balance & harmony – Asian Food – Neil Perry
A book review by Franz Scheurer
What grabs you first with this cookbook is the packaging: it’s superb. Just visually this would make a fantastic and impressive present. A padded, hardcover book, all in red (the lucky colour) presented in an exquisite green box, covered with a flower motif, held together by a couple of ribbons, it feels and looks substantial. Will the content stand up to the presentation?
The photography is unmistakably Earl Carter; his style is inimitable and suits Perry’s food well. I love the image on page 149 where Carter manages to cover an incredible contrast range without losing any detail and the mood-shot on page 385 show off white sticky rice perfectly, but my favourite is on page 10, an old scale topped with noodles: it speaks to me! Sue Fairlie-Cuninghame does the styling, and it shows. You just can’t beat experience and a good eye for detail.
The book is divided into FINDING BALANCE AND HARMONY IN THE KITCHEN, BASIC THECHNIQUES AND RECIPES and ADVANCED RECIPES AND BANQUET MENUS, and each one of these is subdivided into chapters, separated by a sheet of parchment paper.
Perry loves Asian food and he knows how to cook it and appreciates the strong flavours, the contrasting textures and tastes. To quote Perry: “ When you cook the dishes in this book it’s important to remember that, much of the time, you’re dealing with intense flavours. Always remember the most important part of the cooking process: taste, to find balance between those flavours. You will hear me say ‘balance, balance, balance’ throughout this book and when I’m not saying ‘balance’ I’ll be talking about harmony. These are the cornerstones of good Asian cooking”.
Perry deals with basic ingredients, equipment, basic recipes and sauces thoroughly and I love the fact that he never cuts corners or uses inferior produce. His salads are at once classical and inspiring and I suggest you try the Roast Duck & Lychee Salad on page 75. Perfectly steeped chicken is one item that is very average in most restaurants because they cut corners or serve you less than a fresh dish. Follow the recipe for White-Cut Chicken on page 84 and you’ll appreciate the difference. Perry’s Stir-Fried Blue Eye with Bean Sprouts & XO Sauce on page 126 is sensational and uses his XO sauce from page 47. Everyone does salt & pepper tofu these days but Perry gets it right (page 183), using prickly ash (Sichuan pepper and salt, recipe on page 55) and the difference is huge. In the banquet section things get a bit more involved, but time and diligence will guarantee your success. I love the idea of Stir-Fried Beef Fillet with Leek & Spanish Onion (page 226) and I know his Mandarin Pancakes (page 274) are the best I’ve tasted. The most unusual dish is one of the easiest to make: Chinese Sausage Streamed in Rice (page 374) and the aromas will just about drive you crazy (enough to make a vegetarian eat meat!). Finish your meal with something light and sweet and the Pineapple, Lime & Ginger Granita (page 382) is perfect.
So does the content of the book live up to its packaging? Absolutely!
A bonus for Sydneysiders is the fact that very soon Neil Perry will be opening a Chinese restaurant in the CBD, exploring regional cuisines.
Have a good look at it in your favourite bookshop!
Published by Murdoch Books