Adventures in Starry Kitchen – Nguyen Tran

Adventures in Starry Kitchen: 88 Asian-Inspired Recipes from America’s Most Famous Underground Restaurant by Nguyen Tran chronicles the evolution of the little underground restaurant that could. As the author tells his story, he also shares 88 easy-to-follow pan-Asian recipes including Claypot Striped Bass, Buttermilk Beer Beignets, Singaporean Chili Crab, Double-Fried Chicken Wings and, of course, Starry Kitchen’s trademark Crispy Tofu Balls.

This book wowed me with recipes I’ve never come across to date: Pineapple Beer Chicken Wing Soup; Five-Spice Apple Fritters with Honey Bourbon Cream Sauce; and Salted Duck Egg Cereal Prawns for example. I’m totally impressed with the recipe collection but also enjoying Tran’s story which is entertaining and inspirational. 

I have a friend, Marc, I’ve mentioned him before. He is an Asian cuisine master. Here is how our conversation went on this book (and others): 

“Marc, have you ordered Adventures in Starry Kitchen?”

“No, I don’t need it. Thanks anyway.”

“Marc – Crispy Tofu Balls.” Pause. “Braised Pork Belly with Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste and Lemongrass” Pause. “Spam Brussels Sprout Fried Rice.” Pause.

“Damn you. Ordered.” 

Now, he’s singing the book’s praises. I am the cookbook whisperer. Thank you ladies and gentlemen – I’ll be here hopefully for a long, long time. The quirky cover shouldn’t throw you – once you start flipping through the pages you will totally get that choice and you will love the book – especially if you enjoy Asian-fusion type dishes.  

I’ve made the Double-Fried Chicken Wings  with the Tamarind Sauce – holy snow in July these wings are everything. I have the Spicy Korean Noodles up on deck and will come back with a photo soon. 

Special thanks to HarperOne and the author for sharing the stunning Salted Plum Lychee Panna Cotta recipe with our members. Be sure to head to our giveaway post to enter our contest


Thi is obsessed with panna cotta-a slightly solid and creamy Italian dessert, not unlike flan, only denser and less bouncy in construction-and her Salted Plum Lychee Panna Cotta is a longstanding staple of our menu, including at Button Mash today. Sweet lychee on the inside, salty plum sauce on the outside, all delicious for our mouths.

2-4 Servings

SALTED PLUM SAUCE (aka fluid gel if you want to get all Modernist Cuisine sounding):

1 cup water
2 teaspoons salted plum powder
6 1/3 teaspoons lime juice
2/3 teaspoon agar-agar


1 1/3 teaspoons gelatin powder, or 2 bronze gelatin sheets/leaves*
1/3 cup plus 1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 (20-ounce) can lychees or 20 ounces fresh lychees, peeled
3 2/3 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup sugar
Edible flowers, for garnish (optional)
Pomegranate seeds, for garnish (optional)

* If you have access to these kinds of fancy ingredients from the Internet, gelatin sheets come in bronze, silver, gold, and platinum grade, which signify the “Bloom Strength,” or how strong a sheet gels compared to its overall mass.

1. For the Salted Plum Sauce: Because agar-agar is seaweed-based and fairly delicate to work with, this recipe might be one you can’t multitask until you get a good feel for it. Handle with care, and let’s hope you don’t have to frustratingly do it over and over again.

2. Heat water and salted plum powder in pot over medium heat. When it starts to steam (not boil!), add lime juice and agar-agar. Whisk until agar-agar dissolves. Continue to whisk for 1 minute, or until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and pour in a container, then let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate to settle. Once it settles, add to a blender and puree until it forms a thicker saucy consistency. Store in fridge until you’re ready to bust that bad boy out!

3. For the Panna Cotta: If using gelatin sheets, add to a bowl of ice-cold water and submerge. Soak (aka let the gelatin bloom) for 5-7 minutes, or until the sheets soften. To prevent sheets from breaking down, drain water immediately after the 5-7 minutes and gently wring out remaining water from the sheets, just like you were wringing out a towel.

