Vietnamese

in the polyscience: sous vide pork belly bao

Last week, I posted a video about my menu for the Ikea Supper Club: five courses of small offerings that reflected both my heritage and upbringing. A month has gone by since the Supper Club, and I still reflect upon the menu fondly.

The guests seemed to thoroughly enjoy the dishes (or at least that’s what they told me), and when asked which was their favorite, a majority said it was the pork belly bao.

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in the polyscience: sous vide vietnamese short ribs

Our family has been obsessed with sous vide ever since we got a PolyScience immersion circulator. The great thins about sous vide cooking are: (1) the prep is minimal (just set it and forget it); and (2) the results are perfect (granted your ingredient and ratios were perfect going in). The hubster once got overly excited about brining and let his spareribs sit in a salt bath for two days, and after an additional 72 hours in the water bath, the ribs were the best texture but way too salty.

Sous vide is a great technique for tough cuts of meat because the slow cook at low temperatures help turn the fibrous collagen into gelatinous goodness, while preserving the protein’s cell walls so that they don’t break down and leak vital juices.

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get your slurp on: a foray into other vietnamese noodle soups

“Brrr…it’s cold outside.” That was the outgoing message my college roommate and I had recorded on our answering machine. Don’t ask why. I think it had something to do with our adoration of Chilly Willy. But today, it is cold outside. It was a freezing 25°F last night in Houston. But who am I to complain? The northern states saw an insane −44°F (according to the hubster). I didn’t even think that was possible outside of the Antarctic.

I am so not a cold weather person. So when it gets down to the 20s, 30s, even 40s outside, my ideal evening is one spent indoors in fuzzy socks in front of the television with a good book. (I like to multi-task, often reading a book in Braille while listening to a sitcom.) And then I like to sidle up to the kitchen counter and slurp down a bowl of noodle soup. That’s the ultimate comfort food on a cold day.
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stock & congee: what to do with all that leftover turkey

Our deep-fried turkey before it became a bare carcass.

Your crazy family came and went. Now all that’s left is a big ol’ turkey carcass. Wait, don’t throw anything away just yet. In this time and age when offal eating has become the trend, I’m going to show you what you can do with all those leftover turkey bones.

First, you make turkey stock. Duh! Then, you use that stock to make turkey congee.

Every Asian country has its own version of rice porridge. It’s the ultimate Asian comfort food. Think of the Americans with their chicken noodle soup. Well, the Asians have their rice porridge. It’s what you feed someone under the weather. I admit I used to hate congee or chao (as it’s called in Vietnamese) because it was all my mama let me eat when I was sick. Incidentally, I grew to associate congee only with illness. Of course it left a negative impression on me. But now that I’ve got no mama to cook me homemade congee, I had to roll up my sleeves and do it myself. Now I don’t necessarily eat congee just when I’m sick; I’ll eat it when it’s cold out. (Speaking of which, Houston is finally starting to feel like winter. Yippee!) I eat it because it’s hearty, warm, and best of all, simple to make. I almost always have the ingredients on hand to make congee, but even if I don’t, the great thing about congee is its versatility. You can just about throw anything into it. Perhaps the only requirement is stock or broth and rice. (I’ve even seen some people cook congee with plain water but I don’t recommend this—too plain.)

So read on, and learn how to make turkey stock with that leftover carcass and then, subsequently, turkey congee. And remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you. Happy winter eating!

 

: Turkey Stock

: Stock can be made from any animal’s bones, but I especially like poultry stock made from chicken, duck, or turkey.

 

  1. 1 bird carcass
  2. 2 to 3 carrots, chopped into 2″ pcs.
  3. 2 to 3 celery stalks, cut into 2″ pcs.
  4. 1 med. onion, chopped
  5. 1 to 2 bay leaves

 

  1. If necessary, chop bones so they will fit into a stockpot. Place bones into a stockpot and fill with enough water to cover. Add carrots, celery, onion, and bay leaves. Bring almost to a boil but do not let it boil.
  2. Reduce heat. In the first hr., skim off any scum that floats to the surface. Cover and let simmer for approx 3 hrs.
  3. Turn off heat and let cool. Strain through a mesh sieve into containers, leaving 1/2″ space at the top. (This is to prevent the containers from busting when the stock expands in the freezer.) Discard bones and vegetables.
  4. Refrigerate overnight. Spoon out and discard any gelatenous fat that solidifies at the top before using or freezing.

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)

Cooking time: 3 hour(s)

: Turkey Congee

: Chao is the Vietnamese term for congee.

