Saturday 16 July 2011

Foodycat's Far Eastern Odyssey

I don't have any travel plans at the moment. Well, I always have plans, but nothing that is actually imminent, or booked, or likely to take place within the next six months or so. My travel at the moment is all taking place on my bookshelf and in my kitchen.

Recently, I have been craving spicy flavours. I've been wanting the prickle of chilli, cut back with cool lime and green herbs, underscored with salty fishsauce. I've been wanting rice. I've been wanting noodles. I've been wanting to sit in night markets watching flames leap around wok burners. In short, I have been wanting South East Asian food.

This craving has taken me back to one of my favourite food programs, the series Rick Stein did in 2009 Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey. I've been watching episodes (they are available on youtube) and wallowing, reading all of my South East Asian cookbooks and then heading into the kitchen to cook.

I've been wanting to try an oxcheek rendang for ages. Kavey mentioned it in passing in a review she did of some restaurant, I can't even remember which one! But I could just imagine how well the luscious, melting meat would work in that spicy sauce, so I noted it in my "recipes to try" spreadsheet (oh yeah, I have a spreadsheet for that).

I used Rick Stein's recipe, although I concluded that he was delusional including 10 dried red chillies. I used 4 dried hot red chillies and a couple of large, mild Mexican dried chillies just to give the sauce the right body and colour.

I'd managed to get hold of a couple of green mangoes, so I served the rendang (didn't bring the sauce down as much as I should have, because I was hungry and couldn't wait another hour) with green mango salad and rice cooked with a little crushed lime leaf.

It was wonderful. The thick, coconutty sauce was very spicy but not unbearably so, the meat fell to gelatinous shreds and the mango salad provided a sharp, fresh counterpoint. Utterly delicious.

I don't usually think of slow-cooked dishes like rendang when I think about South East Asian food: my mental image is of stirfries and quickly grilled satays, phos with sliced beef lightly cooking in boiling broth. Yet one of my favourite Thai dishes is a very slow-cooked braise.

Many years ago I used to get takeaways from a place in Erskineville called Maggie's Thai. Sometimes on the special's board they had an oxtail tom yum soup. It was the most amazing thing. Oxtail, on the bone, cooked until it was rich and fatty and sweet, in the familiar sharp, clear tom yum broth given an extra little zing of acidity with wedges of fresh tomato.

I've never seen oxtail tom yum anywhere else, and I moved out of Erskineville probably ten years ago, so I had to learn to make something similar myself. I red braise my oxtail for hours, then as soon as it is cool enough to handle I strip the meat from the bones and set it aside. I make a basic tom yum soup (bought tom yum paste, water, lime leaves and juice) and when it comes to a good simmer I add the reserved meat, some sliced tomatoes and correct the seasoning with fish sauce and more lime juice.

This one was a bit more elaborate than usual. I added mushrooms, basil and coriander. I like tom yum with rice, but Paul wanted noodles, so I added some sweet potato noodles to the broth as well, making it a very hearty main course soup, but still with the lovely light, fresh flavour.

Recently we've been getting seafood along with our vegetable box. Having access to inexpensive, sustainable shellfish has opened up quite a few dining opportunities for us! I've been dragging Paul away from his beloved linguine vongole, and using the clams for other things. This Rick Stein dish of clams with black beans, ginger and beer was really delicious and very quick to make. The broth - which begs for some bread to dunk in it - doesn't taste particularly beery, the ginger, chilli and black beans come through more strongly.

My mother sent me the link to this recipe, for Luke Nguyen's lemongrass chilli chicken. I've only eaten at his restaurant, Red Lantern in Surry Hills, once, but that was enough to know that any recipe of his was going to be a good 'un. It's a very interesting recipe, as it uses the young coconut juice, rather than coconut milk or cream as the liquid. Apparently a lot of celebrities are using coconut water as a weightloss aid, so it's fairly easy to come by at health food shops now.

I don't think I am particularly likely to lose weight eating this delicious chicken, but it is nice to feel virtuous!

Another more virtuous dish is this Cambodian marinated beef with black pepper dipping sauce. I hadn't really understood from the episode of Far Eastern Odyssey that it is served as a lettuce wrap: little pieces of the marinated beef, wrapped with peanuts, herbs and onions and dipped in the peppery sauce. It makes quite a fun meal, but for a less fiddly presentation I would make a salad of the lettuce, and herbs and top it with the hot beef, dressing it with the dipping sauce and garnishing it with the nuts. Very delicious and very healthy!

The problem, of course, with indulging this craving for South East Asian food is that I haven't sated the craving. I have made it worse. I am becoming a ravenous chilli monster.

So be prepared that you are likely to see pho bo, banh mi, red duck curry and god knows what else over the next while. So much more to cook, so much more to explore.


Kavey said...

Goshdarnit, you just made me VERY hungry!!! :)

leaf (the indolent cook) said...

Enjoy those spicy Asian flavours! I grew up with that stuff and I can never get enough of it. ;)

Alicia Foodycat said...

Kavey - we've been eating well!

Leafy - it's hard to go past them. The balance is so perfect.

Caroline said...

What a lovely round up of all the dishes you've been making recently! And those slow braised dishes might not be what springs to mind for SE Asian, but must be perfect for this 'summer' weather!

purabi naha said...

Excellent post! I loved going through those picture-perfect dishes!

Thanks for your comment on Thai Tom Yum Soup on my blog. So you discussed here on the oxtail version of it. I am so excited about trying out this one.

You mentioned that you love stirfries. My latest post is really on this! Hope you'll check that out.

Alicia Foodycat said...

C - well it certainly isn't the weather for the barbecued and grilled street foods! A bowl of stew is very welcome.

Purabi - your tamarind vegetables look so delicious!

Hope Adela Pasztor said...

That mango looks so good! =)

hungryandfrozen said...

oh MY, look at all that amazing food. I don't even know where to start, but I'm certainly feeling hungry now. I've had a bit of trouble finding green mangoes - possibly am not looking hard enough - but have a few recipes I want to try with them, and now a few more. Perhaps I should start a spreadsheet too ;)

Deb in Hawaii said...

Even though I ate dinner not so very long ago you have me craving everything you made. I can eat these flavors every day and not get enough too. ;-)

Alicia Foodycat said...

Hope - thank you so much for visiting my blog!

Laura - I actually managed to get them online, from an Asian grocer.

Deb - they are addictive, aren't they?

Gemma said...

I am craving Vietnamese food so badly at the moment. I think I need to teach myself to make grilled pork bun, summer rolls and banh mi now that Kingsland Road is too far away to visit every weekend.

Su-Lin said...

Brilliant! Love beef cheek rendang - oxtail rendang is also gorgeous.

I really need to start cooking more...I've been very lazy as of late!

Alicia Foodycat said...

Gemma - I made banh mi on Sunday. Very easy, it's pretty much just assembly. No excuses!

Su-Lin - oh, I have some more oxtail in the freezer!


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