Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thit Ga Bop Rau Ram- Hue Chicken Salad

A love story, or why did the chicken cross the road? Hmmm, sometimes, the road finds us.  A lovely woman came back into my life, and when she brings you a chicken, make chicken salad! If it slaps you into tomorrow, hang on and marry her!

I have spent more than half my life in a kitchen, so when An and I began dating, I figured I could woo her with dinner (or lose her, pending my cooking skills!) With a little luck, I was able to steal her heart! Eventually, she chose a special night to cook.  Her mother taught her this dish, and I was hooked.  

I have eaten many Vietnamese chicken salads, but the herbs and zesty onion make this my favorite.  I am not including any measurements as it is all to taste.  I prefer a huge amount of herbs and lime juice.  You can add other garnishes also, including thinly sliced chiles, fried onions, or cracked black pepper.  I add all of the above.  

When I make this, it is not as good as hers, but then again the student rarely passes the teacher.

1 Whole Chicken, rinsed and rubbed with lemon
Red Onion, thinly sliced
Green Onion, thinly sliced
Rice Vinegar
Rau Ram
Roasted Peanuts

In a large pot of boiling water, add ginger, peppercorns, and garlic with the chicken.  Poach for about 30 minutes until cooked through.  While the chicken is cooking, toss the onions with a small amount of rice wine vinegar.  Remove the chicken and let it cool.  Strain the liquids and chill quickly.  Save this for a nice light chicken stock.

When the chicken has cooled, remove the skin and shred.  Then continue shredding the meat.  When all the meat has been picked, toss some of it with the onions and skin.  Add some herbs and nuoc cham.  Continue the process until you have a nice salad.  Garnish with peanuts, lime juice and more nuoc cham.

While eating or cooking, we love music.  Sometimes it appears that our life revolves around music and concerts.  We scan the national tours hoping to find the next groups to visit New Orleans, also looking forward to the upcoming festivals trying to relive our youth through music!  

We enjoy debating on which song or band rules certain genres or decades.  Power ballads are a favorite topic, and the discussion never ends.  So in honor of the John Cusack movie High Fidelity, I will make a list of my top five power ballads in order of greatness.  An will disagree, but that will only lead to a grand discussion about Sebastian Bach's greatness or the vocal ability of Klaus Meine!

Top Five Power Ballad's

1) Home Sweet Home- Motley Crue
2) I Remember You- Skid Row
3) Still Loving You- The Scorpions
4) November Rain- Guns N Roses
5) Don't Know What You Got Til Its Gone- Cinderella

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Belly

Across the world, Asians began consuming this wonderful cut of meat centuries ago, possibly as early as 5000 B.C., and it is neither trendy nor unusual to find pork belly eaten throughout households of Asian-American families.  Scholars believe the Chinese were the first to domestic the wild boar and bring us the culinary use of pork.  Roasted whole pig adorns many tables during the Lunar New Year and other Asian celebrations.  The crispy outer layer of skin delights, and the entire animal is cherished for its sweet meat and wonderful hue.

Recently, a trend throughout America rages on in kitchens manned by everyday, workman chefs to the haute cuisine of the Napa Valley. Pork belly! Glance at almost any menu and the belly will hold a prominent spot as the pork option either in appetizer or entree form.

From Okinawa to China to Vietnam and back, the pig holds its place among the culinary treasures of the Orient. I would guess it is almost as wonderful as the "hand-carved alabaster bathing vessel" that Marcus Vindictus gifted to "Julius Caesar" in History of the World.   

Many Vietnamese versions include coconut water or milk and caramel sauce.  I was researching something different, and I adapted this from Charles Phan's Vietnamese Home Cooking.

Caramelized Pork Belly

1-2 lb. pork belly skin on
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp fermented red bean curd
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsp sugar
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 Thai chili
4 pieces star anise
4 inch long pieces ginger
4 cloves garlic, mashed

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the pork belly.  Cook for 5 minutes, and remove the pork. Using a fork, poke holes in the skin and rub with half the soy sauce.  In a heavy bottomed pot, on medium high, heat the oil, and add pork, skin side down.  Lower to medium and cover the pot for about 10 minutes.  While this cooks, mix the remaining soy, oyster sauce, fish sauce, red bean curd, and sugar to make our braising seasoning.  The bean curd should be mashed to form a paste.   

Flip the belly over.  It should be nice and brown.  Cook on the other side for an additional 4 minutes.  Remove the pork and place it in a pan.  Pour the pork fat into a jar and reserve. Cover the pork with cold water allowing the skin to bubble.  Remove the pork and slice into 1/2 inch or so strips.  

In our pot, add a couple of tablespoons of pork fat and sweat the garlic and ginger.  When fragrant, add the braising paste, star anise, Thai chili and cook for another minute, and add about 2-3 cups of water.  Add the pork, mix well, cover and simmer for about one hour and thirty minutes.  

Never boring and always reliable, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers excels much like our beloved pork belly!  This Hall of Famer provides a blueprint on American rock classics.  Their debut album gave us the hits "Breakdown" and "American Girl", which paved the way for standouts such as "You Got Lucky", "The Waiting", "Refugee", and the amazing duet with Stevie Nicks "Stop Draggin My Heart Around."  

Petty churned out hit after hit over the next few years.  Full Moon Fever and Into the Great Wide Open  overlapped with his work in the supergroup the Travelin Wilburys (which included Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne).  

A huge influence on many of today's rockers, Petty brings FM radio to life.  When the local station becomes boring, just move over to internet radio or go back to 1985 and check out this outfit as he performs Refugee.