 

  1. 1 c. uncooked jasmine rice
  2. 4 to 6 c. turkey stock
  3. 3/4 c. leftover turkey meat, shredded
  4. 1/2 med. onion, chopped
  5. 1 sm. pc. ginger, minced
  6. 1 to 2 carrots, peeled & finely chopped (optional)
  7. 2 tbsp. fish sauce or to taste
  8. 1 scallion, finely chopped
  9. a few sprigs cilantro, finely chopped (optional)
  10. ground black pepper

 

  1. In a med. saucepan, combine rice, stock, turkey meat, onion, ginger, and carrots if using. Bring to a low boil.
  2. Reduce heat and add fish sauce. Cover and let simmer for approx. 25 min. or until rice reaches desired consistency. Season with ground black pepper and more fish sauce to taste. Garnish with scallion and cilantro. Serve hot.

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)

Cooking time: 30 minute(s)

sweet rice with chinese sausage

Xoi ga lap xuong

Salty from the sausage, sweet from the rice

It’s been a while since I posted a recipe or talked about cooking, for that matter. Enough with all that blind stuff, eh? Let’s take a break from all the tech talk and get back in the kitchen. Last week was my mama’s birthday–she would’ve turned 61–so here’s a dish from her repertoire. A comfort food I crave every so often is xoi lap xuong, a very easy dish to prepare using sticky, sweet rice and Chinese sausage. My mother used to make this and shape the rice into a perfect circle, spreading the sausage in one layer on top so that each bite contained exactly one slice of the dark red, fatty meat. Because this dish was so delicious, I thought it took a lot of skill to make. Little did I know after experimenting in the kitchen years later that xoi lap xuong was a very simple meal.

There are many different components to this dish, and it’s one of those things that different mamas prepare them in different ways. Here is my version along with some possible variations noted below. This is definitely a dish where if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.

 

: Sweet Rice with Chinese Sausage

: Xoi Lap Xuong

 

  1. 1.5 c. uncooked sweet rice
  2. 1/4 to 1/2 c. raw peanuts
  3. 4 to 6 Chinese sausage, sliced on the bias
  4. 3 stalks scallions, finely chopped
  5. 3 shallot cloves, finely sliced
  6. 2 tbsp. oil

 

  1. Steam rice and peanuts together in a rice cooker.
  2. In a lg. skillet, heat oil over med.-high heat. Add scallions and shallots and saute until tender, approx. 5 min. Set aside in a bowl.
  3. In the same skillet, pan-fry Chinese sausage over med. heat, stirring frequently until crispy. Using a slotted spoon, set aside.
  4. Serve Chinese sausage over sticky rice. Drizzle oil and scallion and shallot mixture over the top. Season with Maggi sauce.

Preparation time: 20 minute(s)

Cooking time: 30 minute(s)

 

Since my husband was on a pork fast, I made some chicken for him to eat with the sticky rice. Take 6 chicken thighs and cut into pieces. Marinade with 1 tbsp. honey, 1 tbsp. brown sugar, and salt & pepper to taste. After cooking the Chinese sausage, cook the chicken in the same skillet, using the sausage fat for flavor. You can also serve finely shredded pork (thit cha bong or thit ruoc) over the top–it looks like carpet meat but I grew up with the stuff. You can also added dried onion bits or crispy pork skin. Like I said, there is not one right way to eat this. The only constants are the sweet rice, the oil and scallion mixture, and the Maggi sauce.

vietnamese eggrolls

Eggrolls

Crisphy cha gio on top of a bed of vermicelli

Cha gio, or Vietnamese eggrolls: one of my favorite things to eat. I can make 100 of them and nibble on them every day for weeks. I never get tired of this homemade version which is a recipe I modeled after my own mother’s. And you know mama’s home cookin’ is the best kind of cookin’ they is.

My mom used to make these as a treat every once in awhile, and they’re so good that I don’t even eat them with nuoc cham, or the fish dipping sauce that is a staple condiment for many Vietnamese. I prefer the eggrolls virgin, untouched and unmarred by any any additional sauce or lettuce or vermicelli. Of course, eating them this way makes them disappear much quicker, so I like to feed them to others with a bowl of vermicelli (bun cha gio).

This recipe is not exactly my mothers–she passed away when I was 14, an age before I became interested in cooking. But of the dozens of Saturday mornings I spent in the kitchen peeling eggroll skin after eggroll skin for her, I got to “know” the ingredients by sight and smell. It sounds a little sick, but I loved inhaling the aromatic raw meat and vegetable mixture that is to become the eggroll filling. As a matter of fact, I still do that today when I make eggrolls–that’s the only way I know if the mixture needs more fish sauce or garlic or whatever.

