Wok-fried prawns with ginger and spring onion

This simple stir-fried dish takes the classic Cantonese flavour of seafood steamed with ginger and spring onion, flipping it into a fast wok-fried dish that focuses on the natural flavours of the ingredients.

Ingredients

8 large prawns

2 tbsp peanut oil (or 1 cup for making prawn oil, optional)

6 spring onions, finely shredded

4 slices ginger

1 tbsp Shaoxing wine

salt, to season

1 tsp cornflour mixed into ¼ cup cold water

Method

Peel and devein the prawns. Transfer the shells to a saucepan and add the 1 cup of oil. Place over high heat and bring the oil to 120C, or until the prawn shells start to sizzle. Cook the shells for 5 minutes then remove from the heat. Strain the shells and reserve the oil.

Heat a wok over high heat and add 2 tbsp of oil (or prawn oil). Add the prawns, season with salt and toss until barely cooked through. Remove from the wok.

Heat a little more oil if necessary and add the ginger and spring onions. Toss to combine and lightly char the spring onions, then add the prawns back to the wok. Season with salt and add the Shaoxing wine to the side of the wok directly onto the metal. Toss to combine again, then drizzle in a little of the cornflour mixture just to thicken any juices in the wok. Serve with steamed rice.

Top Tips for Wok-fried Prawns

  • If you don’t want to make the prawn oil, you can just use peeled prawns and ordinary vegetable oil (but making the oil adds a lot more flavour to the dish).
  • Butterflying the prawns will give them a meatier texture and mouthfeel, as well as making them look more substantial in the dish.
  • Don’t skip the cornstarch step, as it is necessary to “stick” the flavour of the dish onto the prawns.

Silken tofu with onion, garlic and soy sauce

This is easily the most common tofu dish we make at our house, and it never fails to convert anybody who might be suspicious of tofu (or worse still, claim that tofu is tasteless.)

From start to finish this literally can be done in 5 minutes.

Ingredients

1 x 300g block silken tofu

1½ tbsp vegetable oil

4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

½ small brown onion, finely diced

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 spring onion, thinly sliced

Method

Turn the block of silken tofu out onto a plate, taking care not to break the block. If the tofu is set into the packet, it can help to run a sharp knife around the side.

Heat a small saucepan or wok over low-medium heat and add the oil, garlic and onion. Cook slowly for around 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the garlic and onion are browned and very fragrant. Remove from the heat and stir through the soy sauce. Pour the mixture over the top of the tofu, scatter with spring onions and serve immediately.

Top Tips for Silken Tofu with Onion, Garlic and Soy Sauce

  • Some versions of this dish use a vinegar-based dressing instead.
  • In Japan, a similar dish is known as hiyayakko, and is cold silken tofu topped with grated ginger, bonito flakes and spring onion. It can be served with soy sauce or just with salt.
  • Different brands of tofu will have different textures. Find a brand you like and stick with it.
Stir-fried Tomato and Egg (番茄炒蛋)

This dish is one of the most popular home-cooked Chinese dishes but it’s not one that’s often found at restaurants. That’s because it’s so simple that anyone can cook it at home. If you want to learn how to cook Asian dishes, start out with things like this and go for the restaurant-style dishes later.

Some say that this dish is the national dish of China, not just because it’s found all around the country, but also because it is the colours of the Chinese flag.

Ingredients

3 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 tbsp vegetable oil

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp sugar

2 spring onions, cut into 5cm lengths

½ tsp cornflour, mixed with a little cold water

5 eggs, beaten

Method

Heat a wok over high heat and add 1 tbsp of oil. Add the tomatoes and fry for about 2 minutes until they start to soften. Add the salt, sugar, spring onions and ½ cup of water or stock. When the spring onions soften, stir through enough of the cornflour slurry to thicken the tomato mixture to a saucy consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Remove the tomato mixture from the wok and rinse the wok.

Return the wok to the heat and add the remaining oil. Add the eggs and stir once every 15 seconds or so until the eggs set to the texture of a loose omelette. Add the tomato mixture to the eggs and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary, then serve immediately.

