With 14 series of MasterChef under his belt, John Torode knows a thing or two about delicious dishes. Follow his epic flavour trip from Sydney’s brunch spots to the street stalls of Thailand with recipes from his new book
“It would be lovely If this book gave you itchy feet and made you want to travel, not just to the most touristy of spots, but also the markets all over Asia, Australia and the rest of the world.”
If there’s one thing MasterChef presenter, chef and writer John Torode has never been shy of sharing, it’s his love of spicy flavours. We caught up with the Aussie-turned-Londoner to talk Asian food culture, the worst thing he’s ever eaten (whale vomit jelly… ) and which is the best MasterChef: “The original, of course!”
John explains the many reasons he loves the food of this region: “Food waste is a bugbear of mine, and that’s what I love about South East Asian-food culture. You’re talking about countries that have never had refrigeration and the result is an extraordinary array of fresh produce, which has been brought to market, bought and eaten immediately.
“Street stalls are my favourite places to eat. When I started travelling, I was seduced by the smells and sounds of cooking food. I just fell in love with the flavours, vibrancy and the sheer simplicity of it all.
“I filmed in India last year and one of my big concerns was getting ill. But I was foolish – because the food of the streets of Asia is made for the people who live there – it’s not put
on for tourists. This is their lunch, so a stall holder has to make really good food every single day. You’re more likely to get ill in a hotel eating western food like a burger – because how do you know where that’s come from?
John's love of good food started early. “My mother died when I was four years old, and I lived with my Nanna. She made apple cake, pikelets and great basics like roast chicken. She would never have tasted most of the ingredients in this book.
“I lived in Australia until 1990. At 5.30 in the morning, everyone is swimming or surfing and in a café by 7am having breakfast. That’s just the way the culture is there – built for the outdoors. I believe the greatest food is born out of necessity and comes from ordinary people. I hope that in this recipe book you find a little inspiration.”
Recipes taken from Sydney to Seoul, published by Headline Books, £27
Cinnamon and nashi
pear French toast
“French toast, eggy bread, pain perdu, whatever you wish to call it, it has been one of my favourites since my Nanna made it when I was just a little one.”
1 tsp salt
½ baguette (preferably day-old or stale, though you can use fresh)
2 nashi (Asian) pears
100g caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
A squeeze of lemon juice
50ml double cream
50g Greek-style yoghurt
A couple of drops of vanilla essence
Finely grated zest of 1 mandarin
In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the milk and salt. Cut the baguette in half lengthways, then cut each piece in half again widthways to make four pieces, so all the pieces of bread have a flat top.
Add the bread pieces to the egg mix and turn to coat, then leave to soak for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
Cut each pear into 12 equal wedges, removing the core as you go. If you are not using nashi pears, you will need to peel the pears, as nashis have
a thin skin. Melt the butter in a non-stick pan, then add the pear and cook over a medium heat for 2 minutes. Gently stir in 50g of the sugar, the cinnamon and the lemon juice, then remove from the heat. Leave to cool a little.
Take the soaked baguette pieces and transfer to a shallow baking tray.
Arranging six wedges of the cooked pear on each piece of bread and spoon over the sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar, then bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. By now the pears should have sunk into the eggy bread and the sugar and egg mix should have become crisp.
Meanwhile, mix together the cream, yoghurt, vanilla and mandarin zest, then pop it into the fridge.
Remove from the oven and serve the French toast with the flavoured cream.
Thai fish cakes
“This is one of the easiest Thai snacks, but it is also one of the most misunderstood. The texture of the fish cakes should be slightly rubbery, with a textured outer coating. They should contain a good amount of spice with lots of lime leaves. I have done my utmost to be as authentic as I can with this recipe.”
Ingredients For the fish cakes
100g skinless salmon fillet
100g skinless cod fillet
150g prepared squid (or cuttlefish)
30g red curry paste
8 lime leaves, very finely shredded
2 snake (yard long) beans or green beans, chopped
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 large egg white
1 tbsp oyster sauce
200ml vegetable oil, for deep-frying
A handful of fresh coriander sprigs
Sweet chilli sauce
2 fresh red chillies, de-seeded and finely diced
½ cucumber, de-seeded and diced
15g roasted peanuts, chopped
Blend the salmon, cod and squid in a food processor until smooth. Add the red curry paste and pulse until mixed.
Put all the other ingredients, except the vegetable oil, in a bowl. Mix in the fish mixture, then knead everything together for 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. To achieve a texture
similar to the fish cakes from Thai street stalls, you should literally throw the paste into the bowl several times to make the mixture more elastic.
Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or deep frying pan to 180°C or until the oil bubbles up around the handle of a wooden spoon. Drop heaped teaspoonfuls of the mixture into the hot oil and deep-fry the fish cakes in batches over a medium heat until golden, about 4 minutes. Drain on kitchen paper.
Serve the fish cakes with a scattering of fresh coriander and a bowl of the sweet chilli sauce mixed with the chilli and cucumber and the chopped peanuts on top.
Chiang Mai noodles with chicken
“I love this - a one-bowl wonder. Why they’re called Chiang Mai noodles I’m unsure, because in the north of Thailand very little coconut milk is used in dishes so this is unusual for the region. Regardless, try this as it’s quick, easy and what I think of as comfort food.”
500g flat rice noodles
400ml tinned coconut milk
1 tbsp red curry paste
1 tbsp palm sugar
4 skinless, boneless chicken thigh fillets, cut into small pieces
1 tbsp fish sauce, or to taste
200ml vegetable oil
4 small Thai shallots, sliced
1 large fresh red chilli, sliced
A handful of fresh Thai basil leaves
5 fresh coriander sprigs, leaves picked
Chilli sauce, to serve
First soak three-quarters of the noodles in warm water for 20 minutes while you make the rest of the dish, then drain.
In a wok, cook the thick coconut milk from the top layer of the tin over a medium heat until it splits, then add the red curry paste. Fry for 5 minutes, until fragrant, then add the palm sugar and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Add the chicken, turn to coat in the curry paste, then cook for a few minutes, stirring all the time.
Now add the remaining coconut milk, bring to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the fish sauce.
Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a separate pan until hot, then add the remaining noodles (for the garnish) and fry until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the crisp noodles to kitchen paper and leave to cool.
In a third pan, plunge the soaked noodles into boiling water for 1 minute. Divide the boiled noodles between four bowls, then cover each portion the chicken sauce.
Garnish with the shallots, chilli slices, Thai basil and coriander, then crumble the crisp fried noodles over and serve with a little chilli sauce on the side.