Woks smoked, chillies sizzled and the demo room at London’s School of Wok filled with the tantalising aromas of Vietnamese cuisine.
Aussie-born Luke, of the acclaimed Red Lantern restaurant (and its sibling, Red Lantern on Riley), both in Sydney, was in town to launch a big, beautiful new beast of a book, The Food of Vietnam (£30, Hardie Grant).
As I chatted to Luke before he took to the woks, Luke described his parents, who fled Vietnam as boat people before settling in the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta, as ‘food-obsessed’. The same could be said of this talented young chef, who’s also written three previous books on Vietnamese food after extensive travels in his parents’ home country…
Rice paper rolls with prawns and herbs
As Luke demonstrated three recipes from his latest tome, he explained how to use typical Vietnamese ingredients such as rice paper for summer rolls, did a mini-tasting of Vietnamese and Thai fish sauce, and explained how to get what’s known as ‘the breath of the wok’, which gives wok-cooked food its typical savour (the key is to get the wok hot – really hot).
First up were rice paper rolls with prawns, noodles and herbs, served with nuoc mam cham, a dipping sauce made of fish sauce, vinegar, lime juice, chilli, garlic and sugar that’s served at just about every meal in Vietnam.
Salt and pepper tiger prawns
Next was salt and pepper tiger prawns, cooked with plenty of fresh red chillies. The key techniques: dip the prawns in cornflour and leave the shells left on for optimal crunch.
Beef wok-tossed with green peppercorns was the next dish, cooked in a super-hot wok. The secret, Luke explained, is to let the wok get so hot that smoke starts to rise from it, before you even think about letting the cubes of beef hit the hot steel.
Beef with green peppercorns
Luke finished with little tarts filled with coffee curd made with Vietnamese coffee and sweet condensed milk – the very stuff that every traveller gets addicted to when travelling in Vietnam.
It, and the other dishes Luke cooked, had me hankering to head back to Vietnam. In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for trying a few more recipes from Luke’s book…