Saturday, April 27, 2013

Gio Thu- Vietnamese Hogshead

Are you really eating a pig head?  Well, yeah!  Sticky, gelatinous goodness with earthy spices and chili; what could be better.  

In South Louisiana, hogshead cheese appears throughout our grocery stores and on many restaurant charcuterie boards.  Cooking down a pig head with various herbs and spices is a common practice among professional and amateur Cajun/Creole cooks, and it is a tasty treat when done properly.  The pig organs release a gelatin which creates an aspic that allows the ingredients to mold into a terrine.  The technique originated in Europe, and possibly due to the French influence it became common in Vietnam.  Although slightly different, the version made in Vietnam is more gelatinous and has an earthy taste with the addition of five spice powder.  Traditionally, this is a layer in a banh mi dac biet (combination sandwich), and gio thu is a staple during Tet when it is eaten with sweet and sour mustard greens.   I enjoy slicing it thinly, wrapping it in Vietnamese coriander and cilantro, and dipping in nuoc mam

Make sure the meat is washed and cleaned thoroughly.  The head should have the brains removed, and the tongue should be peeled of the outer layer (this can be done after the boiling period).  

Gio Thu- Hogshead
1 pig face- cheek meat and snout attached
2 pig ears
1 pig tongue
5lbs. pork bones
1 cup dry fungus-*
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 shallots minced
3 cloves garlic minced
4 tbsp fish sauce-*
1 tbsp Chinese five spice powder-*
         1 tbsp red chili flakes
1 tbsp coarse ground black  peppercorns
*- can be found at your local Asian market

Soak the dry fungus in water while you prepare the meat.  Rinse off all the meat and thoroughly clean all parts.  Boil all the pig meat for about 45 minutes until the ears are tender when you push your fingernail into them.  Your nail should leave an indentation.  Rinse the meat under cold water to prevent discoloration.  When it cools enough to handle, peel the outer layer off the tongue (if you haven't done so), slice the ears, and cut the other pieces into a large dice.

In a large pan or wok, heat sesame oil.  When very hot, add shallots and garlic, stir fry quickly until aromatic, then add fungus and meat.  Cook on medium high heat stirring gently to begin releasing the natural gelatin.  After a few minutes, add fish sauce and spices.  Cook until the meat and fungus become sticky.  

Line a mold with plastic wrap, and fill with meat.  Seal tightly, and place a weight on top to press it down overnight.  After about 24 hours, unmold and slice thinly.  Traditionally, this is a layer in a banh mi, but it can also be eaten as a snack with herbs and nuoc mam.   

The toughest decision of the day- Metal? Punk? 80's? Rockabilly?  Hmm, not sure, I know the answer.  The Cult was the background music of choice and helped shape my view of Rock & Roll.  Now back in the early to mid 80's, Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy blasted into the American rock scene with a sound that crossed over numerous genres.  I remember a trip to LSU with the Cult's Electric album blasted over the speakers of my buddy's parent's station wagon!  She Sells Sanctuary remains a staple of 80's satellite radio.  Manly food such as gio thu needs manly music, and the Cult is a nice injection of testosterone.

Time for a drink!!   Beer!  I rarely drink beer, but sometimes I just enjoy the cold refreshing taste.  Tin Roof Blonde Ale...the Baton Rouge brewery gives us a nice beer to pair with pig parts and a bonus- a purple and gold can so we can think of the LSU Tigers with every sip!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Vietnamese Crudo, Yuzu Nuoc Mam, Pomelo, Saigon Herbs

Being that I am Italian, I will take the liberty of using the term crudo when describing this dish.  Considering that I will dress the fish, it is closer to a traditional crudo than the Japanese sashimi.  However, the use of yuzu does bring in a Japanese element, but who is following the rules today anyhow?  I try to stick to the more traditional preparations, but today my restaurant side got the best of me, and I put together something of a hybrid.  

Originally grown in China, the yuzu has become very popular in Japanese cooking.  Ironically, the name in Chinese refers to the pomelo, which we will discuss in a moment.  Tart and aromatic are two characteristics of the fruit.  Since citrus juice is added to nuoc mam, I have used yuzu juice and heightened the tartness in the crudo. 

For texture and a slight sweetness, pomelo segments will be added.  The pomelo is a large citrus in the shape of a pear but with the skin of a grapefruit.  However, when you cut it open, the pith is very thick with a dense inner flesh.  

