hip asian comfort food

Michael Franti
Counting Crows

by erin thursby (photos by linda blakely)
Restaurant cookbooks are about more than just recipes. They’re a window into the secrets of the cuisine they serve. That’s why I was eager to get my hands on a new local cookbook by Dennis Chan, the chef and owner of one of my favorite restaurants, Blue Bamboo. The gorgeous book is titled Hip Asian Comfort Food.
Not only does it have beautiful pictures (kudos to photographer Linda Blakely) and easy to follow recipes, it gives you a peek as to what goes on in Dennis Chan’s wok. Lots of the restaurant favorites and signature items are included.
Chan’s East-meets-West recipe stylings are endorsed by none other than Ming Tsai of Food Network fame, who hosted East Meets West and is currently hosting two cooking shows on Public Television and on Fine Living.
Dragon Whiskers are an appetizer that we always order at Blue Bamboo, so we were happy to see a recipe in the book. While ours were pretty good, I’ll be coming back to Blue Bamboo instead of making them at home.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a deep fryer or a fry basket, so we weren’t able to reproduce it exactly. I also think that his whiskers are cooked much more briefly and at a higher temperature than we tried to cook ours. It was more failure of lack of equipment than a failing of the recipe. That being said, if I had never had Dennis’ version, I would have been plenty happy with our slightly crispier, messier version.
Thumbing through the book, I found that most of the dishes required very little in specialized equipment and most were simple enough that even a novice could pick up the book and serve some excellent cuisine.
The Honey Soy Glazed Burger is a marriage of something quintessentially Western, cooked with Eastern flavor and it looks easy but tasty to undertake.
My husband tried his hand at the Rama Thai Delight. He rarely cooks and is generally unsure of himself in the kitchen, but he was able to execute it with little trouble, thanks to the easy instructions. It’s a red Thai curry and peanut recipe that you can use as a base for chicken, beef or shrimp. We expected the dish to bring more heat than it did, but it was flavorful and easy to execute. It’s a great dish for those that like a little heat and want to try something slightly exotic.
One of the recipes in the book that I was excited to see was the Coconut Lemongrass Crab Cakes. I had actually tried to reproduce my own version at home after tasting the crab cakes at Blue Bamboo before I knew about the recipe book. It settled an argument as to whether or not there was coconut cream in the crab cakes, or just in the sauce. (Score one for me, I was right! It’s just in the sauce.) I had nearly everything right, though I didn’t catch the crab boil seasoning, and instead added a little sriracha chili sauce. I’m glad to be able to reference the real thing.
While the baking recipes are precise in measurement, the cooking recipes are sometimes a little looser, although they’re still easy to follow.
Thai Tea Creme Brulee is the dessert that I keep coming back to at Blue Bamboo. Now I can make it at home thanks to the recipe on page 170. Another Blue Bamboo classic is the Mandarin Orange Cake, which is a great balance between creamy sweetness and citrus tartness. The secret might be the pineapple creme cheese frosting.
If you’re looking for yummy and unique drinks to serve at your next cocktail party then look no further than the Potables section of the recipe book. Eastern flavors make Western-style cocktails fresh and new again, as with the Vietnamese coffee martini, the lemongrass infused vodka martini and the cucumber lime saktail (which is made with smooth cold sake instead of vodka.) There are also some interesting non alcoholic options, such as a classic red thai tea and a yummy sounding ginger milkshake.
You can order Hip Asian Comfort Food ($34.95) on the website hipasiancomfortfood.com or just go to Blue Bamboo itself on Southside Blvd. You can also find it at Cork and Keg in Julington Creek, Wine Warehouse in Atlantic Beach, The Book Mark in Atlantic Beach, and Hong Kong Trading Co, next to Blue Bamboo.