I was really happy to be able to catch this series on its initial broadcast last year; I’ve liked sushi for a while now (my parents tell me that my home-made stuff is pretty good) and I wanted to learn more about the variety of food that comes under the heading of ‘Asian cuisine’. That made the purchase of this glorious recipe book an absolute no-brainer!
The book is divided up in more-or-less the same way as the series; after an introductory section, the recipes are organised by country of origin (following the broadcast order of the episodes): Hong Kong, Bangkok and Central Thailand, North and South Thailand, Tokyo, Kyoto and Rural Japan, South Korea. After these sections, which are by and large savoury/main dishes, there is a section titled ‘Puddings and Cakes’; these sweet dishes did not really appear in the programme, but they were gathered and composed to complement the other recipes. Some of these sweets are fairly uncontroversial (such as the ginger cookies or the poached plums), but some — like the fried ice cream with butterscotch sauce (I kid you not!) — are surprising, to say the least. After this section, you find a detailed A-Z list of ingredients used in the book that might not be immediately familiar to Western tastes, as well as a comprehensive list of the best suppliers of Asian food and ingredients in the UK.
As with all Hairy Bikers recipe books, Asian Adventure is lavishly illustrated. Most recipes are accompanied by a colour photograph of the finished dish; where this is not the case, there is usually a picture of the Bikers preparing ingredients or getting into the local culture and enjoying themselves immensely. Between recipes and sections, there are stills from the series, pictures of food being prepared, hunger-inducing shots of multiple dishes laid out as for a buffet… Wow. This book is a work of art.
Constraints of time and budget mean that I have not had a great deal of time to experiment with recipes. Furthermore, quite a few of the Thai and Korean recipes have a sufficiently powerful spice component that I would have to think carefully about how to modify them. However, I have successfully made tonkatsu pork (the link leads to the recipe on the BBC Food website). It turned out very well! I used a small bottle of shōchū (the acquisition of which inspired me to try this recipe) instead of sake in the tonkatsu sauce, and substituted sherry for mirin, the latter ingredient being difficult to find. The sauce was very flavoursome. Once I’d breadcrumbed the pork loin steaks, I baked them at 180C for 25 minutes, rather than frying them according to the recipe — I was reluctant to add more grease to the dish than was absolutely necessary. The steaks and sauce were served with cucumber and spring onions, and went down a treat! Next time I work from this book, I’d like to try doing okonomiyaki, the authentic chashu pork ramen (in the show, the Bikers did this one at the base of Mt Fuji itself!) or one of the katsu burger recipes — beef or prawn, it doesn’t matter which. It all looks so good!
I only have a couple of real gripes:
- A lot of the recipes contain instructions to add salt where salt is not strictly necessary. These recipes can be made without the excess salt at all, without adversely affecting the outcome in any way. There are only one or two recipes in the whole book where salt is, strictly speaking, necessary; in these cases, salt is used to remove excess moisture from certain types of leaf used in the recipe, and is not added to the dish itself in any great quantity.
- Quite a few of the recipes call for deep-frying; apart possibly from the fried ice cream recipe (I am really not joking about that!), it should be possible to use shallow-frying, oven-baking or steaming instead (with a little ingenuity).
- A fairly minor personal thing — the variety and quantity of recipes in the book mean that the section on sushi is a bit thin. This is strictly a personal thing, though, because I’ve been a bit spoiled on the sushi recipe front by Sushi for Dummies — detailed and fascinating!
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Asian cuisine. It covers all the bases and then some!