It’s the spice I use the most - it’s so versatile.

Here in Britain people used to talk about food as a defining factor of where you come from, now it seems to be a talking point for where you want to go. Your monthly supper clubs in Croydon sounds awesome -- I’m interested to know if you adjust your dishes to the British market? Or if you think the British palate might have evolved to become more international in recent times.

To start off I tried to stay as true to our traditional dishes we have in Mauritius and what I grew up with and learnt from my parents. I find that people who come to my events want to experience a cuisine for what it is, they don't want a fancied up version of it. They are usually people who want to taste "authentic" Mauritian food how it would be served in a Mauritian home or on the streets of the island.

I find with spices is difficult because people like different levels of spice, so I try to stay at a medium-heat for people and add extra piment confit (bullet chillies) on the table for those who have it hotter!

How often to you chuck out your old fusty spices. Are there are good tips you can give our readers for managing and maintaining their own spice kitchens?

Yes, I think you should replace spices. They last from over 6 months to years but I feel it depends if it’s stored properly during that time. Check to see, does it still have that aroma? has the coloured changed? If in doubt, get it replaced.

Experimentation is part of the beauty of Indian food. But experimentation generally leads to disaster for us mere mortals, are their any guidelines you can give?  

Well, when I can I love to explore different cuisines and spice mixes. I think you won't know or learn until you try! Admittedly, some spices do and don't work together but you can find most research and help online these days. Sometimes that's what cooking is about experimentation, trial and error - finding out what works and what doesn't. Put your stamp on a dish and get creating.

You’re right - online is the place to go these days for help and advice. We seem to be in the age of the twitter chef, how to do use social media as a chef, and how can our readers connect more and learn more online?  

I follow certain chefs, bloggers on Twitter. It’s an easy way to find and learn new recipes, get inspiration and it’s a great sharing tool for myself as well.

When looking for trusted recipes I tend to try people I know, chefs I have heard of or sources I trust. Some recipes online are better than others - still there are lots of inspiration out there to be discovered. I would say get on Twitter, or search food blogs, recipe databases online and just start exploring.

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