Striped Bass Crudo with Yuzu Nuoc Mam, Pomelo and Saigon Fresh Herbs
2 filetsStriped Bass sliced 
1 pomelo segmented
1 tbsp yuzu nuoc mam (recipe below)
1 tsp lemongrass minced white only
2 shallots minced
1 tsp cilantro chopped
1 tsp Vietnamese coriander chopped-*
1 tsp perilla chopped-*

Yuzu Nuoc Mam
½cup fish sauce-*¼cup water
2tbsp rice wine vinegar 
¼ cup palm sugar (or to taste)-*
1or 2 limes juiced
3cloves garlic minced
2Thai chilis thinly sliced-*

1 tbsp yuzu juice-*
*- ingredients can be found at your local Asian Market

Make sure the fish is very cold as this will make it easier to slice.  Cut open the pomelo, and clean all the pith and skin away from the flesh.  Using a very sharp knife, cut the segments avoiding all seeds and flesh.  You should have nice pieces of fruit that are very clean, which you can now slice into thin pieces.  The white pith is very bitter, and we do not want that mucking up our fish.  

Over low heat, warm up the first four ingredients for nuoc mam, and when the sugar is dissolved, add the rest and taste for balance.  It should be salty, sweet, sour, and spicy.  You can adjust it accordingly.

Gently cut the fish into nice uniform slices moving the knife across the grain of the meat.  Carefully place the fish slices on a plate and add the pomelo segments.  Dress the plate with herbs, lemongrass, shallots, and nuoc mam.  You may want to add more or less of each depending on your taste.  Personally, I enjoy the freshness of a lot of herbs, so I tend to overdo them, but to each his own.  Just make it however you feel it tastes best.  

Crudo and The Cure!  Yeah, that is kind of what happened.  I fell into a bizarre trance of Simon Gallup's bass and fish!  I agree that it makes no sense, but what can you do?  Plus, "Love Song" reminds me of my wife which puts a big smile on my face.  Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me was the Cure album that changed my outlook towards music, but I was lost in Disintegration and enjoyed it!

So let's make a drink!! I found a few trusty ingredients and came up with a little bourbon flavored beverage.   Saigon Mint Julep- 2 oz. bourbon, 1oz. simple syrup, 2 oz. pineapple juice, splash of yuzu juice, perilla, lemongrass- muddle perilla and lemongrass, add ice, bourbon, simple syrup, yuzu, and pineapple juice.  Mix well, and enjoy!  Now I need to invite Robert Smith over to have a drink, and I can wonder if his hair is always that big!  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Cha Ca Thang Long- Hanoi Fish with Turmeric and Dill

Large masses of water provide luxurious ingredients.  Centuries of fishing has provided us with meals of wonderful seafood and glorious sauces.  Dover Sole Meuniere, Tuna Nicoise, Caribbean Jerk Fish, Roasted Whole Pompano, Japanese...well you get the idea.  We could go on forever with amazing recipes.  In South Louisiana, Speckled Trout Almandine and Blackened Redfish grace numerous restaurant menus throughout the area; however, we will travel to the capital of Vietnam where a certain dish has become a staple after a restaurant, Cha Ca La Vong, created it.  

Dill is a regional herb used in Northern Vietnam and predominantly in dishes with fish (including soup).  We are going to use striped bass, but any nice firm white fish can be used.  Also, think of dill as a extra vegetable instead of an herb--use the entire piece and cut the green onions into long batons.  The pineapple fish sauce calls for a grey, thicker version than nuoc mam.  

Today's cooking was aided by the Canadian trio Rush!  Congratulations on their recent and long overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Hanoi fish and mid-80s Rush make for a wonderful afternoon.  Power Windows, Hold Your Fire, and Presto close out the decade, and while vastly underrated by many fans, I thoroughly enjoy the change in style.  Marathon, Manhattan Project, Force Ten, and Chain Lightning are all stellar pieces.  Enjoy today's fish, and a wonderful cold beverage recipe is found at the end!

Cha Ca Thang Long- Hanoi Style Fish with Pinepple Fish Sauce

2 lbs. Fish- Cod, Halibut, White Fish

1 lb. dry vermicelli-*

1 cup canola oil
1/4 cup fish sauce-*
1 tsp turmeric-*
1 bunch dill
1 bunch green onions
bean sprouts-*
roasted peanuts

Pineapple Fish Sauce
¼ cup fermented fish sauce (mam nem)-*
1 cup pineapple
2 cloves garlic
1 Thai chili-*
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp sugar

*- can be found at your local Asian Market

Combine the sauce ingredients in a blender and emulsify until smooth.  The result will look like an odd gray paste and stink, but trust me, it is delicious.  Cut the fish into nice chunks, about the size of a sugar packet.  Mix the turmeric, fish sauce and oil together and toss with the fish.   In a hot non-stick skillet, add the fish and all the marinade.  When a nice brown coat forms, flip over each piece and cook through.  This should only take a few minutes.  Right before the fish is done, add all the dill and green onions and toss until lightly wilted.