4. If using powdered gelatin, place gelatin in a bowl and add 1/3 cup heavy cream. Let it sit. Let it bloom.

 5. If using a fun mold to shape and pop out your panna cotta, brush a light layer of cooking oil on the bottom and sides.

6. Next, drain syrup from can of lychee (or save for a lychee-flavored cocktail or anything else that could use an “infused” sugary syrup,yuuuuummers!). Add lychees to a blender and puree until smooth. Set aside.

7. This next step is very delicate because gelatin in any form is fairly unstable, so this may take some trial and error, based on a balance of your heat and your feel for that heat. You’ll know what I mean if you mess up. If you don’t, you’re a natural-born talent!

8. Heat a pot with milk, sugar, and remaining heavy cream on medium-low heat until sugar dissolves and liquid is warm enough to touch. Like the Salted Plum Sauce, the milk, sugar, and heavy cream should steam but not boil. If you have a thermometer, DO NOT go over 145°F.

9. Next, add gelatin (sheets or powdered in heavy cream), then whisk until gelatin dissolves. This will take a few minutes.

10. Remove from heat, then immediately add lychee puree while the cream is still warm. Mix gently with a spatula.

11. Ladle into ramekins, small bowls, your preferred fancy or not-so-fancy container, or into your pre-oil-brushed mold.

12. Refrigerate, carefully. Gelatin is fairly docile and irritably unstable. As it cools, however, panna cotta should solidify within an hour.

13. If after 2 hours it still hasn’t settled, don’t fret-you can still recover. Recombine the cream in a pot and warm to right below boiling. Add a tad bit more (bloomed) gelatin, then remove from heat. Repour into molds. Be careful not to add too much gelatin, which will result in a stiff, less creamy panna cotta, more of a superstiff Jell-O than panna cotta.

14. Garnish with a thin layer of Salted Plum Sauce on top of your final plating-do fancy dots or a paintbrush swipe if you would like-and edible flowers (if you somehow got these) and pomegranate seeds (if in season and available). Bon appetit, y’all.

From ADVENTURES IN STARRY KITCHEN: 88 Asian-Inspired Recipes from America’s Most Famous Underground Restaurant. Copyright © 2017 by Nguyen Tran. Reprinted with permission by HarperOne, a division of HarperCollinsPublishers. Photo credit: Bao Minh Nguyen

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  • ljlook  on  June 16, 2017

    The recipes all sound so interesting! I'd try Lemongrass Chicken first, but I might change my mind, I do that!

  • lgroom  on  June 16, 2017

    This might become my favorite fusion cuisine —- the recipes, WOW!

  • sipa  on  June 16, 2017

    The food in this book sounds yummy.

  • PennyG  on  June 16, 2017

    Well, I love Tex-Mex – the ultimate fusion!

  • ejsimpson  on  June 16, 2017

    I need this cookbook..too many yummy sounding recipes. I look forward to cooking from this cookbook! Hoping it will be a cookbook club book of the month soon!

  • Siegal  on  June 19, 2017

    I love British Indian

  • JenJoLa  on  June 19, 2017

    There are so many good fusion cuisines, but I am a bit partial to when Mexican and East Asian are melded well.

  • EmilyR  on  June 20, 2017

    So many great infusions, but lately korean tacos are hitting the spot.

  • matag  on  June 23, 2017

    Outside the box! Love it!

  • kitchenclimbers  on  June 23, 2017

    Asian tacos

  • RSW  on  June 25, 2017


  • Uhmandanicole  on  June 27, 2017

    I love any fusion cuisine. I love when anyone puts a twist on something.

  • abihamm  on  June 27, 2017

    Sauerbraten Burgers. 🙂

  • meggan  on  June 28, 2017

    I haven't seen this one but Mexican/Japanese would be cool.

  • bonita7878  on  July 7, 2017

    Awesome back story ~ yummy twist on the panna cotta btw

  • lolako  on  July 7, 2017

    I used to eat at his lunch spot in LA in Grand Plaza. Loved the crispy tofu balls. So I would make those first.

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