Chef and restaurateur, John Mcleay, of Melbourne's Red Spice Road, says that his love affair with Asian food started when he first set foot in Asia. He has fond memories of the sights, smells and sounds, which thrilled him; and he particularly enjoyed the sensory overload of the exotic foods sold at markets and street vendors.
In the introduction and welcome to his book, The Red Spice Cookbook, chef McLeay writes that he loves the vibrancy and balance of Asian food. The richness of pork belly with chilli caramel against the citrus tang and freshness of black vinegar and cabbage mint salad; or the marriage of the four components (hot, sour, salty and sweet) that form the balance of Thai cuisine.
His cookbook is a collection of popular recipes from the kitchen of his restaurant in Melbourne's CBD. In it, he offers instructions on how to make Asian stocks, pastes, sauces and garnishes; as well as accompaniments such as roasted rice, crispy fried shallots and chilli caramel. There are recipes for sumptuous snacks, including betel leaves with crab, kaffir lime and chilli; salads, such as the Laotian beef laap; a range of curries; as well as dishes based on seafood, meat and poultry. My favourites are the desserts and beverages.
The recipe I am showcasing here is from the book and is a dish of wild barramundi with a spicy coconut broth. If barramundi is unavailable, the chef suggests using another thick, fleshy white fish.
WILD BARRAMUNDI WITH COCONUT BROTH
250ml coconut milk
250ml chicken stock
4cm stem lemongrass, white part only, finely sliced
3cm piece of galangal, grated
3 shallots, peeled and sliced
2 coriander (cilantro) roots, chopped
2 kaffir lime leaves, sliced finely
1 small red chilli, seeded and chopped
15ml fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon caster sugar
3 oyster mushrooms, sliced
50g enoki mushrooms, chopped
15ml lime juice
50ml vegetable oil
250g wild barramundi fillet
12 sugar snap peas, cleaned
1 handful coriander (cilantro) leaves (to garnish)
2 kaffir lime leaves, sliced finely (to garnish)
1/2 large red chilli, sliced
In a small saucepan, bring coconut milk and stock to the boil. Add lemongrass, galangal, shallots, coriander root, lime leaves, chilli, fish sauce and sugar. Simmer for approximately 15 minutes. Taste the mixture and add more fish sauce, chilli or sugar to suit your taste.
Blend the mixture using a stick blender or blender, then strain through a colander or sieve (back into the pan). Discard the pulp. Add the mushrooms and simmer for a further 2 minutes, then add the lime juice and set aside until required.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Heat a little oil in a heavy-based frypan, and when it starts to smoke, place the barramundi into the pan, skin-side down. Cook for approximately 30 seconds, then transfer the pan to the oven and cook until the fish is ready, approximately 6 minutes (times will vary depending on the thickness of the fish).
Transfer the fish to a serving bowl. Bring the broth back to a simmer, add the sugar snap peas and simmer for another minute, ladle the broth over the barramundi and garnish with coriander, kaffir limes leaves and chilli. Serves 4 as part of a shared meal.
The Red Spice Road Cookbook by John McLeay, $35.00, New Holland Publishers. Thank you kindly to Mr McLeay and the publicity team at New Holland for giving me the opportunity to showcase this title. Images and recipe appear courtesy of the publisher.
Tell me dear readers, do you enjoy south east Asian flavours? Have you ever eaten Barramundi?
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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- Liz Posmyk
NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.