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MasterChef man John Torode on new Asian street food inspired cookbook

MasterChef host John Torode takes us on a journey through Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea in his new cookbook. Lauren Taylor finds out more.

MasterChef presenter and chef John Torode's first culinary love is the street food of the Far East

IT MIGHT not feel like it, but MasterChef veteran John Torode has been putting amateur cooks, and some famous faces, through their paces for 13 years on the popular BBC show.

And while you might know him best for his TV partnership with co-host Gregg Wallace, he's also just published his 11th cookbook.

The chef, 52, hails from Melbourne, Australia, but has been living in England for 27 years. His first culinary love, however, comes from much further afield – the street food of the Far East, which, Torode says, "the world is slowly falling in love with".

His new book, Sydney To Seoul, is a culmination of a lifetime of travels around the east of the continent, his Australian heritage, and stories and conversations with street sellers and local chefs who've shared or influenced the recipes he's featured.

Torode's exploration into Asian cooking begun back in the 1990s – "I discovered a world that is fresh and delicious" – and that discovery has influenced his work ever since, from his restaurant menus to the dishes he and his actress partner, Lisa Faulkner, rustle up at home.

The focus is really on food that grew out of necessity, which ordinary people knock up at home every day in Thailand, or grab from street food stalls in Seoul.

"I wanted people to understand it's not about big things, it's about lots of little things," he says.

"I find big plates of food scary now."

From simple Thai classics like fish cakes and som tam (green papaya salad), to karipap pusing (curry puffs) from Malaysia, pajeon (seafood and spring onion pancakes) from South Korea and duck noodle soup from China, the book is a journey of cheap street eats, vibrant curries and fragrant broths.

Like his accent though, Torode's latest book still has an unmistakable Aussie twang – an entire barbecue chapter and brunches that would be perfectly at home in cafes along Sydney Harbour.

This Australian-Asian mix might seem surprising, but, says Torode: "Australia, and its cuisine was brought about by immigration, with Greeks and Italians arriving in the 50s, Vietnamese in the 80s.

"There's huge Portuguese influence in Asia; and limes aren't from South America, they're from Iran. We talk about fusion of different cultures, but it's a world of people moving about and talking bits and pieces with them."

The book also taps into just how much home-cooking has changed in recent years.

"Now, we're seeing a world where you can get the ingredients," says Torode.

"If I'd put Thai fish cakes in a recipe book 10 years ago, people wouldn't necessarily cook it – but now it seems everyone has a bottle of chilli sauce in their cupboard, and coriander is in everybody's fridge, instead of just parsley. Sainsbury's stock gochujang, fish sauce is on every shelf.

"When I first arrived in the UK, nobody ate squid, nobody ate pork belly. I remember putting it on the menu at Smiths [his first restaurant] in 2000, and someone said, 'No one will eat pork belly'," he adds.

Indeed, there's a recipe for bossam, a Chinese glazed pork belly and sticky sauce dish in the book.

Other dishes might be more surprising, even now. The Korean army stew, a strange-sounding combination of American hot dogs, spam and processed cheese, with instant noodles, kimchi and gochujang, Torode calls "bonkers" but "fantastic". It's fusion at its most fascinating – but again born out of necessity.

"In the war, when there was nothing left in Korea, they used to buy food from the American camps – they had hot dogs and and bologna. But kimchi is eaten with every single meal [in Korea], and there's noodles because that's their carbohydrate," Torode explains.

The result was a big pot of hearty stew to feed the family.

These stories are woven into the fabric of the book, and form the backbone to Torode's dishes.

"For me, all the stories are really important, they make me remember the recipe," he says.

:: John Torode's Sydney To Seoul: Recipes From My Travels In Australia And The Far East by John Torode is published by Headline, priced £27

RECIPES

:: HOW TO MAKE JOHN TORODE'S CHOPPED SALMON AND KIMCHI TACOS

Ingredients:

(serves 4-6)

For the pickled red onions:

100ml rice, coconut or apple vinegar

100g caster sugar

1 red onion, finely sliced

For the salmon:

4tsp vegetable oil

100ml lime juice

3 drops of good-quality sesame oil

25ml olive oil

100ml coconut vinegar

4tsp fish sauce

4tsp sugar syrup

200g skinless salmon fillet, very finely diced

To serve:

1/2 cucumber, half peeled, deseeded and diced

2 spring onions, very finely sliced

A handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Kimchi (shop bought or make your own)

Stack of small soft white corn taco shells

100g Japanese mayonnaise

Method:

1. For the pickled red onions, put the vinegar and sugar into a pot and bring to the boil.

2. Remove from the heat as soon as it comes to the boil, leave to cool for two minutes, then drop in the onion and stir. Set to one side until cold.

3. For the salmon, mix all the liquids together in a bowl, then add the salmon, stir, and leave for 10 minutes.

4. To assemble and serve, mix together the cucumber, spring onions, coriander and pickled red onion slices and add to the salmon mixture. Stir well.

5. Warm the taco shells according to the packet instructions. Spoon the salmon mixture and kimchi into the tacos, then squidge some Japanese mayo over each one. Serve immediately.

:: HOW TO MAKE JOHN TORODE'S BUTTERNUT SQUASH RED CURRY WITH TOFU

Ingredients:

(serves 4-6)

For the pickled red onions:

100ml rice, coconut or apple vinegar

100g caster sugar

1 red onion, finely sliced

For the salmon:

4tsp vegetable oil

100ml lime juice

3 drops of good-quality sesame oil

25ml olive oil

100ml coconut vinegar

4tsp fish sauce

4tsp sugar syrup

200g skinless salmon fillet, very finely diced

To serve:

1/2 cucumber, half peeled, deseeded and diced

2 spring onions, very finely sliced

A handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Kimchi (shop bought or make your own)

Stack of small soft white corn taco shells

100g Japanese mayonnaise

Method:

1. For the pickled red onions, put the vinegar and sugar into a pot and bring to the boil.

2. Remove from the heat as soon as it comes to the boil, leave to cool for two minutes, then drop in the onion and stir. Set to one side until cold.

3. For the salmon, mix all the liquids together in a bowl, then add the salmon, stir, and leave for 10 minutes.

4. To assemble and serve, mix together the cucumber, spring onions, coriander and pickled red onion slices and add to the salmon mixture. Stir well.

5. Warm the taco shells according to the packet instructions. Spoon the salmon mixture and kimchi into the tacos, then squidge some Japanese mayo over each one. Serve immediately.

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