Archive for the 'Soups + Stew' Category

Cháo Cá – Vietnamese Fish Porridge

Chao Ca - Vietnamese Fish Porridge

I called dibs on the fish carcass following our baked catfish feast at Phong Dinh. While little was left of the fish’s flesh, I saw great potential in the remaining bones. Namely, an opportunity to transform what would have been waste into one of the most comforting dishes ever: cháo cá (Vietnamese fish porridge).

To start, I made a light stock using the bones along with fresh ginger, scallions, and cilantro. According to Mom, the aromatics are essential for balancing the fish’s intrinsically “fishy” flavor and aroma. Next, I added rice to the broth and let it simmer for the better part of an hour. Once the rice was fully bloomed, thickening the porridge just so, sautéed fish and mushrooms were added in. Chopped cilantro and scallions topped each bowl to finish.

Even though cháo cá  is essentially made with kitchen scraps, the flavor coaxed from the humble ingredients is rounded and rich. It’s hard not to feel utterly satisfied after finishing a bowl of this soulful porridge.

  • 1 large fish carcass, with any remaining flesh removed and set aside
  • Water
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • Small knob ginger (1.5 inches long), peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch scallions, white and green parts separated
  • Salt
  • Fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups Jasmine rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces white button mushrooms, rinsed and quartered
  • Chili powder (optional)

Make broth

Chao Ca - Vietnamese Fish Porridge

In a large stock pot, combine 4 quarts of water, fish carcass, cilantro (stems only), ginger, and half of the scallions (white part only, halved lengthwise). Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes on low heat.

Remove broth from heat and discard fish carcass and aromatics. Season with 1 tablespoon salt and 3 tablespoons fish sauce.

Make porridge

Chao Ca - Vietnamese Fish Porridge

Over medium-low heat, return the broth to the stove and add in rice. Simmer until desired thickness has been achieved, approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour.

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Bún Bò Huế – Vietnamese Beef & Lemon Grass Noodle Soup

Bun Bo Hue

With the help of Grandma and my aunts these past couple of years, I’ve learned how to prepare almost every noodle soup that I giddily slurped as a child and hungrily craved as an adult. Grandma taught me how to tame pho bo and bo kho from her home kitchen, while my aunts showed me the ins and outs of bun rieu and hu tieu through detailed emails and patient telephone calls.

I’ve amassed quite a repertoire of recipes on this site over the years, preserving a small piece of family history in the process and guaranteeing that all future cravings are swiftly satisfied.

Most recently, Grandma and I tackled bun bo Hue, a complex and heady beef noodle soup scented with lemongrass, packed with pork trotters, and littered with congealed pigs’ blood.

While the city of Hue is known for its spicy fare, Grandma’s version of the former imperial capital’s famous noodle soup is quite tame because she’s needed to refine and adjust it over time to placate the palates of her American-born, spice-averse grandchildren. What can I say? My cousins and I were weak when it came to heat when we were younger.

The most magical part of making bun bo Hue happens around hour three when the beef, pork, and lemongrass broth is transformed into the familiar fiery orange soup. Grandma uses a sizzling mixture of vegetable oil, scallions, fish sauce, and paprika to impart the broth with its characteristically bright hue and rich, umami flavor. Never in a million years would I have guessed that a jar of paprika resided in Grandma’s cupboard for this very recipe.

A heavy dose of fermented shrimp paste, along with a touch of sugar and salt, add the finishing touches to the broth. The soup is ready to be served when the slices of beef and the pigs’ feet are both perfectly tender, after approximately 4 hours total.

For broth

  • 2.5 pounds pigs’ feet, cut into chunks
  • 2.5 pounds beef shank
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons salt, separated
  • 9 stalks lemongrass
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 bunch scallions, white parts only, halved lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons fermented shrimp paste
  • 1 tablespoon monosodium glutamate, optional
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar

For garnish and noodles

Bun Bo Hue

To prepare the broth, begin by cleaning the pigs’ feet under running water to remove any bits of bone debris that the butcher left behind. Don’t forget to run your fingers beneath the skin where unsightly debris may have gotten trapped.

Bun Bo Hue

Place the cleaned pigs’ feet and beef shank in a large stockpot filled with enough water to submerge them and bring to a boil. The shank and feet are full of impurities, so once the water comes to a boil, dump it out and collect the feet and shank in a colander.

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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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Turkey Broth and Turkey Noodle Soup

Turkey Noodle Soup

After carving all of the meat from the soy-brined turkey, I didn’t think anything of chucking the carcass straight into the trash. However, as soon as the bones hit the liner, I instantly remembered that roasted bones equals kick ass broth, and immediately fished them out of the bin.

Since I had just spent the better part of the day cooking, I was glad to find a turkey broth recipe that was relatively hands-off and called for ingredients that I already had at home. Two hours of slow and low simmering extracted the turkey’s flavors into an all-purpose broth that eventually became the base for turkey noodle soup a few days later.

While I knew I would enjoy the turkey noodle soup, I wasn’t expecting to love it so much. Following many meals of turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, the soup offered a light yet still very comforting change of pace. And of course, it made great use of the leftover turkey meat that we had in abundance.

I ate my bowls of turkey noodle with slices of avocado on top, which took the already standout dish to a whole new level. Why can’t all leftovers be this successful?

For turkey broth

  • 1 turkey carcass, cut into 4 or 5 pieces
  • 1 onion, chopped coarse
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped coarse
  • 1 rib celery, chopped coarse
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 3 quarts water

For turkey noodle soup

  • 1 recipe turkey broth
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1 rib celery, sliced thin
  • Salt
  • 8 ounces noodles
  • 2 cups cooked turkey meat, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • Pepper

Make turkey broth

Turkey Noodle Soup

Bring all of the ingredients to a simmer [when the liquid is at a gentle simmer, you see a few small bubbles breaking the surface every few seconds] in a large stockpot and cook for 2 hours, skimming off any fat or foam that rises to the surface.

Turkey Noodle Soup

Strain the broth through a large mesh strainer into a large container, removing any fat that rises to the surface as it cools. This broth can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

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