Top Tips for Stir-fried Tomato and Egg

  • Some people like to add cornstarch or sesame oil to the eggs as well.
  • It would be common to add a pinch of MSG to the tomatoes or eggs while cooking, but if you don’t want to do that and still want more savouriness you can add a bit of chicken stock powder, or a dash of fish sauce or soy sauce instead.
  • Eat this with rice. That’s what it’s made for.
Katsusando

If you’ve ever been on a bullet train in Japan, you’ve probably fallen in love with these little finger-sized sandwiches that you can buy at the train station before you get on board.

Katsusando is short for “cutlet sandwich” and it’s a pork cutlet covered with tonkatsu sauce between two slices of thick, Japanese-style white bread. It sounds simple (and it is), but that’s the beauty of it.

Ingredients

2 tbsp salted butter, softened

12 thick slices soft, white bread (preferably Japanese-style shokupan)

¼ tsp karashi (Japanese mustard), or hot English mustard

¼ cup Japanese mayonnaise (Kewpie or similar)

2 cups finely shredded cabbage

4 cooked loin tonkatsu

¼ cup tonkatsu sauce, or express tonkatsu sauce (or you can use a bottled sauce like otafuku)

Method

Butter the bread. Place three slices of bread side by side on a tea towel or piece of plastic wrap. Mix together the mustard and mayonnaise and spread that mixture over the butter. Place two tonkatsu along the length of the bread on the tea towel and cover the tonktasu generally with the tonkatsu sauce, top with a little shredded cabbage and place three further slices of bread on top (butter-down). Fold the tea towel over the sandwiches and place a heavy chopping board on top to press them for 10 minutes. Cut the crusts off each sandwich and then cut each into thirds. Repeat for the remaining bread and tonkatsu and serve.

Top Tips for Katsusando

  • Choose thick-sliced soft white bread. If the bread is sliced too thin, after it is pressed it will be too firm.
  • You can make this with fillet katsu (hirekatsu) as well, but you will need roughly 1.5 fillet katsu per sandwich as they are a different size.
  • There are lots of offcuts here (crusts, end pieces of the katsu) as a result of creating the perfectly aligned presentation. Don’t let them go to waste. EAT THEM!
How to make Katsudon

Katsudon is one of the most popular ways of eating katsu in Japan, but it hasn’t quite caught on abroad as much. I think it’s because of the idea of putting a crispy fried thing into a liquid that softens it isn’t often done in Western cooking. The idea, however, is quite common in Japanese cuisine and it is done so that the breading will absorb the flavour of the liquid while softening to a sticky, silky texture.

Ingredients

2 cooked tonkatsu, sliced

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp sake

1 tbsp mirin

2 tsp sugar

1 onion, peeled and thickly sliced

4 eggs, beaten

3-4 cups cooked Japanese rice

mitsuba, snow pea shoots or watercress, to serve

shichimi tougarashi (Japanese seven spice), to serve

Cheat’s dashi

1½ cups water

1½ tsp fish sauce

Method

Make the cheat’s dashi by combining the ingredients together. Of course, you could use actual dashi or any other stock. Mix in the soy sauce, sake and mirin to create your seasoning liquid.

In a frying pan around the same diameter as your serving bowl, combine half the seasoning liquid, 1 tsp of sugar, and half the onion. Simmer until the onion softens, then place the sliced tonkatsu on top. Pour over half of the beaten egg and cover with a lid. Steam for just a minute or two until the egg begins to set.While the tonkatsu is steaming, place half of the rice into your serving bowl and flatten the top, leaving around 3cm at the top of the bowl for the katsu. When the egg is barely set, slide the entire contents of the pan on top of the rice. Garnish with mitsuba and sprinkle over a little shichimi tougarashi to serve.

