Thursday, May 30, 2013

Caramel Shark

Nothing was jumping out at the market.  I couldn't decide on anything that would make a good blog entry.  I didn't want a whole 20 pound grouper or some of the not so unusual cleaned fish.  Then my eyes wandered to the two lonely fish laying in a box of ice.  Hmm, shark?  Why not!!  I turned to the fish monger and said, "I'll take a shark."  His eyes widened, and he replied, "you want a shark?  OK!"  So shark in hand, I left to create something fun and exciting!

Traditionally this might be cooked with catfish, but I found a great little shark at the market.  Commonly known as dogfish or mud shark, this is a small fish that grows to about four feet.  The thick skin can easily be removed with a sharp knife resulting in two beautiful filets.  While not very common in the United States, this type of shark is frequently consumed in Europe including France and England.  I found the meat to be very fresh and mild.  The texture was dense and similar to cobia.  

Vietnamese caramel sauce is a staple of many kitchens.  It is used in clay pot cooking and most cooks will stew down catfish or another hearty fish for about an hour to create the perfect sweetness and color.  While it is cooked in the same manner as a basic caramel, this is a sauce and not nearly as thick or sweet.  The fish sauce adds saltiness, and the chili adds spice.  The balance of salt, spice, and sweet is the end result.

Ca Kho To-Caramel Fish (Shark)
1 ½ pounds shark meat cubed
2 tbsp sesame oil
3 cloves garlic minced
3 shallots minced
pinch black pepper
green onions

Nuoc Mau-Vietnamese Caramel
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 chili minced
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp red chili flakes

Clean the shark just as you would a basic fish filet.  You should have two nice large pieces of fish.  Cut them into nice 1/2 inch cubes.  

In a nonreactive pot, bring water and sugar up to a boil and turn down heat to medium high.  Stir frequently to rinse the sugar off the sides of the pot.  The sauce will begin to turn brown.  When it reaches a nice dark brown, add the fish sauce and chili.  This will cause it to seize up, but keep the flame low and stir and it will loosen up again.  Then remove the sauce from the burner.   

In a wok, heat the oil and stir fry the garlic and shallots.  Add the shark meat and brown nicely on all sides, sprinkle with black pepper.  Add enough caramel sauce to coat the fish and toss on medium heat. Garnish with chopped green onions and cilantro

Since I was handling shark, something with a punch was needed to carry the mood.  I was reading Slicing Up Eyeballs, which is a super cool 80s music website, and I saw the Cult was coming to New Orleans.  Well, it was about 20 plus years ago that I saw them live, so I thought they would really enhance the cooking experience.  From the opening guitar licks of "Rain", Billy Duffy had me hooked.  What great memories!  The afternoon was spent cleaning shark and rocking to "Edie", "Sweet Soul Sister", "Nirvana", and many, many more including the 80s anthem "She Sells Sanctuary!" 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Nuoc Mam Stir Fry Vegetables

Here is a side item that can be added to any meal or a light entree.  It is packed with flavor, and you can use any vegetable in the house.  I enjoy mushrooms for earthiness and a nice green leafy vegetable such as bok choy.  

Nuoc Mam Stir Fry Vegetables

Assorted Vegetables cut in similar size pieces
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp canola oil
Nuoc Mam to taste

Using high heat and saute pan or wok, sweat garlic, onions, and chili in oil.  When it becomes nice and fragrant, add carrots and celery.  Cook about 2-3 minutes and move to side to get a nice open space (if possible), then add mushrooms.  Cook until they become nice and brown.  Toss everything together and add bok choy.  Gently wilt, then deglaze with nuoc mam.  Cook another minute or so and ENJOY!!! 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Chicken Liver Pate

Today's recipe is from an amazing cookbook.  I enjoy cookbooks that add historical references to recipes and give knowledge or background concerning a certain dish.  Luke Nguyen produced a series of cookbooks that are closer to history books.  My VietnamSecrets of the Red LanternThe Songs of Sapa, and Indochine are visually stunning, filled with great recipes and wonderful, sometimes heart-wrenching stories of Vietnam and their family's escape.  I cannot give a stronger recommendation.  Here is a wonderful recipe from Indochine that is traditionally spread on a banh mi or eaten as an appetizer.  This pate is not as smooth as a traditional French style, but it is filled with flavor.  The only ingredient I altered was the use of Grand Marnier instead of brandy or a regular cognac.  ENJOY!!!

The plate is an original from our neighbor Gerald Haessig.  You can find his work at Gerald Haessig Designs.  

Pate Gan Ga Heo- Chicken and Pork Liver Pate by Luke Nguyen

200g (7oz) pork livers
200g (7oz) chicken livers
100g (3 ½ oz) butter, softened
100g (3 ½ oz) minced pork
2 red Asian shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tblsp brandy or Cognac 
4 tblsp pouring (whipping) cream
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
½ tsp white pepper
Vietnamese Baguettes, to serve

Clean the livers of fat and sinew. Cut the pork livers to match the size of hte chicken livers. Wash under cold, running water, then dry well with paper towels.  

