Goodcooking.com Cookbook Review---

Title: Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges
Author: Jean-Georges Vongerichten
290 pages; Hardcover Photography---Color
Broadway Books, NY, NY, 2007
Reviewed by Chef John Vyhnanek, December 2007


The review---

This is a beautiful cookbook with many attractive pictures to look at, although perhaps too many pictures of Asian scenes--after all I want to see pictures of the recipes. There is an attractive use of black and red reminiscent of a lacquered Asian serving tray, dividing the chapters of the book and highlighting each page. Many of the food shots also use black as the background to highlight the pictures. But a cookbook isn't made on pictures alone, the recipes must be good and appealing too. The book contains more than 175 recipes from Jean-Georges's restaurants Spice Market, Vong and 66.

I wanted to try every recipe in the book, they sounded that good! I chose 3 for a sampler for my meal. Except for the Pork Vindaloo, I wasn’t familiar with the preparations and assumed that these were creations of the chef based on tweaking original recipes and putting his spin on them.

Crunchy Fried Squid Salad was delicious although there were a lot of ingredients in it and some might not be available to you if you don't live in an area with a diverse population. As it turned out, the Pork Vindaloo was not the style or same preparation that I have eaten in many Indian restaurants. Is it a bit of a reach to include a popular Indian dish in an Asian inspired cookbook? Ah, the world of fusion and integrating cooking techniques and intense flavors into new dishes and or even reinterpreting old ones. Certainly Jean-Georges isn't a stranger to this rethinking of flavors and bending the rules of cooking to achieve full flavors and visual impact for the customers he attracts in his restaurants. If you enjoy reinterpretations of recipes, then the techniques in this book all work together in an inspiring mélange that many a food inspired cook will appreciate.  I think you will too!

The big hit for me was the Thai Jewels and Fruits on Crushed Coconut Ice. Wow, what flavors, and an absolute knockout gorgeous presentation to look at! Once again, it wasn't easy to make or find the ingredients, but it was worth it!

Good Cooking likes this book!

Recipes tested---

Pork Vindaloo

Makes 4 servings

2 garlic cloves, chopped
One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, chopped
2 fresh red finger chiles, stemmed and seeded
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds, finely ground
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds pork butt, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon grape seed, corn, or other neutral oil, plus more for deep-frying
1 green cardamom pod
1 whole clove
1 cinnamon stick
2 onions, preferably Spanish, diced
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon sugar, plus more to taste
1/2 cup fresh Thai basil leaves
1/2 cup thinly sliced garlic
1 small jicama, peeled and julienned
2 tablespoons sliced fresh red Thai chiles

One of the most popular Indian curries, vindaloo pairs vinegar with fragrant spices like cinnamon, clove, and cardamom. The resulting flavors are wonderfully complex and warm. This dish is great for making ahead, since the flavors intensify with time. Simply reheat when ready to serve.
l. Put the first 7 ingredients in a blender and blend until the mixture becomes a wet paste. Put the pork in a shallow baking dish and coat the cubes with the spice mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

2. When ready to cook, heat the oil in a large skillet or casserole, which can later be covered, over medium heat. Add the cardamom, clove, and cinnamon and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened and translucent, but not browned, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the pork with its marinade, stir, and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat so the mixture simmers gently, then cover and cook until the pork is tender, about 1 1/2 hours, seasoning with salt and sugar after 45 minutes. Stir from time to time; if the mixture dries out, add a little water. (If you choose to prepare the dish in advance, stop the cooking at this point. Let the curry sit at room temperature for up to a couple of hours, or cover and refrigerate for up to a day. If you like, skim excess fat before reheating and proceeding, adding a little water if necessary.)

4. Pour oil to a depth of 1 inch in a heavy, deep saucepan and heat to 350°F. Carefully add the basil and cook, turning occasionally, until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add the sliced garlic and cook, turning occasionally, until golden brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Season to taste with salt.

5. Taste and adjust the seasoning, garnish with the jicama, basil, garlic, and slivered chiles, and serve.

Crunchy Fried Squid Salad

Makes 4 servings

SPICY SOUR DRESSING
1 tablespoon grape seed, corn, or other neutral oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 small carrot, diced
1/2 small red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
1/2 fresh red Thai chile, stemmed, seeded, and diced 2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon palm sugar
1 tablespoon chili oil, preferably homemade (page 51)

CRUNCHY SQUID SALAD
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup rice or all-purpose flour
Corn or vegetable oil for deep-frying
10 ounces baby squid, bodies cut into /2-inch rings crosswise and tentacles separated
Salt
1 small ripe papaya, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 fresh water chestnuts, peeled and cut into /4-inch slices
1/2 cup cashews, toasted (see page 15) and slightly crushed
One 1-inch piece young ginger, minced
4 cups frisee, roughly chopped

This variation on calamari is my new favorite way of preparing squid. The rice flour makes the utter extra crisp and slightly puffy. The spicy sour dressing accentuates the powerful salad. Everything is crispy, crunchy, and just perfect.