Fill a bowl with the vermicelli and add the fish, peanuts and sprouts.  Make sure to pour the pan sauce onto the bowl and serve with the fish sauce on the side adding some to the bowl as you go.

Beverage- The Presto (in honor of the Rush album)- 2 oz. Spiced Rum, 1/4 cup Diced Fresh Pineapple, 4 oz. Coconut Water (with pulp).  Muddle pineapple, add rum and coconut water, stir to mix, enjoy!


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Quail with Oyster Sauce and Exotic Mushrooms

Hmmm, quail?  Yes, QUAIL!  The small pheasant which is easily bred in farmlands throughout the world.  Raw yolks on beef tartare, fried eggs with blood sausage, deep fried whole quail with white gravy, ahh, we could go on.  However, this recipe combines tropical, earthy and slighty spicy tones to the popular bird. 

Worldly influences seem to shrink as the Internet and digital age continue to develop.  Focusing on a dish that represents numerous Asian countries will be today's objective.  Plus, it is easy to cook at home and a crowd pleaser!  

Vietnamese cuisine benefits from a variety of influences predominantly French, Indian, Chinese and Thai.  The  tropical flavors reflect the southern region, and traditionally, oyster mushrooms would accompany the quail, but I enjoy variety, so we added white and brown beech mushrooms which should be easily found at your local Asian market.  The use of oyster sauce reflects a Chinese style, and the elements of the spice trail bring to mind India and Thailand.  Coconut water (or milk) is prevalent in Southern Vietnamese cooking and its Cambodian and Laos influence.  

Grab a skillet and knife, and let's get to work!

Chim Cut Uop Voi Nam Rom- Quail with Exotic Mushrooms
4 each quails- semi-boneless should be easily available
3 shallots- minced
3 cloves garlic- minced
¼ tsp white pepper
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp Chinese five spice-*
1/4 tsp red chili flakes
1 tsp fish sauce-*
1tbsp oyster sauce-*

½ cup coconut water-*
2 cups Exotic mushrooms- a good variety is fun, keep it interesting
*-can be found at your local Asian market

To get started, cut the backbone out of each quail, then flatten with the breast side up (referred to as spatchcocking).  This will allow even cooking.  If you purchased semi-boneless quail, disregard this step.  

Mince the garlic and shallot, and blend in a mortar with the rest of the marinade ingredients.  I would try to allow this to sit overnight or at least 4-5 hours.  In a hot pan, add a few tablespoons of oil.  Be careful not to overcrowd the pan, and start with the skin side down, brown and flip to continue cooking through.  Be sure to scrape all the marinade into the pan, don't leave any flavor behind.  

When brown crusty bits begin to form on the pan, add your mushrooms.  The natural mushroom water will help release those pieces of goodness.  

As the mushrooms begin to brown, gently shake the pan and scrape the bottom.  Add the coconut water and cook uncovered for a minute or two, then cover and allow to simmer on low for about 10-12 minutes.  

Once the flavors are fully incorporated, remove the cover and gently reduce the sauce for another minute or two.  The sauce should thicken nicely until it coats the back of a spoon.  Serve with a side of rice and traditional Vietnamese herbs and garnishes.  I used cilantro, Vietnamese coriander and bean sprouts with sliced green onions.  

Monday, April 8, 2013

Five Spice Cornish Hen with Tamarind Sauce

Nothing beats chicken!  Hot, cold, roasted, fried, a juicy chicken thigh is among the most delicious items available.  Personally, I like it cold and fried, but everyone has a preference.   

For centuries, poultry has remained atop the list of cuisines throughout the world, which along with pork makes up over 60% of the human diet.  From Southern Fried Chicken to Tikka Masala to Yakitori, we are in love with the domesticated bird.  This version is a Vietnamese favorite which blends earthy tones from Chinese 5 spice (fennel seed, saigon cinnamon, star anise, clove, szechuan peppercorn) with a sweet and sour tamarind sauce with a crispy Rock Cornish game hen (a cross between the White Rock and Cornish Game chickens).  