Top Tips for Katsudon

  • Having a pan around the same size as the bowl is quite important, as the egg will set to the shape of the pan and you want it to cover the entire top of the bowl.
  • If I know I am going to make katsudon I will often fry my tonkatsu for a minute or two less, just so it doesn’t overcook while it’s steaming. This is not essential, however, as katsudon is often made from completely cooked tonkatsu.
  • The sugar can be added to the seasoning liquid but I find that it is easier to add to the pan as it will not fully dissolve in the cold liquid.
  • Make one serve of katsudon per pan. It is possible to make a larger serve and halve it, but it is frankly easier to make two bowl-sized servings.
  • If your katsu is too big for the pan, you can remove some of the slices before adding to the pan.
Homemade Tonkatsu Sauce

Tonkatsu sauce is a sweet sauce made from fruits and vegetables that is a little like a thicker version of English Worcestershire sauce. While you can buy tonkatsu sauce in Japanese grocers under the Bulldog or Otafuku brands, high end tonkatsu places will always make their own. Try it yourself. This homemade version will change the way you look at tonkatsu.

Ingredients

Makes about 1L

½ cup white sugar, plus 2 tbsp extra

1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped

1 carrot, roughly chopped

1 apple, cored and roughly chopped

1 peach, pit removed and roughly chopped

4 dates, seeds removed and roughly chopped

2 bay leaves

¼ tsp ground nutmeg

¼ tsp ground cloves

200 ml tomato passata

100 ml red wine

¼ cup rice vinegar

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

½ cup soy sauce

2 tbsp dark soy sauce

Method

Combine the sugar with 2 tbsp water in a large non-reactive saucepan and place over high heat. Bring to a dark caramel, then add 150ml of water and stir to dissolve the caramel. Add the remaining 2 tbsp of sugar, the onion, carrot, apple, peach, dates, bay leaves, spices, tomato passata, red wine, rice vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and dark soy sauce and bring to a simmer. Simmer covered for 30 mins until the fruits and vegetables are softened, then allow to cool to room temperature. Remove the bay leaves and blend in a high-speed blender until smooth. (Pass through a sieve if your blender is not fast enough to get the sauce smooth.)

Return the strained sauce to the saucepan and simmer until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon while warm. Transfer to an airtight container and keep in the fridge for up to a month. Store in sterilised jars if keeping for more than 1 month.

Top Tips for Tonkatsu Sauce

  • Although inspired by Worcestershire sauce, tonkatsu sauce is much thicker. Its consistency can vary from something as thin as dark soy sauce, through to thick, ketchupy varieties. I prefer my tonkatsu sauce quite thick, but if you prefer a thinner sauce just dilute it with more water or other liquid ingredients.
  • You can try other fruits as well. Stonefruits like plum and apricot are also quite common.
  • This sauce keeps well, but if you aren’t eating tonkatsu all that often you can freeze half of it and thaw it later. As well as for tonkatsu you can also use this sauce for croquettes, hamburgers, okonomiyaki, takoyaki or even just as an ordinary barbecue sauce.
How to make Tonkatsu

Tonkatsu is a Japanese crumbed pork cutlet. A little like a German or Australian schnitzel, tonkatsu is one of the most popular forms of yōshoku (Western food incorporated into Japanese cuisine). You can find it in many forms – as curry, sandwiches, rice bowls etc. – but its most pure form is as a straight tonkatsu. Just the cutlet, served with shredded cabbage, a thick Worcestershire-like tonkatsu sauce, rice and miso soup on the side.

There’s a bit of an art to making a great tonkatsu, and here’s how you do it.

Ingredients

4 pork loin chops, bone removed, around 1-inch thick

1 cup plain flour

5 eggs, beaten

3 cups panko breadcrumbs

approx. 1-2 L canola oil, for deep frying

To serve

cooked rice

¼ tsp hot English mustard

finely shredded cabbage

sliced cucumber

sliced tomato

lemon wedges

Japanese pickles (such as takuan)

miso soup

Quick tonkatsu sauce

½ cup tomato sauce (ketchup)

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tbsp soy sauce

½ tsp English mustard

Method

For the quick tonkatsu sauce, mix together all of the ingredients.

