It seems kind of strange, writing this blog post at this moment, with all the crazy weather that is taking place in our nation right now. The wind is gusting powerfully even here in Ohio, and I can only imagine the destruction that is taking place eastward. To those that live in the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy, know that I am praying for your safety.
When I received a review copy of Patricia Tanumihardja’s The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook a few months ago, I was thrilled. The book was released in August of this year, and its concept is one I can appreciate. With a passion for capturing lost and never recorded cooking techniques, the author interviewed and spent numerous hours in the kitchens of several older Asian American women, gleaning their wisdom and knowledge. Her book contains the personal stories of some of these ladies and, of course, many of their recipes.
There is a lot to love about this cookbook. Patricia provides explanations of unusual Asian ingredients, including photos of some, and she covers a lot of ground by presenting recipes from multiple nations. Methods and techniques are described in detail, giving novice cooks the tools needed for success; options for variations plus additional notes and tips are listed as well. Overall, the book has me intrigued and enthusiastic about Asian cooking. The recipes for Garlic Fried Rice, Korean Barbecue Beef Short Ribs, and Sweet Melon and Tapioca Pearls in Coconut Milk are all on my to-make list.
My main critique of this cookbook is that I feel like it stops short of its full potential. The photos are gorgeous, only I wish there were more images to help dispel some of the mystery behind these new-to-me dishes. The recipes are lovely, but I am left craving education on the sub-types of Asian cooking, such as what ingredients and techniques are usually associated with Thai cooking or Vietnamese cooking, etc. There is also a noticeable void of common Asian dishes. Perhaps this is intentional in order to get readers thinking outside the box of what’s typically served in American restaurants, but I was left wondering how to make some of my favorites, such as Crab Rangoon and Pad Thai. Lastly, the table of contents isn’t very detailed, but now I’m just getting nitpicky.
Overall, The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook is a book I plan to keep cooking and learning from for the foreseeable future and one that I’d recommend to others. We tried the Chicken Adobo last night, and everyone agreed it was something we should make again. A short braise on the stovetop is all that is needed to cook the meat, and then it goes into a skillet to crisp the skin before serving with a side of steamed rice. The garlic, black peppercorns, vinegar, and soy sauce mellow and integrate nicely as it cooks, creating a sauce that is nothing short of scrumptious.
- 1 cup cane vinegar or distilled white vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 6 cloves garlic, smashed with the flat part of a cleaver or large knife
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns, crushed
- 8 whole chicken leg quarters (4 to 5 pounds), cut into drumstick and thigh sections
- 3/4 cup soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Chopped green onions for garnish
- In a large nonreactive pot or Dutch oven, mix together the vinegar, water, garlic, bay leaves, and black peppercorns. Add the chicken. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Add the soy sauce and stir to coat the chicken evenly. Cover and simmer for another 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a plate, shaking off as much excess liquid as possible. Pat the pieces dry with paper towels. Discard the bay leaves. Skim the fat from the sauce and set aside.
- In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat until very hot but just before smoking. In batches, add the chicken and pan-fry until crisp and browned evenly on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Add the reserved sauce and stir for a few minutes while scraping up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan. Simmer over low heat until reduced slightly, about 10 minutes.
- Transfer the chicken to a rimmed platter, pour the sauce over, and scatter with green onions.
Recipe reprinted with permission from the author.
Tips and Tidbits
- While I thought this recipe was tasty as-is, I might try cutting back on the soy sauce and increasing the amount of black peppercorns next time. Also, maybe a smidge of sugar to contrast with the tang of the vinegar.
- As a head’s up, I had a hard time keeping the skin of the chicken intact when transferring it from my braising pot to the skillet. It had become delicate through the cooking process and was easily punctured. I’m wondering if it would work to broil the chicken very close to the heat instead of pan-frying it; that way, there’d be less mess on the stove top, plus I might be able to save more of the skin that way.