It’s a nice surprise for Malaysia to win an international book prize for French cuisine. And even nicer that we did it with palm oil. That should silence the critics and blacklisters out there.
At the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards held in Yantai, China at the end of last month, the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) won the second prize for Best French Cuisine Book in the World for the book Palm To Plate. Another of their books, Malaysian Palm Oil: The Essential Ingredient In Delicious Food won the first prize for Best Corporate Book in the World. So that’s two yays in a row for Malaysian palm oil.
MPOC chief executive officer Datuk Dr Kalyana Sundram is thrilled with the win. Sharing in the delight is Rodolphe Onno, technical director of Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia, who contributed recipes and the foreword to Palm To Plate. This association is probably critical to the winning of the prize if you ask me.
“I’m enchanted by this win,” says Onno, a real sweetie. “I think we all came together, local and foreign chefs, as one voice to bring Malaysian palm oil in many varied delicious recipes from Western to Malaysian.”
It’s a book of possibilities. The fact that it won for French cuisine is really a leap of the imagination and faith in Malaysian palm oil. The backstory is that Palm To Plate was seeded as a book to celebrate Malaysian palm oil’s 100th year (2017). The effort is a culinary collaboration between the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, Star Media Group and a constellation of star chefs.
Besides Onno, the other French chefs who contributed to Palm To Plate are David Martin of La Traboule in Paris, Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia chef instructor Patrick Lemesle, and founder-director of The French Culinary School in Asia Jean Michel Fraisse.
Chef Martin, also a TV host and son of legendary 70s French TV star Jacques Martin, famously started the Palm Oil Food Truck project, going around the busy arrondissements of Paris in an outfitted mobile, cooking and serving food made with Malaysian palm oil. He’s happy to tell you that palm oil’s his best friend after he discovered its “incredible benefits” while in Cambodia running The Malraux, a restaurant at the foot of Angkor Wat.
For David Martin’s recipe for Breaded Wings With Devil Sauce and his other recipes from Palm To Plate, please click on the link.
Working with scientist and cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Guy-André Pelouze, at a time when palm oil was much maligned in Europe, he was brave to go out and bust the myth that palm oil is unhealthy and unnatural.
“This is simply not true,” he has said (but more on this later). Roaming the French capital, he led Parisians by the nose to discover that cooking with Malaysian palm oil is deliciously rewarding and healthy. The recipes to two of the casual finger foods Martin prepared are shared in the book: potato churros with a French Choron sauce enriched with clarified butter and scented with tarragon, and breaded chicken wings with devil sauce.
On a more “atas” aria, Chef Onno and Lemesle demonstrate that even on a fine dining stage, Malaysian palm oil can play important roles. Onno makes Malaysian palm oil a star ingredient in his Tuna Marinated in Flavoured Malaysian Palm Oil, a beautiful overture of fish and vegetable carpaccio. Lemesle’s Entrement Palmango is a cake tango of turmeric sponge layers, nutty lemon crumble and mango mousse imbued with basil-infused palm oil.
“I appreciate the deep orangey-red colour of palm oil and its particular taste, its rich pro-vitamin A carotenoids, and the high smoking point of 235°C making it a good oil for deep frying,” says Onno.
The book dials up more science when it invites popular food science sleuth Chris Chan, behind the Curious Cook column for Star2, to weigh in. Conducting his own independent research, he ends up placing it ahead of many other oils and pointing out a few sciencey facts about palm oil that we may not have known.
It should be noted first, he says, that oil palm trees have never been genetically modified. In contrast, over 88% of corn crop in the United States is derived from genetically modified seeds, 90% for canola (rapeseeds) and the percentage rises to over 92% for soy. So when cooking with palm oil, you are cooking with a completely natural product.
While a lot has been written about the high level of saturated fats in palm oil, less written about is that it also has a high level of unsaturated fats: 44% palmitic acid and 5% stearic acid, both saturated fats, and 39% oleic acid and 10% linoleic acid, which are unsaturated fats. “So the fats in palm oil are equally balanced between saturated and unsaturated fats.” Check.