Put 2 teaspoons of butter in a large frypan over medium heat. When the butter starts to bubble, add half the livers and fry for 1-2 minutes until browned, then turn them over and brown the other side for 1-2 minutes, making sure the livers remain pink in the middle.  Remove to a plate, then repeat the process with a little more butter and the remaining livers.   

Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan and gently cook the pork mince for about 2 minutes, or until cooked through but not browned. Remove and set aside.  Wipe the pan clean with kitchen paper, then add 2 teaspoons of butter and gently fry the shallots and garlic for 5 minutes, until very soft and slightly caramelised. Increase the heat, then return the livers and pork to the pan, pour over the brandy or Cognac and ignite the alcohol.  Once the flame subsides, pour the liver mixture into a food processor and process until smooth.  With the motor running, add the remaining butter and the cream.

Season the pate with sugar, salt and white pepper; taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.   Pour into a container and refrigerate for about 2 hours, or until set.  Before serving, remove from the fridge and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Serve with baguettes.

recipe from Indochine by Luke Nguyen

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lemongrass Mackerel

I love roasting whole fish.  Super fresh fish on the bone with a simple sauce brings out amazing aromas and satiating goodness!!  

Whole fish with lemongrass and Thai chilies requires very little work but brings out wonderful flavors.   Mackerel is my personal favorite, and for this recipe, I was able to find some beautiful Indian mackerel which are usually about 10 inches long, but these were about 7 inches.  Very popular in Southeast Asian cuisine, the Indian mackerel has a rich flavor resulting from their diet of shrimp and fish larvae.  

Ca Uop Xa- Lemongrass Fish
2 Whole Fish (about 1-1 ½ pound fish)
2 tbsp canola oil
1/4 cup water

2 pieces lemongrass minced-*
3 cloves garlic minced
2 Thai chili peppers minced-*
¼ tsp black pepper
2 tbsp fish sauce-*
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp turmeric-*

Vietnamese coriander

Make sure the fish are cleaned and gutted with the fins cut off and put three slits in each side.  Mix the marinade ingredients and rub on fish.  Let them sit in the refrigerator for about 3-4 hours.   

In a hot skillet, add the canola oil and gently lay the fish in and let the skin crisp and pull away from the pan.  Gently place a spatula under the fish and release while lightly shaking the skillet.  Carefully flip the fish and cook through on the other side.  When fully cooked, remove fish to a plate and pour water into the pan to deglaze the seasonings.  Scrape up all the bits and reduce to a nice thickened consistency and pour over the fish.  A nice Vietnamese cabbage salad is refreshing as a side dish.

Today's tunes were a mix of 80's New Wave artists on Pandora!  Easy listening to the sounds of yesteryear.  Memories of my youth were carried through the airwaves including Depeche Mode, Simple Minds, the Cure, the Psychedelic Furs and many others.  Funny how tastes change, but we seem to go back to our old habits.  I went through a major metal phase and still love punk rock, but I find my music to just chill out and enjoy is that English 80's sound.  

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Shrimp, Jellyfish, Lotus Root Salad

My typical order at a Vietnamese restaurant was usually pho or seafood noodle soup or fried rice.  However, my wife brought me to one of her favorite haunts early in our relationship and ordered this salad.  I have been hooked ever since.  The fresh and contrasting flavors bring out the best in Vietnamese cuisine.
Sometimes I feel the need to eat something healthy, and when challenged with this rare mood, I tend to venture in this direction.  Traditionally, pork is included, but I went with a non-meat version.  Herbs and nuoc mam highlight this wonderful dish, and the fresh locally caught shrimp with salty jellyfish just brings it to another level.  Bring this to your next pot luck!! 

Shrimp, Jellyfish, Lotus Root Salad- Goi Ngo Sen
1 lb. fresh shrimp
1/2 lb. jellyfish (follow package directions for preparation)
10 pieces lotus root julienned
2 Persian cucumbers julienned
2 red onions julienned
1/2 head cabbage julienned
2 ribs celery cut thinly on a bias
Vietnamese coriander torn
cilantro torn
roasted peanuts

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, cook shrimp for about 3 minutes until done.  The shrimp will turn pink and float when finished cooking.  Chill in an ice bath.  Bring another pot of water to a boil, and cook jellyfish for about 5 second, then chill in an ice bath.  Jellyfish should be rinsed of all salt.  Peel shrimp and cut lengthwise in half.  Toss all ingredients (except peanuts) together forming a beautifully fresh salad.  Dress with nuoc mam and peanuts.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Bok Choy Exotic Mushrooms

Here is a simple side item that goes nicely with any meal.  Bok choy, pak choi, bok choi, or choy sum are variations of Chinese cabbage.  The stems are thick and hearty with wonderful leaves which gently wilt and resemble small heads of spinach.  Rinse them well, and the larger ones can be cut in half or quartered.  I like snipping a bit off the root of the small heads, but I leave them whole. 

I use a nice mix of mushrooms, but make sure the pieces are broken into similar sizes so they cook evenly.  Rinse them and break the delicate pieces by hand.  The larger ones, such as king trumpet, can be sliced.