So eggrolls being one of the things I missed most from my mama’s kitchen after she died, I came up with my own concoction that, if my memory doesn’t fail me, tastes incredibly similar to hers. Now if only I was talented enough to figure out her homemade pho from scratch.

Eggrolls contain pork, but one time in elementary school for an international culture week, my mom substituted the ground pork with turkey because I had a Muslim classmate. Now that I have a husband who avoids beef and pork, I too make my eggrolls with ground turkey. They’re not as juicy but they’re healthier. (Well, as healthy as they can be after being submerged in the canola oil.).

I must say cha gio are my masterpiece, but they’re only made like once a year because the whole process–from chopping the veggies to wrapping the eggrolls to frying them–used to take six hours or something insane. Thank God for the food processor, which now has cut my prep and cook time down to a mere four hours. (Har, har.) Don’t let that scare you away from attempting them though; keep in mind that I’m a slow worker, not to mention blind. So remember that if I can do it, so can you. And I encourage you to try this.

Recipe: Vietnamese Eggrolls

Summary: Based on my mom’s cha gio recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. ground pork or turkey
  • 1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled & minced
  • 1 med. yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 lg. carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 oz. dried cat ear mushroom (black fungus)
  • 6 (1.75 oz.) pkgs. dried bean thread noodles
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2/3 c. fish sauce or to taste
  • 2 eggs
  • ground black pepper
  • 2 pkgs. egg roll wrappers or rice paper
  • canola oil for frying

Instructions

  1. Soak mushrooms and noodles in hot water until tender, about 5 to 10 min. Then finely chop either with knife or food processor.
  2. Mix all ingredients in a lg. bowl and season with pepper to taste.
  3. If using eggroll wrappers, use beaten egg to seal. If using rice paper, simply wet paper and roll, using about 2 rounded spoonfuls of filling in each eggroll.
  4. Heat oil and test for readiness by dropping the tip of an eggroll into the oil. It is hot enough if it immediately begins to sizzle. Fry eggrolls until golden brown, about 4 to 7 min. each.

Quick Notes

Refrigerating the filling mixture overnight allows the flavors to meld together better.

Don’t overstuff your eggrolls or else they will either burst or not cook through.

The folding technique is as follows: if using the square eggroll wrappers, set the skin so that it is a diamond in front of you. Set the filling in the lower center of the skin. Fold the corner pointing at you up over the mixture. Then fold in the two sides. Then roll eggroll away from you, sealing the far corner with a little bit of beaten egg. If using round rice paper for skin, simply wet the banh trang in a lg. bowl of very hot water. It just needs to be immersed for a few seconds; don’t oversoak–the paper will get more and more pliable as it soaks up the water. Oversoaking the rice paper results in mushy skin that will tear easily. Place the circular skin in front of you, place the filling in the lower center of the skin. Fold in the same pattern as with the square skins, but omitting the beaten egg for sealing.

Line the cooked eggrolls on paper towels or paper bags to drain excess oil. Paper bags, I heard, do a better job of soaking up the oil without making the eggrolls soggy.

Variations

The authentic Vietnamese eggroll uses rice paper for the skin, but many use the Filipino lumpia eggroll skin nowadays. Just be sure not to use the Chinese eggroll skin; I made that mistake the first time I ever made eggrolls (yes, back in college), and the skin puffed up like a wonton crisp, which is NOT what you want.

Meal type: hors d’oerves

Culinary tradition: Vietnamese

Microformatting by hRecipe.

vietnamese shaking chicken (or beef)

Ga luc lac or bo luc lac are French influenced dishes consisting of seared and sauteed bpcubes of meat served with a vinaigrette dressing. The term “luc lac” comes from the sound of the meat shaking in the pan while cooking. The dish is usually made of sirloin or ribeye steak, but I decided to go a slightly healthier route and make it with chicken. Whichever meat you choose, it’ll be tasty.

You can serve it with white rice or a French style fried rice (recipe posting TBD). This is often a favorite at Tan Tan and Sinh Sinh restaurants (reviews of these places also TBD).

The picture below is of the beef version which is on Rasa Malaysia. The one we took of our chicken version turned out too dim for the web.



