A Taste of the Far East (1993)


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.  

Our favorite meal, far and away, from A Taste of the Far East is the Chicken and Asparagus in Portuguese Sauce.  Now I’m no geography expert but Portugal isn’t exactly the “Far East”, and I’m frankly not sure where Portugal enters the picture.  The recipe is adapted from a dish served at from a Hong Kong hotel and the key flavors are Indian curry powder and Asian-style aromatics – shallots, ginger, and garlic.   What makes this dish memorable and distinctive is canned evaporated milk.  This still doesn’t strike me as particularly Portuguese either, but it certainly adds some Western flair.  The canned evaporated milk adds a creamy flavor but also allows the curry powder to bloom, opening up the flavor and bringing out the bright yellow in the curry.. 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.

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 warm and vibrant dish suitable for serving any time of the year.  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

Chicken and Asparagus in Portuguese Sauce (adapted from A Taste of the Far East by Madhur Jaffrey)

  • Preparation: 45 min
  • Cooking: 5 min
  • Ready in: 50 min
  • For: 6 servings

Ingredients

For marinating the chicken

For blanching the asparagus

For the final stir-fry

For serving

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. (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.
  4. (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.
  5. The final stir fry goes very quickly, so make sure you have all of your ingredients assembled, close by, and ready to go.
  6. 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.
  7. Serve immediately with jasmine rice.

Notes

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.

 

 


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