I first encountered Madhur Jaffrey’s “A Taste of the Far East” at my local library in the early 2000s. The book is divided into eight sections, each covering a country or locale. This was my first exposure to Vietnamese and Malaysian cuisine, and a treasure chest filled with strange ingredients and exotic flavors.
The library’s copy was a handsome coffee table book with rich full-color recipes and beautiful pictures. It was mostly a glamor shoot for Jaffrey’s cooking, along the lines of late period Gourmet magazine, but also included helpful tips and tricks for Asian cooking. This may well be the book where I learned that Americans add way too much water when making rice.
After checking out the book more times than I could count I went hunting for a copy for myself. Amazon was around, but not quite what it is today – no copies available. I also tried Abebooks and Bookfinder.com (both of which remarkably still exist here in 2020) but still no luck. With a little bit of pre-Google sleuthing I found my way to Amazon’s UK site, which offered a paperback copy of A Taste of the Far East for a very reasonable price (even accounting for overseas shipping).
When it arrived a month later this was not the handsome coffee table book I had come to know and love. Instead I had a small form-factor paperback that looked like a Stephen King novel printed on recycled paper. The binding was poor and the paper was already yellowing. There was a single signature of sixteen color pictures.
But even without the fancy formatting this book was and is a goldmine. An early favorite was salmon, poached with swiss chard and tomatoes in coconut milk.
Chicken and Asparagus in Portuguese Sauce is, far and away, our family’s favorite recipe from A Taste of the Far East. It has been one of our go-to “fancy company” dinners for the last twenty years. It’s a little bit too involved for a weeknight meal, but it still finds its way onto our table two or three times a year. It’s warm and vibrant and suitable for serving anytime of the year. This dish is as beautiful as it is delicious, but it will also stain your countertops and clothes and anything else it comes into contact with if you’re not careful.
Now I’m no geography expert but Portugal isn’t exactly the “Far East”. Most of the recipes in A Taste of the Far East reflect local, traditional dishes that Ms. Jaffrey has gently adapted for a Western kitchen. Chicken and Asparagus with Portuguese Sauce is adapted from an international hotel in Hong Kong. The primary flavors come from in Indian curry powder (not from Portugal) and Asian-style aromatics – shallots, ginger, and garlic (not from Portugal either). The most distinctive and unexpected ingredient is canned evaporated milk, which lends a creamy flavor and allows the curry powder to bloom. This still doesn’t strike me as particularly Portuguese either, but it certainly adds some Western flair. It’s also responsible for bringing out the brilliant yellow color in the turmeric, lending an almost neon quality to the dish overall.
I’ve made a few adjustments from to suit our family’s tastes and preferences: I’ve doubled the protein and dialed back the salt considerably. I use whole Indian red chili peppers (sometimes labeled as Indian Hot Chilli Pepper) which add a satisfying warmth without overwhelming the dish with heat. I would never recommend omitting the chili peppers altogether, but if you really can’t deal with heat omit the seeds or use a milder dried red chili (like Indian Kashmiri).
Chicken and Asparagus in Portuguese Sauce is a single dish meal. Serve it with a healthy portion of long grain rice to soak up the delicious gravy. It does not need any further accompaniment.
You may purchase a copy of Madhur Jaffrey’s A Taste of the Far East at my Amazon affiliate link here: https://amzn.to/3fYIZmp
For marinating the chicken
- 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced into thin, 2 inch strips
- 4 Tbsp mirin
- 4 egg whites
- 1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1 1/2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
For blanching the asparagus
- 1 - 2 lb green asparagus, woody stocks removed and cut into thirds
- 2 cups chicken broth (I prefer 2 tsp Better than Bouillon chicken dissolved in 2 cups water))
- 2 tsp ginger, minced (or a two inch slice of peeled fresh ginger)
- 2 tsp sugar
For the final stir-fry
- 48 oz oil, for deep frying (optional)
- 2 Tbsp minced garlic
- 2 Tbsp finely chopped shallots or sweet onion
- 2 dried hot Indian chili peppers, crumbled (keep the seeds)
- 1/4 cup Indian curry powder, dissolved in 3 Tbsp sesame oil
- 1 cup chicken broth (may use reserved blanching liquid)
- 1/2 cup canned evaporated milk
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1-2 tsp salt (or to taste)
- 2 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1/2 cup of the reserved blanching liquid
- 8 cups prepared jasmine rice (made with 4 cups rice + 4 cups water)
- Toss the chicken strips with the marinade ingredients and mix well. This isn't a traditional marinade - it serves both to flavor the chicken and give the chicken a little bit of a crunch during the stir-fry. There will be just enough to coat the chicken. Allow to marinate for 30 minutes or more.
- Combine the chicken broth, ginger, and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Working in batches, blanch the asparagus until crisp tender. Strain the broth and reserve for the final stir fry.
- (Deep-fry option) Prepare oil for deep frying at medium-low temperature. Working in batches, add the chicken and agitate gently to separate the pieces. Fry for no more than a minute, until the chicken turns white and pieces no longer stick to each other. Remove the chicken and drain any excess oil and set aside. This is not a traditional deep-fry - you are simply infusing the chicken with a little bit of oil to keep it tender during the final stir fry.
- (Stir-fry option) Heat 1/2 cup of neutral oil in a hot wok or dutch oven. Stir fry chicken and marinade 2-3 minutes, ensuring that chicken is just cooked through. Remove the chicken, drain any excess oil, and set aside.
- The final stir fry goes very quickly, so make sure you have all of your ingredients assembled, close by, and ready to go.
- Add the garlic, shallots, and chili - stir a couple of times and immediately add the curry slurry. Stir until the spices are fragrant, being careful not to burn. Lower the heat to medium and add the milk mixture and 1 cup of the reserved blanching liquid. Stir until well-mixed and heated through, then add cornstarch slurry and stir until thick. Add the chicken and asparagus and stir until mixture is heated through and chicken is fully cooked. Add salt to taste.
- Serve immediately with jasmine rice.
Regardless of which method you use the excess marinade will create a lot of little cornstarch fritters in the frying liquid. These will add flavor and texture to the final dish but may be removed if you are particular about the final presentation.