Saturday, May 26, 2012

Weekend Cooking: The Red Spice Road Cookbook by John McLeay

A couple of years ago I went for dinner at Red Spice Road restaurant here in Melbourne. We were there on a Friday night, the restaurant was packed with happy diners and the food was delicious. Every time I get an email from them saying they have this event or that event on I think I really must go back but haven't got there yet. One day.

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
Chicken with chilli and basil

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.



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24 comments:

  1. This sounds like a good one! I love Asian cuisine. I would be overwhelmed by having to cook so many different dishes though.

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    Replies
    1. I am thinking that the recipes that are to be shared between four will be enough for the two of us, but yes, if you had people coming for dinner it would be a bit overwhelming

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  2. That looks like a beautiful book. Wow. But yeah, the cloth in the kitchen . . . I just won't think about that. LOL.

    The flavors are just what I like. The sharing idea is fun in a restaurant, but how many different dishes are you really going to make to feed two or four people at home?

    On the other hand, that chicken with chili looks pretty yummy.

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    Replies
    1. There were a couple of stains on it already and because it was a library book I didn't want to think about what those stains might have been.

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  3. I admit it..I am a total sucker for lush photos. I must look into this one.

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    1. It is a beautifully presented book.

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  4. From your description, this does sound like something a little 'beyond' a beginner or intermediate level cookbook. I'm sure it is lovely (and maybe would be best as a coffee table book?), and I'd be curious to see it, but a little intimidated to try anything in it.

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    1. Cecelia, the recipe I posted above is probably the easiest one in the book. I would suggest that is "beyond a beginner with a keen interest in South East Asian cuisine" level.

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  5. Sounds yummy! Looks like it has appetizing pictures as well.

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    Replies
    1. It does!It is a beautifully put together book.

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  6. Sounds like a beautiful cookbook but maybe not so practical. I'd love to look through it because the recipes sound delicious and I'd love the pictures.

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    Replies
    1. I enjoyed looking through it.

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  7. What a thorough, fantastic review! I have to say that the Pork Belly with Apple Slaw and Chilli Caramel sounds mouth-watering; I can see why it is the most popular item on the menu.

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    1. If I ever do make it back to the restaurant I am definitely going to try it.

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  8. I would have grabbed this at the library too! I like a book that is beautiful in its own right...

    The recipes sound fabulous! This was a really interesting post :)

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  9. This book sounds intriguing. Will have to look for it!

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    Replies
    1. I am not sure how easy it will be to find overseas.

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  10. Interesting recipe. thanks. Have a great week.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Carole

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  11. This is a lovely looking book, and one that would look pretty sitting on my red counter. Not being a big fan of curries I am doubting I would use it very much in a practical manner. And pork belly?...um, I am not so sure about that! ;) Thanks for sharing such a lovely book with us...
    *smiles*

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    1. I haven't actually eaten much pork belly myself although I do intend to one day.

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  12. I do love the presentation of this book, and I would have been so happy to discover a cookbook that was made by one of my favorite restaurants! I wish my local Thai food restaurant would come out with a cookbook!

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  13. Exotic recipes! Lovely photos too.

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