Ping gai (Lao grilled chicken)

This is one of the most delicious chicken dishes I’ve ever made and incredibly easy to do if you’ve got a hooded barbecue that you can use to roast it. If you don’t want to do it on the barbecue, I’ve included instructions below of how to roast it in an ordinary oven.

Ingredients

1.8 kg Lilydale free-range chicken

3 stalks lemongrass, finely chopped

8 cloves garlic, finely chopped

½ cup finely shredded coriander (roots and stems, leaves reserved)

2 tbsp oyster sauce

2 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp soy sauce

1½ tbsp sugar

juice of 1 lime, plus extra lime wedges to serve

½ tsp ground black pepper

Tomato jaew som

3 bird’s eye chillies (or 1 large red chilli)

4 cloves garlic

5 cherry tomatoes, quartered

juice of 2 limes (or 1 lemon)

2 tsp sugar

2 tbsp fish sauce

¼ cup finely shredded coriander leaves

Method

Prepare the chicken by using kitchen scissors to cut down either side of the backbone to remove it. Press down on the breast of the chicken to flatten it. Combine all the remaining ingredients and pour over the chicken, rubbing it into both sides. Refrigerate the chicken for at least 2 hours but preferably more than 8 hours.

For the jaew som dipping sauce combine the chillies and garlic in a mortar and pound with the pestle to a coarse paste. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle you can finely chop the ingredients. Add the tomatoes, lime juice, sugar and fish sauce and crush with the pestle until the tomatoes release their juices and the sugar is dissolved. Stir through the coriander. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking.

Heat hooded barbecue over medium-low heat and add the chicken skin side down. Cook for 20 minutes with the hood closed, then turn over and cook for a further 20-25 minutes. Remove from the heat and rest for 10 minutes before serving. If you prefer to cook this in the oven, roast in a 200C (fan) oven for 50 minutes. Serve the chicken with the reserved coriander leaves, some lime wedges and the dipping sauce.

Drumstick Cacciatore

Chicken cacciatore is a classic for a reason. I use drumsticks, which are ideal for braising as the develop a beautiful sticky and gelatinous texture with long cooking. The base for this cacciatore is canned cherry tomatoes and chopped sundried tomatoes. I often use chopped sundried where you might otherwise use tomato paste as it gives a deeper, more interesting flavour to tomato braises.

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil

1 kg Lilydale free-range chicken drumsticks

2 tbsp plain flour

2 onions, peeled and thickly sliced

3 cloves garlic, lightly crushed

1 red capsicum, sliced

150 g button mushrooms, sliced

3 sundried tomatoes, finely chopped

400 g can whole cherry tomatoes

125 ml red wine

2 tbsp tomato sauce

500 ml vegetable stock, chicken stock or water

3 bay leaves

3 sprigs thyme

1 tsp salt

½ tsp sugar

½ cup kalamata olives

2 tbsp finely shredded parsley, to serve

Method

Heat your oven to 160C (fan). Heat a wide lidded casserole over medium heat and add the oil. Toss the chicken together with the flour, and brown the chicken in batches, removing from the dish when browned. Add the onions and stir for a minute (adding a little more oil if necessary), then add the garlic, capsicum, mushrooms and sundried tomato, stirring occasionally until the onions are lightly browned. Add the cherry tomatoes, wine, stock, bay leaves, thyme, salt and sugar, scraping any browned bits from the base of the pot. Return the drumsticks to the pot. Bring to a simmer then transfer to the oven for 45 minutes covered.

Add the olives and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes uncovered. Allow to stand for 20 minutes before serving scattered with parsley.

Chinese Cucumber Salad

Serves 4, as a side dish

This simple salad is found all over China in varying forms. The secret is to keep it simple, and not to flavour it too strongly. Think of it as a palate cleanser, or as a super quick dish to add balance to a Chinese meal.

Ingredients

1 tbsp dried black fungus

3 Lebanese cucumbers

3 cherry tomatoes, halved

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp sugar

1 tsp soy sauce

2 tsp black vinegar

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp sesame oil

Method

Cover the black fungus in ample hot water and stand for 10 minutes. Trim out the hard root of the fungus and set the “ears” aside.

