James May: Oh Cook! (2020–2023): Season 1, Episode 1 - Asian Fusion - full transcript

After a de rigueur opening tease giving away all the best bits from the series, James starts his culinary journey by taking on the food of Asia. As the publishers of his new recipe book are in attendance, he immediately starts wit...

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it - foodval.com
-Now, this is

a professional,
TV-friendly kitchen,

and it has in it everything
you could ever imagine

you would need to cook.

But all of this stuff...

this massive fridge,

the double oven,
the pots and pans,

the-the equipment
in the drawers,

the five-ring hob,

the pantry
full of unimaginable goodness...

all of this counts for nothing

without the one vital implement

on which
TV cooking shows depend,

and that is...

a home economist.

Mine is in here,

and she's called Nikki.

-Hello, Nikki.
-Hello, James.

We'll be seeing you later.

Now we've cleared that up,
let's start the series.

Hello, viewers.
I'm James May, and I can't cook.

Welcome to my cookery show.

It's not entirely true
that I can't cook.

I have mastered
about three dishes.

Horse's arse.

But if you can cook
a few things passably well,

I believe you can learn
to cook anything.

I mean,
I'm not saying it will be easy.

-Oh, God.
-[metal clangs]

It's not burnt.
It's just well-done.

However, it can be done
with confidence...


...common sense...

I learn. You learn.
And then we are all fed

by knowledge.

...a bit
of rudimentary organization...

The hilarious thing here
is I can't remember which one

was which when I put them in.

-Nikki, hello.
Would you like to come

and check on my progress?

...and, of course,
Nikki, who's worked

with some
of the TV cheffing greats.

All those things
you see being cooked

on the television
are actually made

by Nikki and people like her.

Not celebrity chefs.

Celebrity chefs
can't actually cook.


I'll be learning as I go.

That's perfect, look.

-I didn't say you could do it.

[James]Trying out
the latest kitchen gadgets.

Sometimes I will succeed...

-Mmm, mmm. Mmm!
-Mmm, mmm.

...and sometimes I will fail.

-It's nasty.
-It is. Actually,
it's disgusting.

I don't know
why I'm trying to...

-It's absolutely vile, isn't it?
-[laughs] Nasty.

I'll also be learning
what it takes

to make your own cookery show.

-[man] Can I make a suggestion?

-[man] It would be
such a lovely intro...
-I said no.

But there will be
enough great recipes and,

thanks to a very expensive
TV cameraman,

enough slow-mo shots
of really great food

to stimulate
your gastric senses.

So, there you go.
We've learned...


♪ ♪

Today, I'm paid a visit
by some big movers

in the world of publishing,

because by some miracle,
they have paid me to write

a cookery book.

So I'm out to impress

with some rice
and noodle-based dishes.

That's the noise of waiting

for a Chinese takeaway,
isn't it?

There's fusion.

There you go, we got
the picture. Can we eat it now?

And a bit of confusion.

I can't remember where
I was going to use the limes.

I'll be using
some unlikely ingredients

and dishing up
an exotic breakfast...

That's murderous.

...a stunning stir-fry

and a very unusual ramen.

Nikki, I've screwed up.

We'll start with a starter.

♪ ♪

Hello, viewers. Now, in Jewish
and Australian cooking,

chicken soup is regarded
as the cure for everything,

what William Langland
might have called

the font of peace

and the most precious
of virtues.

We could make a standard
chicken soup here, like a broth,

but we're going to make
Thai chicken noodle soup.

This exciting procedure begins

with preparing some ginger.

Now, this is a trick
I've just been taught,

or it's just been explained
to me.

Rather than try and use
my ancestral peeler,

you can use a spoon. Hey.

This actually works. Look
at this. Are you getting this?

A spoon,
a teaspoon peels ginger.

And I don't need
that whole piece.

I need roughly a teaspoonful
of grated ginger.

Um, and then,

using the surform,
which is here,

we will grate that onto a thing.

♪ ♪

-Just cut round this.
-[drawer opens]


Sorry, I need
a-a small white plate.

