Creating real Asian flavours 'isn't magic'

American-born London-based food writer Jennifer Joyce. Photo: Phil Webb
American-born London-based food writer Jennifer Joyce. Photo: Phil Webb

Many years of experiments and tasty discoveries as food writer Jennifer Joyce tried to replicate the amazing flavours of her Asian travels have led to her new book.

My Asian Kitchen aims to equip home cooks with the cooking knowledge needed to push their understanding of flavours and master their favourite dishes at home.

It celebrates the classic dishes the American-born London-based food writer loves, such as healthy salads and Asian-inspired desserts.

''Successfully cooking this legendary cuisine isn't magic: you just need solid guidance and the right ingredients.''

To that end, she has provided guides to folding dumplings, won tons and Bao, achieving the perfect grill technique and personalising ramen or donabe hot pots. She has also provided a comprehensive glossary of unique Asian ingredients and brands to buy.

My Asian Kitchen, by Jennifer Joyce, published by Murdoch Books, distributed by Allen & Unwin, $45.
My Asian Kitchen, by Jennifer Joyce, published by Murdoch Books, distributed by Allen & Unwin, $45.

With Asian cooking, there is usually one critical flavour that is essential - whether it is togarashi, mirin or chilli bean paste.

The other bonus with Asian cooking is its health benefits as miso, soy, bean paste, black vinegar, fish sauce and gochujang are all produced from the fermentation of rice, anchovies or soy beans.

''These key components intensify the flavour of Asian dishes, while also strengthening our immune and digestive systems.''

Joyce has divided her book into chapters based on the cooking methods - into the wok (stir fries), boiled and bubbling (soups) and crisp and tossed (salads).


Photos: Phil Webb
Photos: Phil Webb
Fried ginger soy chicken with chilli sauce and pickles

Karaage is a totally addictive fried chicken that's served in izakayas all over Japan. Boneless chicken thighs are marinated in ginger, garlic and soy and then get a dip in cornflour before being fried. It's the perfect counterpart to pillowy Bao buns and the pickles and hot sauce are the icing on the cake, as it were.

Makes 12 small pieces

Prep 10 minutes, plus 2 hours marinating

Cook 5 minutes

6 large boneless skinless chicken thighs
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tbsp Japanese light soy sauce
4cm ginger, grated
175g cornflour
1 Tbsp togarashi spice mix
vegetable oil, for frying
steamed Bao buns

Chilli sauce
2 Tbsp hot chilli sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp caster sugar
ginger pickles or bought pickles, thinly sliced red onion and green chilli, coriander (cilantro) and lemon wedges, to serve

Halve the chicken thighs and place in a bowl with the garlic, soy and ginger and mix well. Cover, refrigerate and ideally leave overnight or for at least 2 hours.

Remove the chicken from the fridge 1 hour before cooking to bring up to room temperature.

Whisk all the chilli sauce ingredients together in a bowl and set aside for serving.

In a shallow dish, mix the cornflour with the spice mix and some sea salt.

Heat the oil in a wok or deep medium saucepan until it reaches 180degC-190degC or when a small piece of bread instantly sizzles. Arrange a wire rack over a baking tray ready for draining the fried chicken.

When the oil is ready, dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, shaking off any excess, and drop five or six pieces into the oil. Fry until golden, adjusting the heat so the oil isn't too hot.

You want the chicken to fry slowly enough to cook the inside flesh without the crust getting brown too quickly. Drain on the wire rack to keep the outside crisp.

Serve the fried chicken inside the buns with the pickles, red onion, chilli and coriander, with the lemon wedges and chilli sauce to pass around.


Bao Prawn laksa

Malaysian cuisine is a mash-up of local Chinese, Thai and Indian influences, which makes their soups, curries and noodles dazzle with exotic spices, creamy coconut and hot chillies.

What distinguishes laksa paste from red curry is the use of nuts. Traditionally it's candlenuts, but they're tricky to source so I use macadamias.

Serves 4 as a starter or 2 large portions

Prep 15 minutes

Cook 20 minutes

6 macadamia nuts
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
75g yellow or red curry paste
250ml chicken stock
1 400g can coconut milk
2 whole star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
3 Tbsp tamarind puree
2 Tbsp palm sugar
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp lime juice
150g green beans, chopped
200g large raw prawns
200g thin rice vermicelli
100g pineapple
large handful each of chopped coriander (cilantro) and mint leaves
pickled red chilli and shallots and crispy
fried shallots, to serve

Using a mortar and pestle, crush the macadamia nuts to a fine paste.

In a large saucepan, heat the vegetable oil and add the curry paste and crushed macadamia nuts. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for 5 minutes.

Pour in the stock, coconut milk, spices, tamarind, palm sugar, fish sauce and lime juice. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, then add the beans and prawns. Simmer for 2-3 minutes and remove from the heat.

Pour boiling water over the rice noodles and leave for 2 minutes or until soft. Cut the pineapple into 2cm batons.

Divide the noodles among four large bowls and ladle the laksa over.

Top with pineapple, coriander and mint and pickled red chilli and shallots. Serve with crispy fried shallots.

Note: The taste of this soup relies on using good stock.


Thai shumai dumplings

Both the Thais and Chinese serve these open-top dumplings. I prefer the Thai rendition as they eat them with fried garlic and sweet soy sauce. Much easier to prepare than gyoza or won tons, shumai can be assembled in moments.

Makes 20 fat dumplings

Prep 30 minutes

Cook 8 minutes

200g raw eeled prawns
150g minced pork
8 water chestnuts, chopped
1 garlic clove
1cm slice ginger
small bunch coriander (cilantro)
2 spring onions (scallions), finely sliced, plus extra to serve
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp egg white
2 tsp fish sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
20-25 won ton or gyoza wrappers

Fried garlic
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Sweet soy dipping sauce
60ml sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
2 Tbsp lime juice
1 thumb-sized red chilli, diced

Roughly chop half of the prawns and place in a bowl with the pork and water chestnuts. Place the garlic and ginger in a food processor and chop until fine, then add the coriander, spring onion and remaining prawns and pulse until chunky.

Add the cornflour, egg white, fish and soy sauces and pulse again to mix. Pour into the bowl with the pork and chunky prawns. Mix well and season with freshly ground black pepper.

If using won ton wrappers, snip off the corners of the squares so that they are more round and keep the wrappers covered with a tea towel so that they don't dry out.

Place a wrapper in your hand and spoon 1 heaped tablespoon of the mixture into it. Wrap the wrapper around the filling so that it's pleated round it and the filling comes up nearly to the top.

Tap it on the work surface so that the bottom becomes flat and run a knife across the top to smooth over. You want it to be a tight, compact dumpling. Continue with all the wrappers and filling, then place on a plastic tray.

Fill a pot or wok with a couple of inches of water and bring to a boil. Place some baking paper with holes cut through in the bottom of a bamboo steamer. Arrange the dumplings, in batches, so that they are not touching each other, then cover and steam for about 6-8 minutes. Place on a serving dish, scatter with the fried garlic and extra spring onions and serve with the dipping sauce.

Fried garlic
Add the oil and garlic to a small frying pan and cook for 12 minutes over low heat until golden.

Sweet soy dipping sauce
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl.

Note: If you're making the dumplings in advance, arrange on a tray lined with non-stick baking paper. Top with more paper and cover in plastic wrap.

Refrigerate for up to 24 hours ahead of steaming. You can also freeze the dumplings raw and steam from frozen.

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