Archive for the 'Family Recipe' Category

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Nước Chấm – Vietnamese Fish Sauce Vinaigrette

Nuoc Cham Recipe

Of all the family recipes I’ve learned over the years, this nuoc cham is without question the most essential. From com tam (broken rice) to banh cuon (pork and mushroom crepes) to cha gio (deep-fried spring rolls) to thit nuong (grilled pork), nearly every dish in the Vietnamese culinary cannon depends on this sweet and sour “mother” sauce to season, spice, and delight. When paired with a lackluster nuoc cham, even the most carefully prepared dishes can fall disappointingly flat.

This recipe comes from Aunt Phuong, the premier nuoc cham artist in my family. While garlic, chilies, lime juice, sugar, and fish sauce are all standard ingredients, her use of Coco Rico soda in place of water takes the vinaigrette to the next level. Though mostly mild in flavor, the coconut-tinged soda brings a crisp sweetness that water doesn’t possess. The soda’s carbonation fades just as soon as it’s combined with the sugar, so no worries about bubbly nuoc cham. Stir, stir, stir…

When stored in an airtight container, the vinaigrette will keep in the fridge for up to four months.

  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • 2 Thai red chillies
  • 1 can Coco Rico soda (12 ounces)
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar (77 grams)
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  •  1/4 cup fresh lime juice

Nuoc Cham Recipe

Trim and finely mince garlic cloves and chilies. Set aside.

Nuoc Cham Recipe

Combine sugar and soda in a medium-sized bowl, stirring briskly with a large spoon to dissolve sugar completely.

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Phở Bò – Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

Pho Bo - Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

During my visit to San Diego this past Mother’s Day, Ba Ngoai taught me how to make pho bo from scratch. It was a two day affair, one day dedicated to purchasing groceries and another to preparing the soup. Shopping and cooking on the same day is an exhausting endeavor for a senior citizen, so I was happy to divide the tasks in order to finally conquer Vietnam’s most iconic noodle soup.

The leg bones that we had procured the day before were soaking on the stove when I arrived at her house on Sunday afternoon. She switched the flame on high soon after, parboiling the limbs to get rid of impurities. Next, she instructed me to turn off the heat, grab ahold of the pot, and follow her into the backyard. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but what Grandma says goes in my family.

In the backyard, we dumped the scummy water into a ditch of sorts that my grandfather had constructed for this very purpose, making sure not to lose any bones in the process. We then squatted Saigon-style, turned on the garden hose, and rinsed each nub under cold water. It seems that Grandma has a fear of clogging up the kitchen sink, hence this unorthodox, old world technique. After the bones had been thoroughly cleaned, we brought them inside the kitchen and proceeded to make the broth.

When it came time to char the ginger and onion, ingredients essential for perfuming and coloring the soup, Grandma reached into her bag of tricks once more and employed a beat up tin can that was once filled with bamboo shoots. The can’s tight and intensely hot compartment yielded an evenly charred onion with neither fuss nor mess. Grandma’s kitchen genius knows no bounds.

The recipe that follows for my grandmother’s pho bo has been adjusted ever-so-slightly to reflect the sensibilities of modern cooks like myself. While I’d love to have a drainage ditch dedicated to soup scum in my backyard, our current one-bedroom in Pasadena doesn’t allow for such luxuries. Additionally, I’ve swapped out the tin can for a flame-licked grill in order to char the aromatics. While I finessed some of Grandma’s cooking techniques, the soul and flavor of her pho hasn’t been fiddled with one bit. After all, perfection shouldn’t be messed with.

I had an incredible afternoon shadowing Grandma and learning how to construct a well-balanced and deeply satisfying pho. I hope you can taste the love.

For broth

  • 5 pounds beef bones with marrow (leg bones, oxtails, etc.)
  • 4-5 ounces fresh ginger root
  • 1 onion
  • 1 daikon, peeled, trimmed, and cut in half or thirds
  • 5 star anise
  • 8 cloves
  • 2 3-inch long cinnamon sticks
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 5 tablespoons salt, divided
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 4 tablespoon sugar, divided
  • 1/2 tablespoon monosodium glutamate (optional)

For toppings and garnish

  • 2 pounds beef plate
  • 1 pound beef tripe
  • 2 pounds beef top round or eye round, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 bunch scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
  • Fresh herbs such as Thai basil, Vietnamese coriander, etc.
  • Limes, cut into wedges
  • Fresh beansprouts, trimmed
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Chili sauce

For noodles

Make broth

Pho Bo - Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

Dry roast the star anise, anise seeds, cloves, and cinnamon sticks in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until fragrant. Set aside to cool.

Pho Bo - Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

Once the spices have cooled, transfer to a muslin spice sachet and tie the bag closed tightly.

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Hủ Tiếu Mì – Vietnamese Pork Noodle Soup

Hu Tieu Mi - Vietnamese Pork Noodle Soup

One of my culinary goals this year was to stop being such a wuss about preparing Vietnamese noodle soups at home. Four months and some change into 2012, I’m stoked to have mastered Bò Kho (Vietnamese beef stew), Bún Riêu Cua (Vietnamese crab and tomato soup), and most recently, Hủ Tiếu Mì (Vietnamese Pork Noodle Soup).