Bo luc lac (Shaking beef)

Photo courtesy of Rasa Malaysia



Recipe: Vietnamese Shaking Chicken (or Beef)

Summary: Original recipe for beef from Ravenous Couple on Rasa Malaysia

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs. chicken thighs or beef sirloin or ribeye, cut into 1″ cubes
  • Marinade:
    • 2 tbsp. minced garlic
    • 1.5 tbsp. sugar
    • 2 tbsp. oyster sauce
    • 1 tbsp. fish sauce
    • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
    • 1 tsp. soy sauce
    Vinaigrette dressing:
    • 1/4 c. rice vinegar
    • 1.5 tbsp. sugar
    • 1/2 tbsp. salt
    Dipping sauce:
    • 1 lemon, juiced
    • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
    • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 1 bunch watercress, long stems trimmed (optional)

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine marinade ingredients with the meat. Refrigerate and let marinate for 30 to 90 minutes.
  2. Prepare vinaigrette by combining vinaigrette ingredients. It should be a balance of sour, salty, and sweet. Pour 3 to 4 tbsp. over the onion and let stand for at least 10 minutes.
  3. Heat a wok over high heat. Add onion and meat 1 layer at a time and sear for about 2 minutes. Then shake the wok to sear all sides of the meat, about another 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Prepare dipping sauce by combining ingredients.
  5. Drizzle vinaigrette on top of meat and serve with tomatoes, rice, and dipping sauce.

Variations

I accidentally added cupfuls of sugar instead of tablespoonfuls. (This is what happens when you are blind and have to juggle all the measurements in your head.) We managed to throw a lot of it out and salvage the dish, but in the end, it wasn’t too sweet at all. I also used brown sugar instead of white as a healthier alternative.

The original recipe called for slightly pickled red onions but I prefer mine sauteed with the meat. I can’t get enough of that scrumptious sauce flavor so I just added the onion to the wok while cooking the meat. I also substituted green onion since that’s what was in my fridge, and I needed to get rid of it. But using actual onion is preferable.

I also cut the rice vinegar by half for the vinaigrette. This worked out much better. I would maybe try white vinegar and even less of it next time to see how that turns out.

Lastly, the original recipe called for more oil to be added to the wok for cooking but I found the sesame oil in the marinade was enough to keep the meat from sticking to the wok surface. Otherwise, it’d be a super greasy dish.

Cooking time (duration): 30 (excluding marinade time)

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: Vietnamese

Microformatting by hRecipe.

Remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.

“quick” & easy vietnamese chicken noodle soup

Pho ga

A comfort food staple in our home

Ahh…the most famous Vietnamese dish in conjunction with the baguette sandwich, banh mi thit. How can we talk about comfort foods and not talk about pho? Pho ga–or noodle soup with chicken–is perhaps my favorite of the pho family. I grew up eating pho on occasional Sunday mornings, and while I know it’s a cliche to say so, my mama seriously made the best pho. Seriously. The best. My parents’ friends had even urged her to open up a little pho restaurant. She was bestowed the recipe by a Vietnamese chef she once knew. Unfortunately, my mama died before I ever got the chance to learn her secrets, and my dad never found the written gem anywhere. Quite literally, she took the secret to the grave.

Years later, I discovered Quoc Viet, a handy little brand of soup base. They make a variety of soup bases, including pho bo (Hanoi beef noodle soup), bo kho (beef stew), and bun bo Hue (spicy lemongrass beef noodle soup from central Vietnam), to name a few. I have yet to be disappointed by any of the outcomes using Quoc Viet products.

Pho is definitely a comfort food: eaten on cold days or after a late night of partying, it hits just the right spot. Vietnamese people often eat it for lunch, brunch, or even breakfast. (I’ve seen Pho Danh, which I believe has the best pho in Houston and which I will review next time I go, crowded with diners at 9 AM.)

So what makes a good pho? It’s mainly in the broth. It can’t be too oily, it has to be flavorful with the right flavors. You’d be surprised at some of the weird tasting pho broths out there. For example, Les Givrals Kahve–not to be confused with the original Givral on Bellaire, this one is an entirely different chain: one on Washington, the other on Congress–has one-dimensional broth that reeks of pepper and nothing else. Blegh.

Quoc Viet makes a delicious broth. I actually prefer my homemade quick & easy chicken pho to any other restaurant’s. One day I will attempt to make it from scratch, but till then, this is a simple yet savory substitute. And remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.


Recipe: “Quick” & Easy Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

Summary: Pho ga–instructions can be found on the label of the Quoc Viet soup base, but here is my version.

