Like so many Indians of a particular generation, I like my Old Monk rum. It talks to me of relaxed times, long motorcycle rides, wet winds, cold nights and warm love. It also talks to me of slow, roasted meats because Old Monk is my all-time favourite marinating agent, merging with fresh, roasted spices to form a pleasing basting sauce.
I do indeed appreciate fine Caribbean, Puerto Rican and other delightful Indian rums, such as McDowell’s or Hercules XXX. But Old Monk is like the feeling you get after a long journey—the feeling of home.
No wonder I was feeling displaced when Old Monk disappeared from my local supermarkets in Bangalore. I filched a bottle from a kindly neighbour (Anahita and Deepak Pinto, if you’re reading this, thank you), who had no choice but to say, “Oh, please keep it.” I did give them a bottle of wine in return, but—as Old Monk drinkers will confirm—it was poor compensation.
At my local stores, the stock response continued, “No Old Monk saar, supply naat coming.” This was worrying me enough to preserve the Pintos’ bottle for drinking.
Now what? I add Old Monk liberally to the meats I roast, and I roast a lot. Roasting allows me to infuse meats with a great deal of flavour, and it allows me to do other things at the same time—amuse my daughter, shop or write.
For two months, I did not consider an Old Monk substitute. I did add some balsamic vinegar now and then, and a little extra soy sauce, but it just didn’t feel right. My roasts seemed to lack the body and bounce of Old Monk.
One winter evening last week, as I considered a casserole of fine, local pork, I suddenly felt desperate for Old Monk. I needed it.
"Roasting spices comforts my soul and liberates my senses. It drives me to song—however tuneless —and makes me smile"
Desperation is a fine thing. It spurs innovation and creativity; it pushes you out of your comfort zone. As that great, um, philosopher from Hollywood, Jim Carrey, once said: “Desperation is a necessary ingredient to learning anything, or creating anything. Period.”
He’s right, you know.
So, I rummaged in my bar. Good as Old Monk was, perhaps something could be better?
Tequila? Didn’t smell right. Balvenie? Too expensive. Beer? Too frothy.
That’s when I spotted the bottle of Jack Daniel’s. Now, my alcohol intake is usually limited to Old Monk, wine and feni. I do not drink beer or Scotch, but I am partial to the occasional bourbon.
I opened the Jack Daniel’s and sniffed. It came to me in a flash: This smelled right. Bourbon has a smoky, woody taste, possibly just right for a slow-roasting pork.
I set about enthusiastically preparing my roasting routine. I roasted fresh spices, as I usually do. What I did for the bourbon roast is detailed below, but, really, you can use any variation of spices that feels right.
You may have noticed that I often go by feel and intuition, and that’s important when I cook, especially because I have never had formal kitchen training.
To me, roasting spices is a solitary pleasure, like running. It comforts my soul and liberates my senses. It drives me to song—however tuneless—and makes me smile.
Once roasted and ground, the spices provided much satisfaction when added to that casserole of pork. Now, the big experiment, the cup of Jack Daniel’s (I am sure any other brand will work). In it went, along with the other ingredients. After a lovely, squelchy time marinating the pork, I washed my hands and let the casserole sit in my fridge overnight.
When the long roast began the next day, I was a little anxious, opening the lid and basting the pork more than I usually do. As it emerged, it’s good that I worried. Abandoning my basting lethargy persuaded the pork to absorb as much of the bourbon sauce as possible.
Fittingly, the Pintos, from whom I had stolen the last bottle of Old Monk, came to dinner. The pork, if I may modestly say so, was a hit—all smoky and woodsy after 4 hours in the oven. My drinking self will mourn if Old Monk does not return to the stores, but my cooking self knows—there’s always Jack Daniel’s.
Jack Daniel’s Pork and Carrot Roast
For the masala
12-13 dried red chillies
1 tsp black onion seeds (kalonji)
2 tsp green cardamom
1-2 star anise
1 tsp poppy seeds (khus khus)
1-inch piece cinnamon
Roast on a griddle until aromas are released and seeds start to pop. Cool and grind to powder.
For the pork
1.5kg pork, with some fat (trim fat if needed; I did and discarded about 150g)
1 cup of Jack Daniel’s bourbon
N cup soy sauce
30 cloves of garlic
3 carrots, each cut into three pieces
1 large potato, cut into cubes (optional)
Salt to taste
Add masala powder, soy, bourbon, garlic and salt to the pork, carrot and potato. Mix well and marinate for 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Place the pork in a casserole, and cover with the lid. Allow the pork to roast for at least 2 hours. Open the lid and mix well. Return to the oven, increasing the temperature to 180 degrees Celsius. Allow it to roast for another hour, basting (the liquid will collect, so simply keep mixing well) at 10- to 15-minute intervals. Discard the lid and increase the heat to 200 degrees Celsius for half an hour, basting every 5-10 minutes. The liquid will reduce. Do not allow the pork to dry up. The gravy will thicken and keep the pork moist. Reduce the heat to 150 degrees Celsius for the last half-hour.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar also writes the fortnightly science column Frontier Mail for Mint.
Also Read | Samar’s previous Lounge columns