This most recent accomplishment coincided with my eldest cousin moving into town. Hủ Tiếu Mì is his absolute favorite noodle soup, and he requested that I make a huge vat of it just as soon as he arrived. He also asked for wontons to go with it, but that will be for another time. I need to concentrate on and conquer one dish at a time.

To learn the ins and outs of this Chinese-influenced noodle soup, I sought assistance from my aunt Thao. Something that she mentioned more than once was the importance of having a clear soup. To achieve this, the pork bones used to make the broth needs to boiled and cleaned, and one has to be diligent about skimming off any fat or foam that rises to the surface. Clear broth. Full bellies. Can’t lose.

This recipe makes about a dozen bowls worth, which is just about perfect in my mind. My cousin came over twice for dinner along with his fiancee and took leftovers for breakfast the following morning. Making a tremendous amount of food and having family over to enjoy it made me feel like I was continuing our family’s great tradition of nourishing and over-stuffing. This is what Vietnamese food is all about.

For broth

  • 6 pounds pork bones (neck or spine—Grandma says that spine is tastiest)
  • 1 daikon, peeled, trimmed, and cut in half or thirds
  • 1 cup dried shrimp or 2 dried cuttlefish
  • 7 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon monosodium glutamate (optional)

For toppings and garnish

  • 1.5 pounds ground pork
  • 1.5 pounds pork shoulder/butt
  • 2 bunch scallions, chopped
  • Salt
  • Pepper

For noodles

Make broth

Hu Tieu Mi - Vietnamese Pork Noodle Soup

Place the pork bones in a large stockpot. Fill the stockpot with enough water to cover the surface of the bones and bring to a boil. The pork bones will have some impurities that need to be washed away, so once the water comes to a boil, discard it and collect the bones in a colander.

Hu Tieu Mi - Vietnamese Pork Noodle Soup

One by one, rinse the bones to remove any scum. The cleaner the bones, the clearer the broth will be.

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Bún Riêu Cua – Vietnamese Crab and Tomato Soup

Bun Rieu - Vietnamese Crab and Tomato Soup

I made my very first Vietnamese noodle soup (without grandma looking over my shoulder) on the eve before New Year’s eve. The Astronomer’s mother adores bún riêu, a northern specialty featuring thin rice noodles, a tangy broth, stewed tomatoes, and crab clusters, so I decided to prepare it for the Chaplin clan while visiting Birmingham.

Since this was a spur-of-the-moment idea, The Astronomer and I had to source all of the ingredients locally. Fortunately, a well-stocked Vietnamese grocery store nearby carried everything that we needed, from vermicelli noodles to fermented shrimp paste. Alabama, you surprise me all the time!

This recipe, which comes from my Aunt Tina, calls for canned “minced crab in spices” and employs a tamarind powder to achieve the soup’s characteristic sour notes. My dear Vietnamese-Canadian friend Nina prepares an interestingly similar version of the dish.

I imagine that these sort of semi-homemade recipes were developed within the Vietnamese community living outside Vietnam during a time when fresh crabs and tamarind weren’t readily accessible or were perhaps too pricy to afford. These recipes continue to persevere even with the availability of fresh ingredients because they’re not only convenient but are legitimately delicious.

I was so damn stoked with my first pot of bún riêu that I went ahead and made another vat yesterday at home in Pasadena. My resolution for 2012 is to stop being such a wuss when it comes to preparing Vietnamese foods at home. So far, so good.

For broth

  • 1.5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 bunch scallions, sliced lengthwise (white part only)
  • 6 medium tomatoes, quartered, seeds removed
  • 10 cups water, pork stock, or chicken stock
  • 1.5 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1.5 teaspoons fine shrimp sauce (mam tom)
  • 1.5 tablespoons tamarind soup mix

For rieu (crab mixture)

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 5.6 ounce cans “minced crab in spices” (gia vi nau bun rieu)
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped (green part only)
  • 3.5 ounces dried shrimp
  • 4 eggs, beaten

To serve

  • Vermicelli rice noodles, cooked according to instructions on package
  • Romaine or iceberg lettuce, shredded
  • Fine shrimp sauce (mam tom)
  • Lime wedges

An hour prior to preparing the soup, soak the dried shrimp in cold water. Drain the shrimp and set aside.

Begin broth

Bun Rieu - Vietnamese Crab and Tomato Soup

In a large stock pot over medium heat, add the oil along with the white parts of the scallions. Saute the scallions for 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes and saute for an additional 2 minutes or until the tomatoes begin to sweat.

Bun Rieu - Vietnamese Crab and Tomato Soup

Add the stock or water into the pot and turn the heat to medium-high. Season the broth with fish sauce, shrimp sauce, and tamarind soup mix. Adjust the seasonings based on whether you want it saltier (more fish sauce), sourer (more tamarind), or funkier (more shrimp sauce). Let the broth simmer on medium-low heat while preparing the crab mixture. Be careful not to let the broth boil or the tomatoes will turn to mush.

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