Tenderise the pork with a pork tenderiser (or if you don’t have one, the back of a heavy knife). Push the pork back into its original shape. Heat the frying oil to 175C.

Shred the cabbage thinly with a mandoline.

Pick up each piece of pork by inserting a skewer into it, using the skewer as a kind of hook (this will allow you to move the pork between the flour and egg without getting your hands dirty and without tongs disrupting the coating). Dip the pork into the flour first, and then the egg, then back into the flour, then back into the egg (you can even go for a third coating of flour and egg if you like), and then finally into the panko – ensuring that it is coated completely. Fry the pork two pieces at a time for 4-5 minutes, turning once or twice during the frying process. Drain the pork on a wire rack, standing the pork up on its thin end for better drainage. Allow the pork to cool and drain for 5 minutes.

Slice the cutlet and arrange on a plate with the cabbage, pickles, lemon wedge, cucumber and tomato, and add a smear of mustard. Serve with the tonkatsu sauce, rice and miso soup.

Top Tips for Tonkatsu

  • You can buy pre-made tonkatsu sauces from Japanese groceries which are excellent. The quick version given here is really just if you can’t find it near you. My real preference, however, is to make my own tonkatsu sauce (recipe to follow).
  • You don’t want to overcook your tonkatsu. Listen for when the meat starts to release its juices (the oil will start to sound very active) and remove the cutlet straight away.
  • Stay tuned to my YouTube channel for more tonkatsu recipes.
Japanese Beef Curry

Japanese curry is very different to most curries you might be familiar with. It takes a bit of French sauce technique and Japanese stewing technique and combines it for a unique style of curry where the European-style roux forms the base of a richly flavoured thick curry sauce that is used to coat the main ingredients.

Curry was introduced to Japan by the British navy which usually had canned curries for ocean voyages, and today it is often made from packaged curry roux blocks. If you want to try making it from scratch, here’s how you do it.

Ingredients

1 kg beef chuck, cut into 3cm cubes

salt and pepper, to season

1 tbsp oil

75g unsalted butter

75g plain flour

3 tbsp curry powder (or 2 tbsp curry powder and 1 tbsp garam masala)

¼ tsp chilli powder (or to taste)

150g shimeji mushrooms, broken into clumps

1 large brown onion, thickly sliced

3 large carrots, peeled and cut into irregular chunks

2 sebago potatoes, peeled and cut into irregular chunks

2 tbsp tomato ketchup

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp salt

1 apple, grated

Japanese pickles (rakkyo and fukujinzuke), to serve

cooked Japanese rice, to serve

Method

Season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the beef in batches until well browned. Return all of the beef to the saucepan and add around 2L of water to completely cover the meat. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 1 to 1.5 hours, skimming to remove any scum that forms on the surface.

When the beef is tender (but not falling apart), add in the potato and carrot and simmer for a further 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Remove from the heat and strain off the solids, reserving the stock.

Heat another large saucepan and add in the butter and flour. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine into a roux and cook until just starting to turn colour. Add in the curry powder, garam masala and chilli powder and stir for 1 minute. Add in the stock a ladle at a time until a smooth sauce develops. You can add more stock or water if it is too thick. Add the shimeji mushrooms, sliced onion, grated apple, and other remaining ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes until the onion is softened, stirring regularly to stop the sauce from sticking to the saucepan. Remove from the heat. Stir through the beef, potatoes and carrot, adjust seasoning for saltiness and allow to stand covered for at least 15 minutes before serving. Adjust seasoning (you will probably need to add some additional salt) and then serve with rice and pickles.

