by Kate Heyhoe
Lemongrass, as many chefs have discovered, has applications far beyond the borders of Southeast Asian cuisine. I've seen lemongrass in crème brulee, cheesecake, iced tea, and salad dressings. Lemongrass imparts a citrus tone to a dish, but its flavor is milder and more velvety than lemon juice. While lemon juice's best asset is its vibrant, puckering intensity, lemongrass's talent lies in its ability to infuse dishes with a seductive and elusive aroma, and a subtle undertone that pairs especially well with other clean, fresh flavors.
Fresh lemongrass invigorates non-Asian recipes that might otherwise be overwhelmed by real lemon juice. For instance, the French typically braise peas in a saucepan with butter, green onion, and strips of finely julienned lettuce in a delicate dish known as Pois Frais en Braisage. I recently adapted this dish by cooking minced lemongrass in butter with minced green onion, then adding frozen peas, and just before serving, tossing in a handful of thin ribbons of Chinese napa cabbage, all cooked in a microwave oven. The result: a quick and refreshing twist on an elegant, traditional standby. (As a variation, try making the same dish using frozen edamame beans.)
I've become quite fond of everyday steamed vegetables like broccoli and string beans tossed with lemongrass-infused butter. Lemongrass also works magic when chopped and dropped into the liquid for poached chicken and chicken stock. Ditto for turkey and fish stocks. Buddhist priests prepare lemongrass tea as a relaxing, calming beverage, and I can see why. Just a bruised, 2-inch section of lemongrass dropped into a pot of steeping tea releases lovely citrus tones, without blasting away the special flavor of good-quality tea leaves.
Lemongrass is sold in Southeast Asian markets, usually in bunches of five or six stalks. Look for ones that not very dried out at top. Even though the tops are discarded, they indicate the freshness of the whole stalk.
Trim off the grassy top and root end. Peel away the outer fibrous layers until you reach the tender core, which is lavender or light purple in color. In dishes calling for minced lemongrass, you'll chop up only the bottom four inches or so. The rest of the stalk can be used as skewers for grilled meats or split and cut into short pieces for infusing stocks and teas. Bruising the lemongrass with the side of a knife or cleaver helps release the fragrant, flavorful oils. Minced lemongrass is typically used as is, or pounded into a paste with a mortar and pestle.
I've selected below a few lemongrass recipes from The FoodWine Archives, and my own new tuna recipe inspired by über-chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Copyright © 2003, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created June 2003
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