I don't normally browse much at the library. I head straight for the hold shelf where I pick up the books that are waiting for me and then I love. The hold shelf is, however, right near the cook books section so I do find myself stopping and having a quick look if something catches my eye. A couple of weeks ago I was rushing in and out but glanced over and say a red cookbook facing out and so I was drawn to go and have a look and it turns out it was this one, so it was a no brainer to grab it and take it home.
As an object, this cookbook is beautifully presented. If you look at the image that I have included above you may noticed that there is a deeper red stripe down the middle and that the name of the book looks a little fuzzy. That is because rather than being printed directly onto the glossy hardcover, the title details are actually printed onto a strip of fabric (maybe silk?) which is then attached to the book. How practical that is for a messy kitchen is a question that I didn't like to think about, but it does look very striking. The pages of the book are also edged in black so the whole book is encased in those very classical Asian colours of red and black.
In addition there is a red ribbon that you can use as a bookmark. I don't know about you, but as soon as I see a hardcover book with a ribbon it automatically suggest to me that it is a better quality book. Yes, it's the simple things that make me happy.
The gorgeous production values continue inside the book with lush photos of all the recipes as well as photos of the distinct decor of the actual restaurant as well. I also really appreciated that the font that is used is a decent size which hopefully you will be able to tell from the photo below. No squinting to see what comes next as you are trying to put your dish together.
Enough about the book though. It's all very well to have a gorgeous object if you aren't actually going to cook out of it, so let's talk about the content.
If you are a fan of South East Asian food you will really like this book. There are a variety of different nationalities influences featured throughout the book and the recipes run the whole gamut from seafood to meat to dessert and there is even a section on cocktails that feature Asian inspired flavours. One of the more surprising inclusions in the book was the recipe for Pork Belly with Apple Slaw and Chilli Caramel which I was expecting they would want to keep the recipe to themselves. In the intro to the recipe, John McLeay says 'This is by far the most popular dish on our menus; we go through a ridiculous amount and it seems like the oven is always full of pork belly. If I ever took it off the menu I would have a lot of irate customers!"
The dining philosophy when you go to eat at Red Spice Road is that you would go with a group and everyone would choose a selection of dishes that would then be shared - a kind of communal eating. This philosophy is extended into the book so a lot of the recipes state that they serve 4 as part of a shared meal. How practical this is if you are wanting to cook a family meal, I am not sure. I know I would be a bit frazzled if I was going to need to cook three or four different dishes in order to serve up a reasonable meal to a group of guests.
If I owned this cookbook, I think the section that I would refer to the most would most likely be the basics section. In there, the author shares recipes for many of the flavours that are used in later book like chilli caramel and Asian chicken stock. What was more surprising though was the recipes for things that I have never even contemplated making from scratch, for example, red and green curry paste and sweet chilli sauce. I would always have just used bought sweet chilli sauce in recipes. It would never have even crossed my mind to make my own.
I am pretty sure I could convince the boy to try some of the milder curries. I think Lamb meatball and potato Penang curry sounds really good as does Rockling green curry, but I think that there are other flavours that he wouldn't be as willing to try. One recipe that I do think that I could quite easily get him to eat would be this one, although I might cut back on the chillies a bit!
|Click to enlarge|
30ml peanut or vegetable oil
400g chicken thigh fillets, chopped finely
3 shallots, peeled and sliced finely
2 large red chillies, seeded and sliced
5 small red chillies, seeded and sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 cup basil leaves
4 kaffir lime leaves, sliced finely
Heat oil in a wok or frypan until it's smoking. Add the chicken, shallots, chilli and garlic, and stir fry until chicken is cooked. Add a little water if you feel the mixture is burning
Add remaining ingredients and stir fry a further 30 seconds.
On the restaurant website there are links to three of the recipes that are in this book - Garfish with cucumber, avocado, chilli and basil, Ox cheeks with star anise, mushrooms and hot mint and finally Lamb wrapped in betel leaves.
As an object, this is a lovely book. As a cookbook it is one I could see myself using occasionally but I don't think it would be an everyday type book.