Listen up friends you are going to LOVE this recipe.
When I first visited Australia in the mid-1990s, long before I knew I would have a daughter living there, I was blown away by what was being described then as “fusion cooking”. I felt as if I had discovered a big secret – that Australian cuisine could be sublime – a combination of wonderful fresh ingredients, the best of fish, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables and subtle Asian influences in the flavourings. There was something really exciting going on and I thought the world should know more about it but, at that stage, my own knowledge of good food was limited and my experience of cooking it even slighter.
This Christmas Claire sent me a book from Sydney as a surprise. It is called Fire – A World of Flavour by Christine Manfield and features recipes from Japan, China, Vietnam, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Bali, Sri Lanka, Mexico, France, Italy, the Middle East… 20 locations in all.
Claire came across the book in a bookshop in Sydney some time ago but couldn’t remember the name of it. Then she stumbled on a copy in a “home stay” on the central coast where she and Mike were spending a weekend about 6 weeks ago and knew I would love it.
Beautifully bound and illustrated, Fire is a travel guide as well as a cook book. It includes suggestions on where to stay, visit and eat in all the places from which Christine has drawn inspiration for her recipes. I have already identified a few new restaurants to try in Beijing that Shane hasn’t eaten in yet and of course we hope to go to Universal Restaurant the next time we visit Claire in Sydney.
Her philosophy is to prepare food “that crosses cultural boundaries with confidence without being labelled ‘fusion’ and parallels… a culinary freestyle that has enriched our food culture and given it maturity and world renown.” She says in her introduction to Fire: “the sharing of food knows no political boundaries; it is a reminder of remarkable places visited, with tastes that transport me immediately to any given place. It’s as if I can taste the character and essence of a place through its food.” That expresses perfectly my own love of food and travel.
I’ve adopted a rule of thumb that, when I find a new cook book, I will include a few recipes from it in the blog, sometimes with a few tweaks of my own, to give you a taste of what is on offer and in the hope that it will encourage you to get hold of the book yourselves. I’ve chosen two of Christine’s Chinese-inspired recipes to try – this stir-fried honey sesame beef and a one-pot chicken rice, the stock for which is simmering on the stove as I write.
The beef dish below just about sums up the way food can bridge the divide between 3 continents – a Chinese-inspired dish, created by an Australian woman, once a firm favourite in her London restaurant, re-created by me on the night of a full-moon in Duncannon in the south east corner of Ireland and, as soon as I tasted it, I was plunged back into a taste memory of a meal I shared with Shane and Shan in Beijing. Such is the power of food to transport you to another place and time.
Sometimes the discovery of a new recipe excites me. This dish is one that made me need to start writing at midnight. It has “umami” in abundance with its evocative flavours and is simple to prepare. Christine used beef tenderloin fillet and 3 bird’s eye chillies and added watercress sprigs to garnish. I used the cheaper bavette cut of beef which I find so flavourful and the slightly milder Chinese red chillies. I picked up my beef yesterday from Fintan at Dunnes of Donnybrook in Dublin, Craft Butcher of the Year 2012.
Stir-fried honey sesame beef
Serves 3 – 4
- 500 g bavette of beef (or sirloin)
- groundnut oil
- 120 g green beans
- 2 tsps sesame seeds
- Handful of Chinese garlic chives (if not near an Asian supermarket substitute ordinary chives or omit)
For the marinade:
- 4 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 40 ml light soy sauce
- 20 ml fish sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tbs runny honey
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 2 medium red chillies, de-seeded and finely chopped
- 20 ml groundnut oil
- Thinly slice the beef across the grain into slices about 6 – 8 cms long.
- Mix the marinade ingredients, add the beef slices, mix well and leave to marinate for an hour at room temperature.
- Cut the green beans into 2 cm lengths and blanch for 1 minute in boiling water before refreshing in cold water.
- Lightly toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan over medium heat.
- Cut the garlic chives into 5 cm lengths.
- Heat a swirl of groundnut oil in a large wok until smoking. Add half the beef and marinade and half the beans, stirring fast to cook the beef. Remove and set aside.
- Wipe out the wok if necessary and reheat with another swirl of oil to cook the remaining beef and beans. (No matter how large your wok, don’t be tempted to do this all in one go or you risk stewing the beef rather than searing it.)
- Toss the lot together for a few moments to cook through then sprinkle with sesame seeds and garlic chives.
Serve with boiled rice or add noodles at the final stage of cooking or serve in iceberg lettuce cups.