Peel the cucumbers in intervals. Place one cucumber on a cutting board and cover with a tea towel. Bash the cucumber with your hand or a rolling pin, then break the cucumber into 5 cm pieces by hand and transfer to a bowl. Repeat for the remaining cucumbers. Add the cherry tomatoes to the bowl and mix through the salt and sugar. Transfer to the fridge for 10 minutes.

Add the black fungus, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and sesame oil and 1-2 tbsp of cold water to the cucumbers and stir to dissolve the sugar. Transfer to a serving plate and serve.

Top Tips for Chinese Cucumber Salad

  1. Don’t try to flavour this too strongly. Adding a dash of water at the end balances the dish
  2. The dish is about cucumbers and black vinegar. If you don’t want to add black fungus, garlic, sesame oil etc. just leave them out.
  3. This is a perfect dish for summer.
Vegetarian Potsticker Dumplings

These vegetarian (actually vegan) dumplings use the shiitake steeping liquid and wholemeal flour to make the skins. For the filling, use flavourful and textural vegetables rather than “fillers” like tofu or cabbage.

Ingredients

6 dried shiitake mushrooms

2 tbsp peanut oil

1 carrot, peeled and finely diced

1 large bunch garlic chives

2 tbsp dried black fungus, soaked, trimmed and finely sliced

6 spring onions, finely sliced

1 tsp sesame oil

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp sugar

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp Shaoxing wine

Wholemeal dumpling skins

2 cups wholemeal flour

¾ cup boiling water, or hot shiitake steeping liquid

Method

  1. Soak the shiitake in 2 cups of hot water for 20 minutes then trim the stems and dice the caps.
  2. To make the dumpling skins, heat the shiitake liquid until boiling and combine about ¾ of a cup with the wholemeal flour in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix at medium speed for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth. Lightly dust with flour and rest for at least 1 hour wrapped in plastic or an oiled cloth.
  3. Heat a wok over high heat and add the peanut oil. Add the carrot, diced shiitake caps, spring onions, garlic chives sesame oil, and season with thesalt, sugar, soy sauce and Shaoxing wine. Fry for about 3 minutes until the vegetables have softened and the mixture is dry. Remove from the wok and cool completely.
  4. Roll and fold the dumplings (see video).
  5. Heat a frying pan over medium heat and lightly coat with oil. Add the dumplings (base down) to the pan and fry without moving until lightly browned on the base. Add hot water to a level about 1 cm up the side of the dumplings and cover. Steam for 8 minutes, then remove the lid and allow any remaining liquid to evaporate. Fry for a further minute until the bases are crisp, then serve with dumpling sauce and chilli oil.

Top Tips for Wholemeal Dumplings

  • Using the shiitake steeping liquid for the dumpling skins will give them a brown colour and delicious savoury flavour.
  • You can vary the vegetable fillings as you like. I tend to favour textural and flavourful vegetables rather than things like cabbage or tofu for vegetarian dumplings.
  • If you prefer, you can add egg or cornstarch to the filling to give it a firmer texture.
  • If you aren’t vegetarian, some soaked dried shrimp are an excellent addition to the filling.
Chinese-style Garlic Chive Omelette

This two-ingredient omelette is a fantastic dish to make when preparing a Chinese meal. It takes minutes and its simplicity balances more strongly flavoured dishes.

Ingredients

5 eggs

1 tsp fish sauce, or ¼ tsp stock powder or MSG

½ tsp sesame oil

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 bunch garlic chives, sliced into 1cm lengths

salt, to season

Method

Beat the eggs together with the fish sauce (or stock powder) and sesame oil. Heat a wok over medium heat and add the vegetable oil. Add the garlic chives and toss for just a few seconds to release their aroma. Season with a little salt, then add the eggs and stir occasionally over the heat until mixed. Stop stirring to allow the eggs to brown slightly. Remove from the wok and serve.

Top Tips for Garlic Chive Omelette

  • This style of omelette can be made with prawns or spinach as well.
  • Sometimes a dish like this is topped with a savoury and sour brown sauce such as for egg foo yong.
  • You can even leave out the garlic chives altogether and use spring onion instead.

Bak Kut Teh

Originating in Klang, just outside Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, bak kut teh means ‘pork bone tea’. It’s basically pork ribs and other cuts in a rich and complex broth of medicinal herbs.

