This is my second Bill Granger cookbook, having previously tried recipes from Bill's Basics. That book had an undeniably Asian bias so it's no surprise that he has turned his hand to an exclusively Asian book.
Now Bill is Australian and it shows in his choice of ingredients. They are readily available in Coles supermarkets but may present more of a challenge to UK readers. Mirin, in particular, is simply not a flavour that you'll find in Europe, which is a pity because it adds a big and special sweetness (with a slightly vinegary edge) to a meal. And it seems to crop up in a surprising number of the recipes in the book.
At first, I thought the recipes weren't quite right. In particular, there was a reliance on green beans fried for a minute which left them crisper than I thought was tight. But after visiting South East Asia I can vouch that they are right. If you want the beans softer, just steam them for a bit. Many of the recipes seem to have a lot of things coming together in the last five minutes for which a clean kitchen and a cool head make a lot of difference. It's true that most recipes are one pot, but you need plenty of bowls and boards for the ingredients and if you are preparing more than one thing at once, there will be banging pots aplenty. But of all the cookbooks I have I seem to keep coming back to Bill's Everyday Asian. The recipes do require some cooking skills - especially judging when things are just right, but the flavours are awesome.
I have tried several recipes from the book:
Classic stir-fried chicken and basil: works OK, but is nicer with pork. The chicken mince tends to get a bit claggy and the beans should probably have been pre-cooked a little. One and a half minutes in a dryish pot of mince simply won't cook them.
Stir-fried chilli pork: works very well; rich flavours from the hoisin sauce work superbly with the mirin; the pork absorbs the flavours, turns quite dark brown and the sauce is glutionous. Not sure why the recipe tells you to leave the chilli stalks on as that just means you have to hold the stalks with your fingers and bite off the chillies.
Beef rendang: the recipe says it cooks in 2-2.5 hours. It doesn't. I needed more than four hours to get the consistency right - beef tender to the point of falling apart - because the sauce is quite dry. It also needed topping up with water from time to time, despite being on the lowest simmer heat. The end result, though, was divine - as good or better than any rendang I have had before.
Green bean sambal: a simple recipe that would not work without pre-steaming the beans to lose some of the raw crunch. I don't know how Bill thinks grean beans can cook in one minute of stir frying - and I'm not trying to get soft beans, just ones that don't feel completely raw.
Steamed Asian greens: cooked this with a mixture of broccolini and pak choi and it was superb. The veg, which are blanched rather than steamed, are OK but the sauce lifts the dish into a magical realm. Very rich and sweet with the mirin working wonders.
Pork larb - this Lao dish is a staple - the kids keep asking for a reprise and the fun is enhanced by using the Lao method of eating with fingers, wrapping meat in bits of lettuce.
Fish sambal - works perfectly and the blend of chilli and anchovy in the sambal sauce makes your tastebuds sing.
Coconut rice - the recipe says leave alone with the lid on - this led to burnt rice at the bottom of the pan and the top part of the rice was a bit sticky - the flavour was good and I'm willing to work to make this right.
Beef salad with orange dressing - really works, the orange dressing is unusual but had enormous complexity
Salmon and lychee salad - this is a splendid recipe that is full of depth. All of the individual flavours of the fresh ingredients shine through (more so if you use fresh lychees rather than tinned ones)
The presentation of the book is worth mentioning. It's A4, hardback (so it stays open at the right page), bound in pink with an embossed dust jacket with a gorgeous design. It is chock full of photos - most recipes have a photo (which does actually look like the finished product), interspersed with unlabelled double page photo spreads. Most of these are of food, but because it isn't labelled, you can't turn to the recipe to reproduce nice looking dishes. Some recipes are of Bill himself and his daughters. Two double spreads are of the same lake - one with Bill in the foreground and one without. These photo spreads add nothing at all; they just pad out a book and make it more likely that it will be stored on a coffee table than in a kitchen. On the positive side, Bill's Asian Pantry is a useful addition to the book, listing some of the more esoteric ingredients and explaining exactly what they are and what purpose they serve - making substitutions more straightforward. It's also fun to have a book which is prepared to mix and match - having Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Malay and Indonesian recipes all in the same book - sometimes in the same recipe.
On balance, this book works. I am prepared to trust the recipes and the whole family love the results. The recipes do require some technique but if you are competent in the kitchen you will be able to get pretty spectacular results from relatively straightforward work. Bill's recipes may not always be traditionally pure, but he knows how to make fresh, good quality ingredients combine to make something that adds up to more than the parts.
My review started out as three star some years ago. Time and use has earned it the full five stars. I recommend this book.