Share this article

print logo

Wild combos of Southern barbecue, Asian flavors

It is no coincidence that a chef whose restaurants excel at dishes inspired by Malaysian street food and Southern-style barbecue wants you to eat with your hands.

Zakary Pelaccio has been a passionate ambassador for the flavors of Malaysian cuisine since opening New York City's Fatty Crab in 2005. The menu included his versions of classic regional dishes, such as messy but glorious chili crab and nasi lemak, rice cooked in coconut milk before being topped with add-ons such as eggs, candied dried anchovies, braised chicken, pickled or spicy vegetables, and roasted peanuts.

Pelaccio also offered dishes he developed by giving classic American ingredients new dance partners. His crispy pork and watermelon salad mixed cubes of marinated, deep-fried pork belly with chunks of watermelon and pickled watermelon rind, kaffir lime leaf and Thai basil in a jumble of scallion and cilantro, and a pungent ginger dressing. Another dish, a skin-on duck breast chopped into three pieces, aggressively seasoned and deep-fried, was meant to be eaten out of hand.

Later, Pelaccio opened Fatty 'Cue, marrying the funky, bracing flavors of his adopted cuisine to American barbecue. Customers licking their sticky fingers were left marveling at the beautiful collision of Southern barbecue and Southeast Asian flavors.

In "Eat With Your Hands," Pelaccio presents a lifestyle manifesto disguised as a cookbook.

Yes, the recipes are there, for his beef rendang and fatty brisket, the watermelon salad, the fish-head curry. But Pelaccio urges his readers to make his recipes their own.

"Chefs are not gods – especially not the chef that wrote this book," he writes in the introduction. "And they can't divine absolute deliciousness, because it doesn't exist."

Readers will be flipping to the glossary often, he warns, as he introduces them to ingredients such as belacan, dried shrimp paste, awful-smelling but essential; kerisik, toasted unsweetened coconut; and candlenuts, a macadamia relative native to Indonesia that adds essential texture to sauces and curries.

The education continues throughout the volume, with Pelaccio intent on encouraging readers to expand their minds, not just their cooking repertoires.

Here's why you should buy a good, wooden mortar and pestle: so you can make sambals and sauces that taste best when their flavors are "married by blunt force."

Here's why you should make fish-head curry and, yes, eat fish heads: Some of the most delicate fish morsels are hidden inside.

In this cookbook, the chef wants you to expand more than your culinary horizons with his recipe for lobster wonton mee, a noodle soup with lobster dumplings. He urges you to better your life, too: "If you alone are responsible for dinner, read the recipe well and have all your ingredients and pots ready," he writes. "And work on finding some friends who like to help in the kitchen."