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Here, chef Leah Cohen shares six Asian ingredients that everyone needs to know.
This Friday, the sixth annual LuckyRice Festival Grand Feast presented by Bombay Sapphire EAST hits New York City. With incredible chefs like Top Chef champion Kristen Kish, RedFarm’s Ed Schoenfeld and Pig & Khao’s Leah Cohen, the feast showcases dishes from all over Asia—everything from Vietnamese-style beef carpaccio to Japanese-inspired milk chocolate mocha bars to cocktails made with China’s favorite spirit, baijiu. The massive event is a great chance for people to discover a huge group of Asian foods and ingredients in one go and perhaps find a new, must-have pantry staple—a new Sriracha.
For those who can’t make the party, chef Leah Cohen shares six Asian ingredients that everyone needs to know.
“I don’t think there are any cuisines I cook that don’t use fish sauce,” says Cohen. Her favorite is Red Boat from Vietnam. “Each brand has a different salt level, so you can’t use them interchangeably,” she says. “Typically, the Vietnamese ones are less salty than the Thai brands, but you need to test and taste.”
Cohen uses small amounts of the ultra-pungent, umami-packed paste in fried rice, curries, stews and marinades. Though many countries make it, she prefers versions from either the Philippines or Thailand. “When I go to Thailand every year, I buy it from this woman who sells it at this market in Bangkok. I bring back jars of it. Andy Ricker [of the Pok Pok empire] makes his own, but I still don’t know how. I’ll just keep getting it from my girl in Thailand.”
Cohen uses palm sugar in everything from salad dressings to curries to sauces. “My favorite brand is EastLand,” she says. “Some are like bricks, but this one comes in a jar, and it’s spoonable. It gives everything a nice richness and depth of flavor compared to regular sugar. Don’t believe any recipes that say brown sugar is a good substitute.”
Maggi Seasoning Sauce
“I don’t even know what’s in it, but it’s crack,” Cohen says. “It makes everything taste better. I mainly use it in the Filipino dishes that we make, but it’s even great in a stir-fry at home.” She recommends using Maggi in place of soy sauce, paired with a touch of fish sauce.
Thai Chile Flakes
Smoky Thai chile flakes are available at specialty grocery stores in the US, but Cohen gets hers from a supermarket in Thailand. “The ones that I get aren’t as spicy as the ones you find in Chinatown,” she says. “They have more of a chile flavor, and they’re smokier. I use them in sauces and dressings. I always like to add a little bit of heat to balance everything out.”
“Vietnam is known for their black peppercorns,” she says. “They’re much better than the stuff you find here. When I was in Vietnam, there was this dipping sauce that was made with just salt, peppercorns and lime juice. It was used for all the grilled meats and shrimp. The pepper made the sauce insane.”