Most people make theirs using pre-packaged spice packs, which is fine, but I much prefer to make my own soup base. Once you make it from scratch once you’ll never go back to the pre-packaged spices.

The medicinal herbs may look confusing, but they are actually quite common ingredients in Chinese cooking. Most of them are available from a good Asian grocery, but I buy mine from a Chinese herbalist which tend to have higher quality herbs. In the recipe below I’ve given you the Mandarin pronunciations and Chinese character translations of all the herbs, so you can just show the herbalist your list.

Ingredients

10 dried shiitake mushrooms, quickly rinsed

2 kg pork belly

1 kg pork ribs

3 whole garlic bulbs

3 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons caster sugar

1 tablespoon white vinegar

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 pack fried tofu puffs (tau pok), halved

300 g enoki mushrooms

6 thin spring onions, very thinly sliced

coriander sprigs, to garnish

cooked rice, to serve

5 sticks youtiao (fried Chinese bread sticks), to serve

sliced bird’s eye chillies, to serve

Herb pack

20 g Codonopsis pilosula (wen tang shen) 纹黨參

20 g Chinese angelica (dang gui) 当归

15 g lovage root (Ligusticum wallichii) (chuan xiong) 川芎

15 g Rehmannia glutinosa (shu di) 熟地

5 slices licorice root (gan cao) 甘草

20 g Solomon’s seal (yu zhu) 玉竹

2 pieces dried tangerine peel (cheng pi) 陈皮

15 g cassia bark (gui bi) 桂皮

3 star anise (ba jiao) 八角

1 teaspoon white peppercorns (bai hu jiao) 白胡椒

Method

Heat 4 litres (135 fl oz/16 cups) water in a stockpot and add the shiitake mushrooms. Turn off the heat and let the mushrooms stand for 20 minutes to soften. Remove the mushrooms, then trim off the stalks using a pair of kitchen scissors. Return the caps to the pot, and place the pot back over the heat.

Wrap the ingredients for the herb pack in a double layer of muslin (cheesecloth), and secure the pack with string. Add to the pot and simmer for 30 minutes.

While the herb pack is simmering, place the pork and ribs in a separate pot and cover with cold water. Bring the water to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove all the pork from the water and rinse to remove any scum.

Add the pork to the simmering soup base, along with the garlic bulbs, salt, sugar, vinegar and soy sauce. Simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, until the pork is tender, but not falling apart. Remove the pork from the soup and allow to cool slightly.

Add the enoki mushrooms and tofu puffs to the soup and simmer just for 10 minutes, or until both are softened.

Cut the pork into small pieces, and separate the ribs. Add the pork and ribs to a heated serving bowls (a clay pot works well), then ladle the hot broth and mushrooms over. Scatter with the spring onion and coriander sprigs.

Serve with cooked rice, with youtiao and sliced chillies in soy sauce on the side.

Top Tips for Bak Kut Teh

  • This is also great served with blanched iceberg lettuce that’s been covered with oyster sauce and scattered with fried shallots.
  • If you haven’t tried this dish before you might want to make it from a packet first so you know the kind of thing you should be going for.
  • Seasoning the soup is all important for this dish. If the soup is too bitter or sweet it will be unpleasant. Taste the dish constantly and adjust the seasoning incrementally as you go.
How to Make Tonkotsu Ramen

Tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen is a labour of love. It can take 3 or 4 days to make – although most of that is just watching a pot boil – and you might wonder why anyone would ever go to the effort.

It is actually easier than it looks, although the first time you try to do it it will probably exhaust you completely.

As one of the four main styles of ramen (shio, shoyu, miso and tonkotsu) it’s important to know how it’s made, even if you never attempt it yourself.

This light style of tonkotsu is the style I prefer, although you can reduce the soup base further, add chopped fat to it etc. if you prefer the thicker, fattier versions of tonkotsu that you might have tried.

This recipe is for a shio gyokai style tonkotsu, meaning that it is salt-based and contains seafood, which is why it is very light in colour.

