Nigel Slater’s lemongrass recipes (2024)

At the bottom of the fridge is a little plastic box of aromatics: a hand of ginger, an assortment of red and orange chillies, a tuber of galangal and a tight bundle of lemongrass stalks. This is the box of tricks that comes out when I make pho or any sort of coconut milk curry or soup (the lemongrass neatly cuts the fattiness of the coconut). Today it comes out for a classic and a curiosity.

I buy lemongrass from Chinatown if I’m passing through, because the stalks are more plump there, the layers of tightly packed leaves softer and greener. They are also cheaper than elsewhere. But what really matters is the freshness of the stalks. So many around are dry and lack the highly aromatic quality that makes them worth buying. The bottled ones, by the way, are as good as useless.

Lemon verbena, a herb I use for tea and that grows abundantly if your plant is protected against the frost, is a better substitute for lemongrass than lemon. It has something of the effervescence of the stalks. Lemongrass, like lime leaves, suffers from freezing, bottling and drying. The basic citrus flavour remains, but the real magic, the addictive essence – its heart and soul if you like – is lost.

The idea of flavouring crème caramel with vanilla or coconut is easy to get to grips with, but I have always had doubts about flavouring the milk itself. But an infusion of lemongrass worked superbly this week, producing a mildly citrus note that is flattered rather than overpowered by the thin layer of caramel that lies on top. The herb added a refreshing note that appealed at the end of dinner, though I should probably admit to scoffing one at breakfast, too, in lieu of my usual yogurt. But then, what kind of a world is it when we can’t have pudding for breakfast?

Prawn and lemongrass soup

Serves 4
prawns 16, large and raw
shallots 400g, small
groundnut oil 4 tbsp
lemongrass stalks 3
ginger 50g
water 1.5 litres
carrots 150g
sugar snap peas 150g
coriander a handful
nam pla (fish sauce) 1 tbsp

Peel the prawns, setting the shells to one side. Return the prawns to the fridge. Peel half the shallots then roughly chop them. Warm half the oil in a deep pan then add the shallots and fry them until they are soft and pale gold.

Split the stalks of lemongrass lengthways, discarding the tough, outer leaves, then bash them hard with a heavy weight, such as a rolling pin, to splinter them. Add the shattered stalks to the shallots. Peel the ginger, cut it into coins about as thick as a £2 piece, and add them to the shallots. Continue cooking over a low heat.

Add the reserved prawn shells to the pot. Pour the water into the pan and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, then leave to simmer for 30 minutes.

Peel the remaining shallots, cut them in half, then open into individual layers. Peel the carrots, cut into thin slices then into short matchsticks. Warm the remaining groundnut oil in a large pan, then cook the shallots until golden.

Cut the sugar snap peas into thin strips. Add the reserved prawns and cook them for 3 minutes on each side. Strain the broth through a sieve into the shallots and prawns. Add the carrots and sugar snaps and season with the fish sauce, then cook for a minute or two before tearing the coriander leaves and adding them to the soup.

Lemongrass crème caramel

Nigel Slater’s lemongrass recipes (1)

Shred the lemongrass finely, into paper-thin discs, so it gives up as much flavour as possible to the milk. The custards are cooked when the mixture is lightly firm but will still quiver when shaken. Makes 4.

For the caramel:
caster sugar 125g

For the custard:
creamy milk 500ml
lemongrass 3 large stalks
egg yolks 4
eggs 2
caster sugar 80g

Pour the milk into a saucepan. Finely slice the lemongrass then add to the milk and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, cover with a lid and set aside for 20 minutes to infuse.

Make the caramel by putting the sugar into a small pan then pouring over enough water to just cover it. Place the pan over a moderate heat and leave to boil, watching carefully, until walnut brown.

Set the oven at 150C/gas mark 2. Pour the caramel into 4 china ramekins, twisting each one from side to side until the base of the dish is covered with a fine layer.

Put the kettle on to boil. Make the custard: beat together the egg yolks, eggs and 80g of caster sugar. Strain the infused milk through a sieve into a large jug to remove the pieces of lemongrass. Pour the milk over the eggs and sugar and stir together. Pour or ladle the mixture into the caramel-lined dishes. Lower them into a roasting tin then place on the middle shelf of the oven. Pour enough boiling water from the kettle to come halfway up the sides of the dishes.

Bake the custards for 40 minutes until they are just set. They should quiver when gently shaken. Remove and leave to cool, then chill for at least 2 hours. To turn out, run a palette knife around the edge, place a small plate on top and turn the plate and ramekin over. Shake firmly and let the custard slide out.

Email Nigel at or follow him on Twitter @NigelSlater

Nigel Slater’s lemongrass recipes (2024)


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