-A small white plate?
-To grate the ginger on

because it's got to be white
'cause the publishers are here,

-and they say
everything's got to be white.
-I'll go get one

from the special
white plate department.

As I said, the publishers

of the book that accompanies
this series are present.

They like white plates.

-Your special white plate.
-Thank you very much.

Sorry about that. Would you like
a glass of wine, actually?

-I'm gonna have one.
-Can I take it to my cupboard?

Yes, of course you can.

Now, uh, this is a Sancerre

because we're dealing
with spicy food.

Spicy food
without any sort of fattiness...

-Plenty, thank you.
-...or, um, oiliness

in it, so it can go
with something quite mineral.

Quite flinty,
as the wine bores would say.

So, this is a Sancerre.

Should be absolutely delicious
with this.

[fridge closes]

-[Nikki] Cheers.
-[James] Cheers.

-[Nikki] Thank you.
-[James] See you

-in a few minutes, I suspect.
-See you later.

White plate, white wine.
Let's start again.

A teaspoon of ginger.

Two cloves of garlic.


And a couple of teaspoons
of Thai green curry paste.

You could make this
from scratch.

Very complicated.
We've got this out of a jar.

Let's cook that for a minute.
Then we're gonna chuck

the chicken in, and it will be
beautifully coated

with all these things.

I'm using 450 grams
of sliced chicken breast.

You can make this
with leftover chicken

from your Sunday roast,
in which case

you put the chicken in
at the end.

This is looking great already.

And it smells...


This is gonna have
rice noodles in.

A little bit of history
about rice noodles.

They actually came into
their own after World War II

when the rice harvest
in Thailand was very poor,

mainly because of flooding.

And the Thai government realized
that by turning the rice

into noodles,

you actually doubled the size
of the harvest,

because a kilogram of rice

makes two kilograms
of rice noodles.

And the Thai government
actually invented a dish,

pad thai,

as a sort of national way
to help

make the, um,
food go a bit further.

To eke out their harvest
and their supplies.

It's still popular to this day.
Everybody eats pad thai.

♪ ♪

James has got something
in his hair, guys.

-Something in your hair.

-Bit of garlic or something.

-[man 2] Calm down.
-[man] It's not in any...

Well, it-it doesn't
really matter, does it?

It's not a bloody fashion sh...

-[man] Hang on.
-[woman laughs]

Oh, I put that there
this morning.

♪ ♪

Right, the chicken has gone in.

It's cooking very quickly.

Smells like the Thai café
down the road from my house,

which always smells fantastic.

Even when it's shut, actually,
it smells fairly fantastic.

You sort of get the spiciness.

It's in the woodwork
or something.

There you go. Now,
if you could just quickly cut

to a shot of the publishers

looking nervous
in the background.

Because they're here today,
I can check the instructions,

which I've put in this drawer.

The presence of the publishers,

who've paid me in advance,

means I have to be on my mettle.

So earlier, on their arrival,

I made
a very sophisticated breakfast.

♪ ♪

And it was this.

Now, you might be thinking,
that just looks like

a load of rice and seaweed.

Itisrice and seaweed.

Sticky rice.

It's a popular breakfast
in Japan,

where it's called

You take a quantity of rice...

in this case, 200 milliliters...

and then add
half as much again in water,

so that's 300 milliliters.

This is Thai sticky rice.

You can also use
Japanese sticky rice.

And this will cook
by the absorption method.

That is, it's cooked
when all the water...

is absorbed.

Here comes
the steamed-up camera shot.

Rice cooking by absorption.

[lid clangs]

-Did you steam up?


Add water to five sheets
of nori seaweed,

the stuff you use
to make sushi rolls,

and two tablespoons
of cooking sake.

Let that simmer and reduce.

At the point where it's correct,
it will look

a little bit like
a thin Italian pesto.

You then chill it,

and then you spoon it
into your hot sticky rice.

Now, in the interest
of cultural misappropriation,

I'll deliver the rest
of this recipe

using Japanese haiku,

three-line poems of five,
seven and five syllables.

Seaweed steams in pan.

I will add sesame oil

and then some soy... oil.

-[woman laughs]

Your cooking is great,

Antony Worrall Thompson,
but mine's steeped in verse.