1. To make the dressing: Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the shallots, carrot, pepper, and chile. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the lime juice, vinegar, salt, and sugars. Turn the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is syrupy, about 30 minutes. Almost all of the liquid will have evaporated. Transfer the mixture to a blender. With the blender running, add the chili oil. Blend until completely smooth. Transfer to a shallow dish to cool and set aside.

3. To make the salad: Mix together the soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the rice flour and 1/4 cup water and stir; then add another 1/4 cup water and stir. You should have a smooth, lump-free, medium-thick consistency of batter that runs from the spoon but is not completely liquid. Add more water if needed, and stir.

4. Pour oil to a depth of 2 inches in a heavy, deep saucepan and heat to 375°F Dip the squid in the batter and transfer to the hot oil. Do not overcrowd the pan; work in batches if necessary. Cook until golden brown and really crisp, about 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels and season with salt.

5. Put the papaya, water chestnuts, cashews, ginger, and frisee in a large mixing bowl. Season to taste with salt and toss with the reserved dressing. When everything is well coated, transfer to the serving plates. Top with the fried squid, sprinkle on the sesame seeds, and serve immediately.

Thai Jewels and Fruits on Crushed Coconut Ice

Makes 6 servings

MALI SAUCE

3/4 cup palm sugar
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped
Salt
1 tablespoon mali syrup

COCONUT SAUCE
3 1/2 cups coconut milk
2 vanilla beans, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk

9 ounces fresh water chestnuts, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup red sala syrup, preferably Hale's Blue Boy brand, available in Thai markets
1 1/2 teaspoons green pandan paste, preferably Koepoe-Koepoe brand
Salt
3 cups tapioca starch
Two 10%-ounce bottles coconut juice, preferably Bangkok Market brand
1 cup palm seeds, rinsed and quartered
1 cup thinly sliced jackfruit
1 cup diced red papaya

Phenomenal in taste and appearance, this complex dessert contains bizarre ingredients and techniques, though at its heart is an assortment of different fruits. (There's some shopping to do, but you can find these unusual ingredients in most well-stocked Thai or Chinese markets.) Water chestnuts-considered a fruit in Thailand-are the real attraction here. Mango, passion fruit, kiwi, Asian pear, or pomegranate seeds can be substituted for any of the fruits below. In any case, the goal is different shapes, textures, and colors that match well.

l. To make the mali sauce: Put the palm sugar, vanilla (both seeds and pod), and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan with 1 cup water. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is melted. The mixture does not need to come to a boil.

2. Remove from the heat, stir in the mali syrup, and cool to room temperature. Set aside.

3. To make the coconut sauce: Put the coconut milk, vanilla (both seeds and pod), granulated sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is completely dissolved.

4. Remove from the heat and stir in the milk and 1/3 cup of the mali sauce. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Remove the vanilla pods.

5. Meanwhile, divide the water chestnuts between 2 mixing bowls. Add the red sala syrup to one bowl and the green pandan paste to the other. Mix well to coat and color the water chestnuts. Let sit for at least 10 minutes, or cover and refrigerate for as long as overnight.

6. Drain the water chestnuts into 2 separate colanders and reserve the soaking liquid, keeping the colors separate. Add 1/3 cup mali sauce to each bowl of reserved liquid and mix well. Set aside.

7. Fill 2 large bowls with water and ice and set aside. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a pinch of salt. Meanwhile, toss the red water chestnuts with half the tapioca starch in a colander. Shake vigorously not only to coat well but also to remove any excess starch, which can cause clumping. Add the red water chestnuts to the boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally, until they float to the surface, about 10 minutes. Drain, transfer to an ice water bath, and cool completely. Drain again and transfer to the red mali sauce. Repeat with the green water chestnuts, putting them in the green mali sauce at the end. Set aside.

8. Remove the pieces of coconut from the coconut juice and slice. Set aside. Transfer the coconut juice to a sturdy, large Ziploc bag and freeze. When completely frozen, pound the frozen juice until it becomes finely crushed ice.

9. Drain the red and green water chestnuts and combine in a large mixing bowl. Add the coconut meat, palm seeds, jackfruit, and red papaya and toss well. Divide the coconut ice among the serving bowls. Top with the fruit, then pour the coconut sauce and reserved mali sauce, to taste, over to cover the ice and fruit. Serve immediately with a spoon.