Top Tips for Japanese Curry

  • This version uses beef, but you could easily substitute any other meat or vegetable you like. If you use chicken the cooking time will be much shorter as you won’t need to wait for the chicken to become tender as for the beef chuck.
  • Using a mixture of curry powder and garam masala will give a more fragrant curry with less heat.
  • If you can’t find the rakkyo or fukujinzuke, try adding a few pickled cocktail onions instead.
  • Try making the sauce only and using that as a topping for a crumbed and fried pork cutlet for another Japanese favourite, katsu kare.
Japanese Pork and Cabbage Millefeuille with Ponzu

Ingredients

600g pork belly, skin and bone removed, sliced into ½ cm wide strips

½ head of Chinese cabbage

1 tbsp sea salt

¼ tsp ground white pepper

2 tbsp sake

2 tbsp dried scallops (optional)

Ponzu

75ml sake

75ml mirin

¼ tsp caster sugar

150ml light soy sauce

75ml freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tsp sugar (or to taste)

Method

Very thinly slice the pork belly into long strips about the thickness of bacon. You can ask your butcher to do this for you, but if you’re doing it yourself, putting the pork in the freezer for about 1 hour before you start will make it easier to cut. Separate the leaves of the Chinese cabbage. Mix together the salt and white pepper.

Lay a large leaf of Chinese cabbage on a clean cutting board and lay over 2-3 strips of pork. Sprinkle with a little of the salt and pepper mix. You don’t need to cover all of the cabbage leaf. Lay another cabbage leaf over the pork in the opposite direction (the leafy end of the top leaf should be over the stem end of the bottom leaf) and lay over 2-3 more strips of pork and scatter with a little more of the salt and pepper mix. Repeat the process, alternating the direction of the cabbage leaves, and using more leaves per layer for the smaller leaves. You should end up with a large, even and tightly packed pile of layered cabbage and pork.

Cut the block into equal thirds crossways and pack the thirds into a heavy-bottomed casserole dish; enamelled cast iron would be perfect.

Place the lid on the pot and place over low heat for 1 hour without removing the cover.

For the ponzu, boil the sake and mirin together until just boiled. Stir through the soy sauce, lemon juice and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool.

Serve the millefeuille with the ponzu in individual bowls as a dipping sauce.

Top Tips for Japanese Millefeuille

  • A lot of people have asked if you can use bacon for this instead of pork belly. The big difference between bacon and pork belly is of course that the bacon has already been cured. If using bacon, don’t season with additional salt as it will be too salty. I would recommend using pork belly instead of bacon, as using bacon may be too heavy.
  • The pronunciation of this dish is from the Japanese, not the French. In French, the dish is pronounced as for “meal-foy”, and in Japanese it is ミルフィユ, pronounced “mirufiyu”.
  • Standing the cabbage and pork stack upright doesn’t just look pretty, it’s quite important to allow the steam to circulate. Otherwise the base of the dish will cook much faster than the top.
10-minute Chilli Prawn Laksa from Instant Noodles

If you are short on time but still want a great bowl of laksa, here’s how to turn a packet of instant noodles into an authentic-tasting Malaysian-style dish.

Ingredients

1 free-range egg

2 tsp vegetable oil

2 large prawns, peeled, shells reserved

½ tsp chilli powder

2 pcs fried fishcake*

4 pcs fried tofu puffs*

2 packets MAGGI Fusian Malaysian Laksa Soupy Noodles

½ cup beansprouts

1 tsp fried Asian shallots*

1 tbsp each Vietnamese mint and coriander (optional)

1 bird’s eye chilli, sliced (optional)

½ tsp sambal belacan* (optional)

* These ingredients are available from Asian grocers and some supermarkets.

Method

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Using a metal skewer poke a small hole in the base of the egg. Boil the egg for 8 minutes, then transfer to a bowl of iced water to cool completely. Peel the egg and cut in half.

While the egg is boiling, heat a separate small saucepan over medium heat and add the vegetable oil. Add the prawn shells and chilli powder fry until fragrant, then remove the shells and add 650ml of hot water. Bring to a boil, then add the fish cake and prawns and cook for about 2 seconds until the prawns are cooked through. Remove the fishcake and prawns from the pot and set aside.

Add the noodle cakes and cook for 2 minutes, then add the beansprouts and cook for a further minute. Remove everything to a bowl and stir through the flavour and creamer sachets from the noodle packets. Top with the prawn, fishcake, egg halves, herbs, chilli, fried shallots and sambal belacan. Serve immediately.