Ingredients

Soup base

4 kg pork bones

8 kg water

Aromatic Oil

300 g rendered pork lard

200 g vegetable oil

70 g spring onion

30 g Garlic

1 tbsp bonito powder (see Method)

Motodare

10 g dried scallop

10 g dried fish maw

10 g dried sardines, cleaned

2 pieces rausu kombu

750 ml water

approx. 100 g salt

1 tsp rice vinegar

Toppings

chashu

ajitama

noodles

kikurage – black wood ear fungus (soaked in hot water and sliced)

spring onion, finely sliced

menma – braised bamboo shoots

nori, cut into squares

bonito powder (see Method)

Method

Soup Base

Weigh the bones and cover with cold water. Refrigerate overnight to extract the blood from the bones and marrow. Discard the soaking water and then add twice the weight of the bones of fresh cold water. Measure the distance from the top of the water to the top of the pot.

Bring to a simmer, using a fine mesh to skim the grey scum rising to the surface of the water, stirring occasionally. Continue until the scum rising to the top is white rather than grey. This will take about 2 hours.

Cover the pot and boil for a further 6 hours (the water should be active and bubbling but the heat does not necessarily have to be high), topping up the water to the starting level and stirring every half hour. Remove the lid and reduce the liquid for about 4 hours until you reach the consistency you want. The more you reduce the liquid, the thicker and stronger the soup base will be.

Strain the soup and cool rapidly by stirring in a bath of iced water until it is room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Motodare

To make the tare, add the dried seafood, kombu and cold water to a non-reactive container and refrigerate overnight. Transfer to a saucepan and heat over very low heat for about 1 hour until just warm to the touch. Remove the seafood and measure the volume of dashi produced. Add salt in the ratio of 1:5 (i.e. 100 g salt for 500 g dashi) and stir over heat until the salt is fully dissolved. Add the vinegar and set aside.

Aromatic Oil

To make the bonito powder, blend 1 cup of dried bonito flakes to a fine powder. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Allow to cool and strain.

To assemble the ramen, follow the instructions in the video below.

Top Tips for Tonkotsu Ramen

  • There is a lot of liquid to manage here so it’s worth having two large pots the same size, and also clearing enough space in your fridge to fit one of them before you even start.
  • If you prefer a thicker tonkotsu you can reduce the soup further, or thicken it with the addition of simmered backfat or use a stick blender to emulsify in some additional bonito powder.
  • This recipe is a basic recipe. You can of course add vegetables, chicken and other ingredients to the soup base if you prefer.
Kimchi Fried Rice

This family-style Korean recipe is the kind of dish you can make from Korean pantry basics.

The main ingredients of day-old rice, kimchi, gochujang and Korean toasted nori are things that most Korean households would have on hand at all times.

Even if you’re not Korean, they’re excellent items to make part of your pantry, even if it’s just to make dishes like this.

Ingredients

1½ cups kimchi

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp gochujang (Korean chilli bean paste)

4 cups cooked short grain rice (refrigerated)

3 spring onions, finely sliced

1 tsp salt

1 egg, optional

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

1 sheet Japanese nori, toasted and crumbled (or Korean nori sheets, crumbled)

Method

Squeeze as much juice as you can from the kimchi and set it aside. Finely slice the kimchi.

Heat a wok over high heat and add the vegetable oil and sesame oil. Add the kimchi to the wok and toss frequently until it is very fragrant. Add the gochujang and toss in the wok for about a minute until it is fragrant as well.

Add the rice, pressing it onto the sides of the wok to separate the grains. Add the reserved kimchi juice, spring onions and salt, and mix everything very well, allowing the rice to very lightly toast against the sides of the wok.

In a separate frying pan (or the same one after you’ve taken the rice out) fry the egg in a little oil until done to your liking.

Serve the egg on top of the rice, and scatter everything with sesame seeds and crumbled nori to serve.

Top Tips for Kimchi Fried Rice

  • Korean nori is often fried and salted, and is easily crumbled. If you’re using Japanese nori you can toast it by waving it over an open gas flame for just a few seconds until it becomes crisp.
  • Kimchi and gochujang keeps in the fridge for months, so they’re great items to have on hand.
  • Most fried rice dishes will be a combination of oil, rice and egg and this is no exception. The egg may be optional here, but I think if you don’t have it, it’s not really a full meal.
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.