Ga Ro Ti- Five-Spice Rock Cornish Game Hen with Tamarind Sauce
2 Rock Cornish Game Hens
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp Chinese five spice-*
4 tbsp canola oil

Tamarind Sauce
2 tsp tamarind concentrate-*
4 tbsp fish sauce-*
1 ¼ cups water
4 tbsp palm sugar-*
5 cloves garlic
2 Thai chilis-*

accompaniments- rice, coriander, perilla
*- ingredients can be found at your local Asian Market

In a small bowl, mix the 5 spice and salt then dry off the hens.  Place them on a baking rack to air out for a moment.  Using a pair of scissors, cut the spine out and flatten the birds skin side up.  Then rub them thoroughly with the salt and 5 spice blend.  

The process of cutting them open is called spatchcocking or butterfly, and it will allow the birds to get a crisp skin and cook evenly and quickly.

In a heavy skillet, heat up the canola oil and add the birds skin side down.  Gently place them into the pan and avoid splashing the hot grease.

When the skin becomes golden brown, carefully flip them over and cook through on the underside.  Clear juices will begin to run from the hen as it is thoroughly cooked.  

While we cook the hen, put a small pot on the stove, add the fish sauce and tamarind paste and mix to dissolve.  Add the sugar and gently warm and stir until fully incorporated.  

Once the fish sauce is blended with the sugar and tamarind, add the garlic and chili; turn off the heat and let it rest.

When the birds are done, remove from the pan and serve with a bowl of rice and a side of tamarind sauce.  The traditional garnishes are perilla, a purple/green mint, and vietnamese coriander which has a lemony mint flavor.  Both herbs are abundantly used in Vietnam and add a beautiful aroma and freshness.   

Monday, April 1, 2013

Smoked Veal Salad

Fireworks, parades, celebrations?  Yeah, that's how New Year's Day is spent in America but is this commonplace elsewhere?

In many parts of Asia, the celebration of the New Year  begins a month or so after January 1st.  The first day (until the third day) of the first month of the Lunar Calendar (late January or early February), the Vietnamese people celebrate the holiday known as Tet Nguyen Dan (meaning Feast of the First Morning) or simply Tet.  Traditionally, parades, fireworks, games and gifts of money are part of the celebration otherwise known as- an Tet- meaning to eat Tet!  As with most cultures, food begins to take center stage during holiday settings.  During Tet, duck is considered to be unlucky and shrimp walk backwards, thus making you move backwards (as opposed to progressing through life); other seasonal dishes become a part of the Feast. Visit your local Vietnamese community to enjoy the celebration of Tet or find the nearest Asian Market and expand your pantry.

Dried candied fruits, pickled vegetables and sticky rice filled with meat or mung bean are among the various dishes offered.  However, our focus will be on a seldom seen dish involving smoked veal and wonderful fresh herbs.  This specialty becomes prominent during Tet, however, we enjoy it any time of year.

In Vietnam, a whole calf is roasted in an open flame pit, but supplies the roasted veal to many Asian markets throughout the US.  The method is slightly different but the results are wonderful.  The meat is already sliced and beautifully packaged, which makes this a wonderful year-round treat.

Be Thui-Smoked Veal Salad
1lb. Vietnamese Style Roasted/Smoked Veal Sliced-*
2 each red or yellow onion
¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
1 bunch perilla-*
1 bunch Vietnamese coriander-*
roasted peanuts
roasted rice powder-*

Ginger Nuoc Mam
½ cup fish sauce-*
¼ cup water
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar 
¼ cup palm sugar (or to taste)-*
1 or 2 limes juiced
3 cloves garlic minced
2 Thai chilis thinly sliced-*
2 tbsp ginger minced
*- ingredients can be found at your local Asian Market

Nuoc mam, a staple of Vietnamese cuisine, adds sweet, salty, spicy and acidic flavors to any dish, and this version includes freshly chopped ginger.  Thai palm sugar is my choice but any type of sugar will work, and we use unseasoned rice wine vinegar.  Measurements are provided but have fun with this and adjust according to your tastes.  You might want less sugar or more spice, so play with it and change it according to your palate.

Break up the sugar, and add it to the liquids while bringing to a slow simmer.  This will allow the sugar to melt nicely and blend the flavors together.  While working the sauce, finely chop the garlic, ginger and thinly slice the chilis.  After a few minutes, the sugar should melt properly, and the chilis, ginger and garlic are added. Turn off the heat and let is rest, then thinly slice the red onion and toss it in rice wine vinegar. 

As the onions are marinating, tear the herbs from the thick stems and set aside.  Now we are ready to plate the salad.  Layer the onions on the bottom with the sliced veal on top, and sprinkle a teaspoon or so of roasted rice powder along with the sesame seeds over the top of the salad.  Garnish heavily with the torn herbs, and serve the nuoc mam on the side.  The smokiness of the veal pairs beautifully with the freshness of the ingredients.