The seaweed is done. It can go

into the fridge
to chill for a bit.

We're going to garnish this

with fresh sesame seeds

because it looks nice

and it adds a little bit
of flavor.

The rice. That's just done.

Seaweed cools quickly

by the magic of TV.

It's called editing.

And we can spoon some
onto our rice

and end up with this.

♪ ♪

Back where we started.

But now you know how it's made.

Blossom is fleeting.

♪ ♪


This is chicken stock,

which I made from the carcass

of a roast chicken
I had last week.

Boiled up the carcass in water

with celery, bit of onion

and then let it reduce,
and then I put it

in a mug, and I froze it.

And it lasts
for quite a long time like that.

Now I've reheated it.

And with a lot
of these Asian soups,

Japanese noodles,
Thai noodles and so on,

it's all about the stock.

That's where the sort of mystery
of noodles comes from.

If you get the stock wrong,
you will just make...

liquid with noodles in.

I'm going to simmer that
for about five minutes.

I have a new tool to try out.

♪ ♪

And it is this.

It is a spring onion...

slicer upperer.


I'd say that works.

Spring onion slicer upperer.


This recipe requires the zest
and the juice

of a lime. This is a lime.

This is the thingy.

Look at that.
That's enough zest.

Right, I'm going to add
the rice noodles.

Rice noodles will take
about three minutes

to cook in that broth,

but they're going to go in
for one minute.

That's actually
slightly too much, I think.

They're going to go in
for one minute.

After one minute,
I'm going to add the mange-tout,

which will take
about two minutes,

and then the bean sprouts,

which will take
another minute at the end,

giving us two minutes in total
for mange-tout,

three minutes in total
for rice noodles

and one minute
for the-the bean sprouts.

Add a handful
of halved mange-tout,

the spring onions...

Bean sprouts.

Bean sprouts are great things.

...and the lime.

That was the lime zest.
Now we need the lime juice.

I reckon half of that's
probably enough.

And then finally,
absolutely vital,

fish sauce.

You want about a tablespoon,

but I'm just gonna guess it.
There you go.

Something like that.
I'm going to garnish it

with a small amount of chili.

I'm gonna...
I'm gonna cut it on the slant

like chefs do
in Thai restaurants,

'cause that
sort of looks stylish,

I think. The ellipse.

The circle
is a fairly interesting

but simple proposition.

Constant radius

from a point, whereas an ellipse

has two axes
and two focal points and...

I wouldn't worry about that.

That's just bloody nonsense.

As they say in the industry,

it's time to plate up
in these bowls.


Here come the little bits
of chopped chili.

Could do with something red
in it, I feel,

to make the colors correct.

According to the color wheel,
red would look good.

Edvard Munch would say give
the man a red tie or whatever.

And if we had a red chili
in the fridge...

Look at that, there's one
right there in front of me.

You'd almost think
I'd put it there.

Now, if I just make
a few little slices of red...

Watch this.

How much better does that look?



Uh, your Thai
chicken noodle soup is ready.

Smells delicious. Let me taste.

-Mmm. That's good.

It's really good.

-Is it?
-Really good.

Some chicken in this mouthful,
little bit of chili.

♪ ♪

-You had some ch...
Too much chili?
-That's lethal.

You've gone really red.

-That thing's bloody lethal.
-Drink some more wine.

Geez, I only had a tiny bit.

Maybe my heat tolerance
is better than yours.

No, I'm usually quite good
at that.

that's murderous.

You know, it's slightly ruined
the taste of the wine.

Oh, no.

Shall we try it
on the publishers

-since they're here?
-I think we should, yes.


would you like to try, um,

the Thai chicken noodle soup?

I'd be delighted to.

Try and sound convincing.

[Cara and Nikki laugh]

How's it looking? Mmm.

It's looking colorful.

It's good. It's got...

-Oh, it is hot.
-[James] Clears your tubes.

-Whatever your tubes are.
I don't really know.

It's good. It's got

background heat,
depth of flavor.

Okay. Cara, thank you very much

for taking part.
There is your reward,

-your glass of Sancerre.