Bok Choy with Exotic Mushrooms

1 1/2 lb. bok choy (white stem and green stem mix adds color)
1 lb. exotic mushrooms (beech, enoki, oyster, shiitake, king trumpet, etc.)
½ tsp sugar
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
1 ½  tsp sesame oil
2 tsp oil
2 tsp ginger
2 cloves garlic minced
2 shallots minced

Mix the sugar and sauces in a small bowl.  Heat up the oil, and stir fry the garlic, ginger and shallot.  When it becomes aromatic, add the mushrooms and sear to get a nice color.  Add bok choy and toss gently.  Once it begins to wilt, check for seasoning, and put in a large serving bowl once the sauce coats and the vegetables are cooked.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Stewed Chicken Feet with Spring Onions and Exotic Mushrooms

Ahh, few things are more tasty than tendon!  Plus a sweet, spicy, zesty sauce!  How can this be bad?  Cooked until tender and finished with fresh herbs, chicken feet are among the more exotic and delicious appetizers in Asian cuisine.  

My first experience with chicken feet happened at a local Dim Sum restaurant, and they were stewed in a spicy, thick sauce.  I took a bite and gently removed the edible tissue from the small bones and discarded the bones.  I have been hooked ever since.  

Chicken feet are filled with small bones and delicious tendon and skin.  Throughout the world, the feet are a delicacy and can be grilled, fried, or boiled.  The Asian market sells boneless feet, which will make it a little easier to eat, but there are still a few small pieces of bone, so be careful.

Chan Ga Hap An Voi Xot Nam Hanh La-Stewed Chicken Feet with Exotic Mushrooms and Spring Onions

1lb. boneless chicken feet
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp minced ginger
2 spring onions sliced
2 cloves garlic minced
¼ cup canola oil
2 cups exotic mushrooms (enoki, beech, oyster, etc.)
1 tbsp sesame seeds
Vietnamese Coriander

2 tbsp mirin
½ cup chicken stock
2 tsp light soy sauce
2 tsp oyster sauce
2 tsp nuoc mam
2 tsp sugar
½ tsp pepper
½ tsp salt

Make sure chicken feet are cleaned and blanche for about 25-30 minutes.  Remove them and run under cold water to chill and prevent discoloration.  Mix all the ingredients for the sauce.  Toss the feet with soy sauce, and let them marinate for a few minutes.  Heat oil in a wok or large pan, fry for about 5 minutes until they begin to turn golden brown.  Remove the feet to a side pan.   

Leaving a few tablespoons of oil in the wok, add the ginger, garlic, and onions.  Stir fry for a few minutes, and add the feet.  Toss everything gently and deglaze with the mixed sauce.  Let the feet and seasoning stew for about 10 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, and continue to cook until mushrooms and feet are done.  The sauce should thicken, and check for seasoning.  Finish with some torn herbs, sesame seeds and a side bowl of rice.  A few small bones might be in the feet, but they should be soft enough to eat, or just remove them and enjoy.  

"Do you remember rock n roll radio?"  Joey Ramone said these immortal words, and it might ring truer now than in 1980.  So I dug into the files and busted out some old R.E.M which included one of my favorites tunes "7 Chinese Brothers" from the Reckoning album.  College radio was a staple in the 80's and 90's, and the Athens quartet was a force.  Chicken feet and R.E.M., now that is an afternoon, and I loved it. 

The weather was slightly humid, and I was unsure of the direction of my alcoholic beverage.  Therefore, I decided to go to an old staple- the Pina Colada.  When in doubt, this frozen tropical drink seems to put a smile on my face.  Put 4oz. Coco Lopez, 4 oz. pineapple chunks with juice, 3 oz. Spiced Rum, and a few cups of ice into a blender and puree until you have the texture of a smoothie.  Add more of any of the above ingredients according to taste, but if you add more liquid, then you will need to add a few more ice cubes.  Pour into a tall glass and enjoy!!  

Nuoc Mam- Fish Sauce

"Mmm, delicious, what is that taste?"  Do you find yourself asking this question?  Of course you do! The taste you desire is called umami.  The fifth basic taste that is sometimes falsely referred to as salty is a more complex flavor also called glutamic acid or glutamate. It is stored in proteins, and most commonly consumed in cheese, soy sauce, seaweed, and fish sauce.  The classic combination of parmigiano reggiano and tomato is a great example of umami.  

Nuoc mam or nuoc cham (the dipping version of the same sauce) are served alongside the majority of Vietnamese dishes.  Feel free to adjust the citrus juices (try lemon or yuzu), add ginger, add more or less chili, or whatever you think would add a nice flavor.  From salads to fish to meat, this condiment elevates food to a wonderful level of heightened satisfaction. 

Nuoc Mam- Fish Sauce
½cup Fish Sauce-*
¼cup Water
2TBSP Rice Wine Vinegar 
¼ cupPalm Sugar (or to taste)-*
1or 2 Limes Juiced
3cloves Garlic minced
2Thai Chilis thinly sliced-*

In a small pot, bring water and sugar up to a medium hot temperature, and stir until it dissolves.   Let the mixture cool and add the rest of the ingredients. Adjust according to taste.