Ingredients

  • 1 jar Quoc Viet brand “chicken pho” soup base
  • 15-20 chicken legs
  • 1 pc. fresh ginger, unpeeled but washed
  • 1 whole onion, unpeeled but washed
  • 1 (13.5 oz.) can chicken broth
  • 2-3 gal. water
  • 3 pkg. rice sticks (banh pho), cooked al dente
  • 1 bunch scallion/green onion, washed & finely chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed & finely chopped
  • 3 limes, cut into sm. wedges
  • Sriracha, hoisin sauce & fish sauce to taste

Instructions

  1. In a lg. stockpot, combine chicken, ginger, and whole onion. Add enough water to cover ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Add contents of the Quoc Viet soup base, making sure not to tear open the enclosed spice bags. Boil at med. heat for 20 min.
  3. Remove chicken, ginger, onion, and spice bag. Add chicken broth to soup and adjust water to 2-3 gal. of water, depending on taste. Bring back to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and let simmer until ready to serve.
  4. Meanwhile, remove skin from chicken and shred meat.
  5. To serve, in a lg. bowl, place noodles, chicken, scallion, and cilantro. Pour steaming broth into bowl. Garnish with freshly squeezed lime juice, Sriracha, and/or hoisin sauce.

Quick Notes

I put quotation marks around the word “quick” because while it is quicker than making pho from scratch, it still takes some time to prepare.

You can often find the Quoc Viet soup bases, along with the other ingredients, at your local Asian grocery store. You can also find them online but you’ll probably have to purchase in bulk.

The specific brands of ingredients I like to use are:

  • Swanson chicken broth
  • Sriracha brand hot sauce which is a Thai sauce made of sun-ripened chili peppers and garlic
  • Koon Chun hoisin sauce

As for rice sticks, I like to get the medium-sized noodles (rather than the small that are served in most restaurants), simply because this is what my mama used to serve, and it’s nostalgic for me. As for brand, I used to get the one with a red rose on the package, but that brand has become increasingly harder to find, so I’ve resorted to using one with an elephant. Some cooks I know say it’s an abomination to use dried rice sticks, preferring to only use the fresh ones in the refrigerated section of the store. Anyone have a suggestion as to which rice stick brand I should use?

Variations

Different people like different garnishes and condiments with their pho. I personally only add lime, choosing to forego all the various sauces and veggies. Call me a purist, but I tend to like tasting the essence of a dish. For others, though, you can serve raw veggies: bean sprouts, mint, basil. My mama used to like stalks of green onion blanced in broth. Sometimes, I like slices of red onion doused in vinegar. Place these garnishes in the center of the table and let diners help themselves. Just be sure to let the newbies know it’s for the pho and not a side salad; my dad’s seen a man eat this at a restaurant before his pho came out.

This recipe should make about 20 servings.

Cooking time (duration): 60

Meal type: brunch

Culinary tradition: Vietnamese

Microformatting by hRecipe.

vietnamese chicken curry

Ca ri ga (chicken curry) is a stew-like dish eaten as a main course. It’s perfect for those cold winter days but because my husband and I have been on a French baguette kick ever since our honeymoon in June (more on that later), I decided to cook up the perfect accompaniment to the baguette.

France has a presence in Vietnamese culture due to the French colonization of the Indochine region during the 19th Century. This is why some of the vernacular transferred and why the baguette is used in several Vietnamese dishes. The beauty of this curry is its versatility in that it can, with a few tweaks, be made with beef instead of chicken. Rice sticks (banh pho), egg noodles (mi), or even rice (com) can also be substituted for the baguette slices.

I got this recipe from my Aunt Carol whose creations I used to scarf down when I lived under her roof back in high school. As with all great cooks, nothing was properly measured in her recipe so I had to cook it several times and modify it here and there before it tasted similar to hers. (The way I was originally cooking it made it super watery–it was missing that slightly thicker consistency of curry. Of course, the Vietnamese variety is not as thick as its Thai or Japanese and Korean counterparts, so don’t worry if it looks more like soup. You can just add more cornstarch to thicken it up.)

Made my house smell funky but oh-so delicious

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 lbs. chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. cooking oil
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, cut 3 inches long
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp. curry powder
  • 1 (13.5 oz.) can coconut milk
  • 3 (13.5 oz.) can chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch, diluted in equal parts water
  • cilantro for garnish

Directions:

  1. Combine chicken, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and 1 tbsp. of the curry powder in a large bowl. Let marinate for 30 minutes.
  2. Heat oil in a large stockpot and saute garlic and onion until fragrant. Add remaining 1 tbsp. curry powder and stir for 30 seconds. Add chicken and stir until completely covered in curry mixture, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add carrots, potatoes, celery, lemongrass, fish sauce, coconut milk, and chicken broth to stockpot. Add enough water to cover ingredients. Bring to boil, then cover and reduce to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until chicken, carrots, and potatoes are cooked through.
  4. Before serving, add cornstarch mixture. Add more for desired thickness. Garnish with cilantro. Serve over rice sticks, egg noodles, rice, or with baguette slices.

Serves 6 to 8.

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