Publishing, eh?

It's ten past 9:00
in the morning.

So, the publisher

has gone home
with a spring in her step.

Now, it might be the wine,
but I like to think

it's because of
my delicious noodle soup.

Later on, I'll be doing
something with this salmon

and these vegetables.

But first,
let's cue the special jingle.

[upbeat music playing]

Now, somewhere in
the deserted pantry of my soul,

there is an instant noodle.

And instant noodles,
of course,

have had a very bad press
over the years.

But there are actually lots
of excellent instant noodles

in the world,
from Korea, China,

Thailand, and Japan.

And it should be noted

that Japan Airlines
serves instant noodles

in the posh seats.

Or so I've been told
by people who sit there.

I have here
some Japanese instant noodles.

They are ramen flavor.

And their history is
very interesting,

because, after World War II,

when the Japanese were
pretty much starving to death

and they had been occupied
by the Americans,

the Americans were worried

that a hungry nation
would become a communist nation.

So what they did was flooded
Japan with cheap American wheat,

in the belief that the Japanese
would then make bread

and they would be fed.

But the Japanese said, "No,
no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

We don't eat bread.

We eat noodles."

And enterprising people in Japan

used the cheap wheat
to make instant noodles,

which were invented in 1958.

And then later,
in 1971,

they were turned into the even
more instant cup noodle.

So, this sort of thing

is one of those foods
that saved a nation.

Now let's move west to
another food that saved nations,

and that is, of course, Spam.

Other types of processed
canned meat are available.

Spam was invented in the 1930s.

It is a processed
quarantined pork product

and a very high quality one
at that.

Now, we all know
that it sustained armies,

the Allied armies,
during World War II.

And after the war, when places
like Britain were hard up,

it was a sort of substitute
for things

like bacon... you could have it
fried with eggs.

A food that saved nations.

A food
that saved nations.

Ramen. Spam.

We're going to bring them
together in the spirit

of peace and reconciliation
and make

a sort of

fusion food
that we're going to call...


♪ ♪

Please don't expect
Spam fritters.

I will need flour,
eggs, and...

Later, I will be adding

spring onions,
chili, pak choi,

and another egg,

First, remove the Spam
from the tin,

recognized as one
of the most challenging jobs

in human history.

Ah. Here we go.

Slice off, I would say,

somewhere between a quarter
and a third of it.

Put the rest aside,
because you will want that

for your Spam
and pickle sandwich. [sniffles]

Are you zoomed in on this?
We're going to cut the Spam

into three fingers.

Making sense?

Dip your pieces of Spam
first in the flour.

Then in the egg.

Then in the cornflakes.

Let's move ahead in the filming
to a point

where I've done all this

'cause this is quite dull.

That's gonna need
probably three minutes.

Then I'll give it a turnover to
make sure it's done completely.

Right. Let's make some noodles.

Fill it up. You don't need me
to tell you this.

You fill it up to the line.

You leave it for a minute or so.

Give it a little bit of a stir
to make sure it's mixed up.

Leave it for another minute
and a half, and then it's ready.


Those, I would say, are done.

They will stay hot for a while.

So let's...


Borderline overdone underneath.

But it's all right. If you
film it from the correct side,

nobody need know.

Smells amazing.

speaking indistinctly]

They're not burnt.

-[woman] They are so burnt.
-[man] Yeah.

[James] It's not burned.
It's just well-done.

[crew laughing]


Cut round it.

-You do that
with everything else.
-We can't.

It's there.


I've screwed up.

-What's happened?
-Well, they're saying

those are burnt.
Are they burnt?

I'd say they were...

-nicely caramelized, but...
-Thank you.

-Um, yeah.

They're burnt?

♪ ♪

Honestly, how can you say
those are burned?

There's absolutely nothing wrong
with them.

That I made earlier.

Good. Right.
We're almost ready to do this.

I'm going to put my instant
noodles into this bowl, ready.

They're gonna look a bit tragic
by themselves.

Now we're going to... I think
we need a couple of those.

Dunk 'em in there
for about 30 seconds.

I'm going to arrange the boiled
egg to one side of the bowl.