Most people would also assume that all cooking oils are derived from simply pressing the source plant material but that’s not true. While pressing is used to extract palm oil and olive oil, some cooking oils are derived using strong chemical solvents like hexane, which is derived from gasoline and crude petroleum. Although the oil is then extracted by evaporating the mixture to retire the solvent, it is highly likely some residue remains in the cooking oil. So if you do the math, in terms of health and value for money, Malaysian palm oil is a standout.
Palm To Plate, being a centenary book for Malaysian palm oil, celebrates not only French cuisine, but Italian and Malaysian as well. There are substantial recipe contributions from Italian chef Federico Micheletto, long-time resident of Kuala Lumpur, and chef Richard Millar of The Datai Langkawi.
Celebrated and outstanding Malaysian chefs Debbie Teoh, Catherine Lau and Safura Atan contribute the bulk of the recipes which share a striking feature: they are all easy to prepare and kitchen-tested yummy, making this a book to take us to another 100 years of Malaysian palm oil.
À votre santé!
EGGPLANT & MANGO COLD SOBA NOODLES
200g dried soba noodles
1 tsp Malaysian palm oil
1 mango, peeled and cubed
1 eggplant, cubed and fried
6 tbsp Malaysian palm oil
2 tbsp miso paste
2 tbsp mirin or white vinegar
1 tbsp white sesame seeds, toasted
1 tbsp black sesame seeds, toasted
black pepper to taste
To prepare noodles
Cook the soba noodles in rapidly boiling water according to packet instructions. Drain and toss with Malaysian palm oil. Place in a covered container in the fridge to chill until cold. For rapid cooling you can use ice cubes.
For the dressing
In a small mixing bowl, combine the dressing ingredients and mix well.
Assemble and serve
In a large mixing bowl, combine the noodles, mango, eggplant and prepared dressing. Toss to mix well. Serve chilled, or at room temperature. – Recipe by Jean Michel Fraisse
CRISP & SPICY OYSTER MUSHROOMS
100g oyster mushrooms
600ml Malaysian palm oil for deep frying
4 tbsp cornflour
4 tbsp rice flour
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp fine salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 can evaporated milk
4 sprigs curry leaves
1-2 red bird’s eye chillies, sliced
1-2 green bird’s eye chillies, sliced
1 tbsp vegetarian mushroom powder or 1 tsp chicken stock powder
1 tsp salt or to taste
1 tsp sugar or to taste
To deep fry mushrooms
Tear mushrooms into large pieces. In a bowl, combine flour mixture ingredients and toss with the mushrooms, shaking off excess. In a wok, heat the palm oil. Deep fry the mushrooms in batches until crispy. Remove and drain on paper towels.
In a clean wok or frying pan, cook margarine and evaporated milk together until mixture is grainy. Add in curry leaves, chillies, and seasoning powder. Toss the mushrooms in the mixture and season to taste. Serve immediately. – Recipe by Debbie Teoh
FRIED ZUCCHINI FLOWER WITH RICOTTA & BOTTARGA
8 zucchini flowers
water and ice
1 litre Malaysian palm oil for deep frying
40g bottarga fish roe
100g ricotta cheese
30g spinach, blanched in salted water, drained and chopped
20g parmesan cheese, grated
1 tbsp almond flakes, or crushed almonds
1 tbsp amaretto almond liqueur
sea salt to taste
Fresh tomato sauce
2 tbsp Malaysian palm oil
1 small onion, chopped
330g peeled tomatoes (canned)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
For stuffed zucchini flowers
In a mixing bowl, combine all the filling ingredients and whisk until smooth. Season to taste. Place mixture in a piping bag, and fill each zucchini flower with it.
To prepare batter
In a separate bowl, prepare the tempura batter, according to the packet instructions with water and ice.
Heat up the palm oil, place some tempura flour in a deep dish. First coat the zucchini flower in the tempura flour, then the batter. Deep fry until batter is crisp and just starting to colour. Remove and drain on paper towels.
For fresh tomato sauce
Heat palm oil in a saucepan, and cook the onion until soft. Add tomatoes, and season to taste. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Blend sauce into a smooth paste.
On a plate, place 1-2 deep-fried flower and grate some bottarga over. Serve with warm fresh tomato sauce. – Recipe by Federico Micheletto