We speak to television presenter and celebrity chef Luke Nguyen to get the rundown on his favourite versatile ingredient, lemongrass.
Unlike parents and their children, chefs are allowed to have favourite ingredients. For Luke Nguyen, the television presenter and celebrity chef behind The Star’s Fat Noodle and Darlinghurst’s Red Lantern restaurants, it’s “most definitely lemongrass.”
“Lemongrass has a lovely lemon aroma and a great citrus flavour with earthy undertones,” he says. “It’s light, refreshing, relaxing and balancing, and can be used for its essential oils, used for tea and, of course, in cooking.”
It has health benefits, too. As lemongrass is full of vitamins and antioxidants, it helps to reduce fever, to prevent bacteria and to stimulate blood circulation. It also contains minerals like iron and calcium, making it the perfect ingredient to have on hand at all times, but particularly if you’re stuck at home.
It’s also easy to grow and, if stored properly, keeps for up to two weeks in the fridge. Pick up some seedlings next time you’re at Bunnings or throw a bunch in your basket at your next grocery shop.
Nguyen outlines five ways this versatile ingredient can be used:
As a marinade
Bruise then finely chop lemongrass and mix it with oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, lemon juice and a touch of sugar. Coat different meats (chicken thighs, strips of beef, pork) or tofu in the marinade and set aside to allow the flavours to absorb before grilling over a hot barbecue.
In a curry paste
Combine lemongrass stalks, garlic, bird’s eye chillies, coriander and galangal or ginger in a food processor and blitz to make a delicious Vietnamese-style curry paste. It also works well in chilli paste: “I have a jar at home I made by cooking down fresh and dried chilli, garlic, chilli oil and loads of lemongrass,” says Nguyen.
In a stir fry
Chopped lemongrass is a great addition to your favourite stir fries. Just sauté it alongside diced onion, garlic and chilli, if using. At Fat Noodle, Nguyen makes something similar using rice vermicelli noodles, wok-tossed beef, garlic and lemongrass. It’s one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, Nguyen says.
As a garnish
To use lemongrass as a garnish, pound a 5cm piece of lemongrass in a mortar and pestle until it softens and separates into strips. Deep fry the strips to make a crispy, aromatic garnish for curries, soups and stir-fries.
If you want to use it as a garnish in cocktails, cut a length tall enough to stick 1-2cm over the glass you’re using, and lightly bruise it to release the aromatics.
To make your own lemongrass tea, dry the stems out in the sun then steep in boiling water. You can serve the tea with a slice of lemon for an extra citrus boost, or ginger and honey to keep colds at bay.
Similarly, you can steep lemongrass stalks in soup to add flavour to the broth. Nguyen recommends making a lovely hot and sour tamarind soup with barramundi, prawns, lemongrass and saw-tooth coriander.