This is what makes it
look professional, you see?

Can you see it there,
camera people?

[sizzling, popping]


What caused that?

Oh, a bit of water
went into it there.

Bugger it then.

Two bits of artfully arranged...

bok choy.

I reckon two pieces
of that is enough.

What do we think?

Like that.

A few bits of chili.

Dusting of spring onion.

And, finally,

I'm going to put in

a little spoonful of chili oil.

So, viewers,

for the first time
on television,

behold Spamen,

where a utilitarian
meat product from the 1930s

becomes the gastric phenomenon
of the 2020s.

And it's all because of noodles.


Can you put your right hand down
on the chopping block, James?

Move it three inches
to the right.

Three inches.

Bit more. Bit more.

If-if your center

of the chopping action
could be there.

-So the product is there.
-Oh, dude, really?

-Yeah. We can see.

So far, despite having
my hand in the wrong place,

we've done wonderful things with
traditional Asian ingredients

such as Thai noodles,

seaweed, cornflakes,

and Spam.

But for my next recipe,

I will be using an icon

of Asian cooking.

♪ ♪

What we are going to make here
could be described

as Asian fusion,

that is, not a fusion
of Asian ideas with Western ones

but a fusion of Asian ideas
with themselves.

This is not Chinese.
It's not Thai.

It's not Japanese.

It's a bit like one
of those Hollywood films

that is described
as "based on true events,"

which is a very elaborate way
of saying "not true."

What it is, is salmon

with a marinade,

by stir-fry vegetables.

And as with a lot
of these things,

it's all going to happen
quite quickly.

So I have to have
my wits about me.

I have to be ready
to summon Nikki,

who's in the cupboard,
as usual.

But let's not do that yet.
Let's start with the marinade.

Here is the salmon.

Two salmon fillets.

Here is a bowl.

Now, what you're going
to see next is

a televisual trick
that allows us

to shrink time and space
to show you

several things at once.

We start with brown sugar,

which will turn the marinade
into a glaze,

giving my salmon
a sweet and sticky coating.

Add a crushed clove of garlic

and 30 millimeters
of grated ginger,

a tablespoon of sesame oil,

a tablespoon of soy sauce,

and the juice of half a lime.

Stir vigorously.

Pour the marinade
over the salmon.

And now back to the conventional
space-time continuum.

Now, we're going
to make this into a parcel.

When I say "a parcel," actually,
it should be more of a bag.

You want a little bit of air
in there

for steam and moisture
to circulate.

All right,
that's going on the tray.

That's going to go in the oven.

The oven is at 180.

That's all ready.
But before I do that,

I'm gonna do
a little bit more prep

and think
about the stir-fried vegetables.

Now, I'm gonna do this
in the wok.

This is my own wok.
I bought it quite recently.

I'm not particularly skilled
with a wok,

but I do know a little bit
about its history.

Now, in China,
in the ancient Han dynasty,

it's thought that fuel
was in rather short supply,

so you couldn't have a fire
burning for ages,

like we would in the West
when you make a roast.

You had to have something
that would cook very quickly,

which means food chopped up
into small pieces.

Your fire doesn't last
very long.

The other great thing
about the wok

is that it gets hot
very quickly.

It's very thin steel.

The-the heat will transfer
from the bottom

round to the sides very quickly,

so you don't wes...
waste time heating it up

like you would with
a big copper-bottom saucepan.

The great thing about the wok...

or, at least, if you're
very skilled at using it...

is that, um...

This one is designed to go
on a, on a ring, by the way.

This is a concession
to the West.

A traditional wok is
actually curved on the bottom,

to make the heat spread evenly.

But you can... and you will,
you will know this

if you've ever listened
to people cooking

in a Chinese takeaway, you'll
hear that... [sizzling sounds]

ching, ching,
ching, ching, ching.

They're moving things around,
because the bottom of the wok

can be very hot on the flame

and the sides of the wok
can be slightly cooler.

So you can move
the ingredients around.

For example,
you can do some fried rice,

push it to the side whilst you
do the egg in the bottom

to make it egg fried rice
and maybe add

a few onions and things.

