To celebrate the release of Shu Han Lee's cookbook, Chicken and Rice, we've gathered a team of eager (and hungry) cooks to try out the recipes from the book at home. It's safe to say, we want to visit everyone's house for dinner.
Who: Indira Birnie, Social Media Manager
What I made: Rhubarb Ice Cream
What I thought: It feels like a secret that shouldn't be admitted but I have to say I much prefer savoury foods to sweet. I particularly love Asian food in all its forms (I think noodles – of any sort – might be my favourite food of all time) so my first look through this book, which is filled with tonnes of delicious-looking savoury recipes, was most definitely hunger-inducing.
However, as I was somewhat slow in deciding which recipe to cook, and while I being indecisive everyone else had swooped in with the savoury recipes I was considering, I thought I'd challenge myself to a dessert – and who doesn't love ice cream? It was a pretty much a done deal when I saw the rhubarb ice cream recipe towards the back of the book, especially when I saw that it didn't require an ice cream maker or hand churning every half an hour – could there be anything more irksome? The first (and probably last) time I tried making ice cream with the hand churning method, I gave up after the third or fourth churn and the ice cream ended up with giant ice crystals in it. Whoops.
This recipe genuinely couldn't be much (if at all) easier; it only has three steps, for a start. First, the rhubarb is chopped and put in a pan to soften with a little butter and sugar. Next, the double cream needs whipping into stiff peaks – the recipe recommends doing this with an electric mixer but it only takes a few minutes by hand and is pretty easy even for weaklings like me. Finally, you stir the condensed milk into the cooled rhubarb mixture, and fold in the whipped cream. That's it. Well, you have to put it in a loaf tin and put it in the freezer, but then that's actually it. Six hours later you'll be eating delicious rhubarb ice cream which is creamy, rich, full of flavour and incredibly moreish. I didn't make this recipe for any special occasion but it'd be a good one to show off at a dinner party because it looks and tastes like you've spent hours slaving over it, and you can be smug in the knowledge that it actually only took you about 15 minutes.
Who: Poppy North, Campaigns Manager
What I made: Pad ka Prao
What I thought: Fennel is one of my very favourite ingredients: I can never, ever resist it, I’ll put fennel seeds in anything. When flicking through Chicken and Rice one afternoon at 4pm plotting what I was going to cook for dinner, the combination of ‘fennel’ and Shu calling this recipe the ‘Spaghetti Bolognese of her college days’ had me positively drooling on my keyboard. And then I noticed the fried egg and my mind was made up.
The pad ka prao is an insanely easy dish to cook, and the smells it produces are enough to make you want to dive head first into the wok. This recipe really doesn’t take much – chopping up a fennel bulb and some garlic, frying for a bit in a smoking hot wok, adding the minced pork (or chicken, if you prefer) and then finally adding the really good bits: the bird’s eye-chillies (remember to wash your hands after cutting these, you definitely don’t want bird’s eye-chilli in your eye, or anywhere else for that matter), fish sauce and oyster sauce, and the sugar.
I have to admit that I was unable to track down any Thai basil and ended up using ordinary fresh basil. The pad ka prao was still incredibly tasty but next time I cook it (which shall be very soon), I’d love to find some Thai basil as I think it would add even more to the incredible flavour. I’m determined to find a little pot to keep on my window sill. The crispy fried egg at the end makes this the best version of Bolognese I’ve eaten for a long time. It’s also the quickest Bolognese I’ve ever made. Cook this as soon as you can.
Who: Rose Poole, Campaigns Officer, Penguin
What I made: Fried hor fun noodles with kale and beansprouts
What I thought: Fried hor fun noodles with kale and beansprouts was the easiest, most delicious noodle recipe I've ever made. Fuss-free and full of exciting flavours, this dish will save you from that weeknight indecision that can often lead to a sad bowl of cornflakes.
The chilli and garlic sauce you need is prepared beforehand and the recipe gives you enough for the week. Mashing together with fermented bean curd and soy sauce, you also add the amazing marvel that is Kecap Manis: a wonderfully gloopy, deliciously rich and oh-so-sweet dark sauce available from most Asian supermarkets.
The kale is fried first in groundnut oil along with the hor fun noodles (the recipe calls for fresh but I used a dried version which worked well) and you need to get the wok/pan steaming hot. The beansprouts went in after the sauce and once everything has been frying for a good few minutes you just chuck on a plate and serve immediately. My boyfriend and I had this on our laps watching Game of Thrones and it was MARVELLOUS. I strongly recommend to anyone contemplating cornflakes this evening.
Who: Anna Steadman, Assistant Editor, Fig Tree
What I made: Roasted butter prawns with toasted coconut and curry leaves
What I thought: I made these prawns on a whim for a weeknight dinner with my flatmates, and I think that they might be my favourite recipe that I've ever cooked from this book (and I've cooked quite a lot of them). They were quite honestly the most delicious thing that I have made in recent memory, and incredibly straightforward too, as long as you have the Shaoxing rice wine, which I already had in my cupboard, and the curry leaves, which you can buy online or in some large supermarkets, though I always use their presence in a recipe as an excuse to visit either New Loon Moon supermarket in Chinatown or Indian Spice Shop on Drummond St.
The only fiddly bit of the whole recipe is deveining the prawns, which I find oddly therapeutic, and Shu gives very clear instructions if you haven't done it before. Her method of cutting through the shells to devein the prawns, while keeping their shells on, allows the marinade to penetrate the flesh, while keeping the prawns wonderfully juicy as they roast in the oven. Happily for a midweek dinner, the prawns only need 15 minutes in their delicious soy, garlic and rice wine marinade, and then they are ready to be laid out on a roasting tray with some halved chillis and the curry leaves, whose flavours infuse the prawns as they cook in the oven for just 10 minutes. While the prawns are in the oven, you toast dessicated coconut on the stove until golden, and then scatter it over the cooked prawns when done. The toasted coconut soaks up all the juices from the prawns, and it tastes incredible. These prawns would make a brilliant sharing starter, but we ate them with some steamed rice and greens, endlessly repeating "this is SO good. SO GOOD" as we finished them off.
Who: Juliet Annan, Publishing Director, Fig Tree
What I made: Mum’s Sesame Oil Chicken
What I thought: This must be the easiest recipe in Chicken and Rice (and they are mostly very easy)! I was in a hurry and I wanted a new chicken dish, but it was freezing cold May 1st and we wanted comfort food. I had all the ingredients, so off I went….
First the marinade, which had something intriguing about it: you squeeze the grated ginger to make juice in which to marinate the chicken with a tiny bit of sugar, soy and the sesame oil. I could tell it was going to be delicious – it smelled so wonderful.
An hour later I fried the dry ginger gratings (some smoke ensued) and then browned the chicken, before adding the Shaoxing wine (well, truth to tell I didn’t have any; but I did have a bottle of the finest Spanish Fino, so I threw a tablespoon of that and then the water. I covered the wok and let it simmer to make a wonderful rich brown sauce and lovely cooked chicken. Perfect with plain rice and a mix of sautéed pak choi and gai choi. Sorry about the unphotogenic nature of this one, but what it lacked in model girl looks that it made up for in a homely, comforting hug. Sometimes, we all want just to eat Mum’s food…
Want more Chicken and Rice recipes? Check out this Peach on Sticky Rice.