Moving things to there,
there, and there

is a bit like using
the different-size rings

on your hob.

That all happens
in the one thing.

It's very simple,

but it's actually
extremely sophisticated.

But before we do it...
because that's all gonna take

something like three
or four minutes...

I will consult the boss.




-[Nikki] Hi.
-Hi. [sniffles]

I'm-I'm gonna bring you in
for this, because it's all...

-Where are we up to?
-It's... Well,
I've done the marinade.

-I thought it would make sense
to do a bit of prep.

-Don't need brown sugar anymore.

But I do need... ginger?

-Yes. Cut into matchsticks.
-Cut into matchsticks.

Okay. I'm going to use
my extremely sharp

and excellent French knife
for this.

And... So-so,

little stringy strips.

I've never matchsticked
anything in my life.

I start by making ginger chips.



Do you want to show me
how to do it?

[rapid whooshing sounds]

No, I don't go fast.

Oh, look at that.

It's virtually transparent.

So then...

Should we just do
a little comparison for camera?



And with matchmaking over,

we can rattle through
the rest of the ingredients.




-pak choi.

And just to warn you,

when we cut back
to the wide shot,

Nikki will have gone again.

She's on a zero-hours contract.

Right. I'm ready
to do the stir-fry.

The salmon will cook for
just 15 minutes at 180 degrees.

The salmon
is going in the oven.

Are you ready?



-Ring. Heat.

It'll heat up very quickly.
That is the point.

We're going to need some oil.

Going to need my spatula ready
to make

the evocative
"ching, ching, ching" noise.

See a little bit of smoke
coming off of there.

The wok is ready.


Less of the sesame oil.

Are you ready?

-Ginger. Ah, listen to that.

Superb. Garlic.

Three minutes into the salmon.

Right. Sweet corn.

That will take a bit longer
to cook 'cause it's dense.

Turn up the heat
a little bit more.

Let's go with the peppers.

Okay, I'm just throwing
the peppers in the middle.

It all happens
extremely quickly.

Sugar snap peas.
A handful of those.

Again, I'm gonna put 'em
in the middle.

Hear that noise?

That's the noise of waiting

for a Chinese takeaway,
isn't it?

I remember that from childhood.

It used to excite me immensely.


This is a prime example
of something that you

mustn't overdo.

It will be ten times better
if you get it just right

than it will be if you do it
for a minute too long.



Come and see what I've done.

What have you done?

I've-I've mixed vegetables.

That looks good.

-[James] Well, we've got a nice
combination of colors there.
-It looks lovely.

Wonder what would happen if you
stirred... stir-fried a sprout.

It would take a while,
wouldn't it,

-because sprouts are pretty...
-Not if you shredded it.

Yeah, I suppose if you,
you know, just chopped 'em

in half or something.

I can't remember
where I was going

-to use the limes...
-You were going to put it on...

Once you'd plated up,
you were gonna have the lime

-on the side
and sq-squeeze it over.
-That was it.

Okay. I'm going to put those in.

♪ ♪

-What would you say? Yes?
-Definitely cooked, yes.

That's cooked, isn't it?

It's gone... opaque.

The marinade seems
to have worked.

Let's just skip
to the beauty shot, shall we?

♪ ♪

This is annoying,
because you do have to eat these

in the artistry of the moment.

But we have to do the arty shot

on the electric revolving
lazy Susan of food photography,

which is this terrible thing.

♪ ♪

There you go.
We got the picture.

Right, can we eat it now?

-I like the marinade.


I think
it's beautifully cooked.

Mmm, that's spot...

that's really spot-on.


So, there you have it,

our dalliance
with rice, noodles,

and stir-frying
comes to an end.

And the first chapter
of my cookbook is complete.

All of this entirely successful.

Well, assuming they cut out
that picture of the burnt Spam

like I asked them to.

I think one of the conclusions
f-from that,

the stir-fried vegetable bits,

is... wok skills...
difficult to master,

but they do improve your life.

Because it's a bit
like doing live TV.

John Cooper Clarke once said,

"It happens once
and then it's gone,

leaving bugger all."

Thank you for watching.