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Ốc xào nước dừa (Periwinkles with chilli lemongrass and coconut)

Periwinkle sauteed with lemongrass chilli and coconut milk

Saw fresh periwinkles at Monahan’s Seafood and the only question was how much should I get.

Ốc xào nước dừa is a fixture on both the Vietnamese street food and drinking food scenes. In drinking establishments (quán nhậu), there’s a plethora of food smells – grilled food, smoke and spices and ốc xào nước dừa is just one of the choices. However out on the fringes of Vietnamese markets where the hawkers’ stalls are, the scent of ốc xào nước dừa is prominent and irresistable. The cloud of rich coconut, clean lemongrass and sharp chilli announces that one’s errands are past, jostling and bargaining done with. Time for a well deserved reward.

Periwinkles (fresh, not frozen) were soaked in chilli water to make them give up grits. They were then sauteed with garlic, chilli, and lemongrass. Coconut milk was added towards the end and seasoned to taste with nước mắm (fish sauce) and more chilli. Served with rau răm (Vietnamese coriander) (can also be added while sauteeing) and beer or wine. I had some Syrah this time.


Just got 2 cookbooks…so excited!!!

We just got these 2 cookbooks and can’t wait to read and learn from them.

I decided to buy the “Nobu Now” cookbook after reading the recipes for making flavored soba from scratch. We definitely need to learn how to make noodle from scratch for a lot of our ideas.

Tade soba and cilantro soba

We splurged and bought the Kaiseki book, too, because we love the concept of fresh seasonal food, the attention to flavors and textures and the beautiful presentation of a kaiseki meal.

Both of these books have gorgeous photos which will be great for perusing and learning about food presentation, an area we need to improve a lot on.

I am so excited!!! Stay tuned for new dishes!


Gỏi cá kiểu Nam Mỹ (Ceviche)

Funnily enough I never learned how to make gỏi cá (lit., fish salad) the Vietnamese way, but I know how to make it the South American way. My Dad claims he knows how from watching my Grandfather make it, but then I’ve never seen my Dad actually cook. My cousin also says there’s a mean gỏi cá, Granddad’s style, waiting for me at his farm in Vietnam. One of these days I’ll take him up on his offer. For now, I’ll have fun with a very similar dish from the other side of the world.

Ceviche is eaten throughout South America. National, regional, and local variations exist from Southern Mexico down to the very tip of Chile (probably). We are most familiar with Peruvian iterations of the dish because we first learned of it from an authentic Peruvian, then subsequently took a trip to Peru where we consumed ceviche from lunch counters in Highland markets, cevicherias, and restaurants in Lima.

Marcos Pesado, of the Peruvian metal band Reino Ermitaño, posted on a music message board his ceviche recipe (thread deleted), which we immediately connected to gỏi cá. The basic idea is the same: cured, uncooked fish mixed with chilli and fresh herbs (essential) and other ingredients (variable). The main difference is the curing method – South Americans use acidic citrus juices to denature fish protein and inhibit spoilage; the Vietnamese use rice wine.

Our first iteration of ceviche was very Vietnamese – garnished with basil, cilantro, pineapple, onion and chilli. Just add thính (powdered roasted rice) and you’d have something very similar to gỏi cá.

Our trip to Peru informed us about other nuances in the dish. Seemed like ceviche was always served with something crunchy, something sweet and something starchy. In Cuzco, a more traditional version of the dish came with fried giant corn, sweet potato, and rice, respectively.

Ceviche at a marketplace lunch counter in Cuzco, served garnished fried giant corn, sweet potato and rice.

In Lima, at a restaurant with a reputation for innovative recipes, ceviche was served with potato chip, fried plaintains, and boiled giant corn.

Ceviche at a restaurant in Lima, served with boiled giant corn, potato chip, and something or other.

Subsequently, our ceviche followed those guidelines. In September we made scallop ceviche, sliced crosswise and served with fried seaweed, fried anchovy (both are sweet and crunchy) and lavender roasted purple sweet potato (sweet/starchy).

Scallop ceviche with fried seaweed, anchovies, and purple sweet potato

In October, we made skatewing cevichewith popcorn (crunchy/starchy) and curry roasted yellow sweet potato (sweet/starchy).

Skatewing ceviche with popcorn and yellow sweet potato

Mike of Monahan’s Seafood in Ann Arbor deserves a mention. It’s easy to be confident and adventurous whenever ceviche is on the menu if one has access to Monahan’s seafood and Mike’s forthright and knowledgeable assessment of his inventory. The man even has his own scallop ceviche recipe on the store website. Elsewhere, we usually have to hit the Japanese markets to get sashimi grade fish to be sure of getting well-handled fresh seafood.

Finally, in his post Marcos also informed us that the leftover marinade is sometimes mixed with vodka for a drink called leche de tigre (tiger’s milk.) Tasted like a fishy screwdriver.


Our equipment for sous vide and low temperature cooking

Sous-vide and low temperature cooking are the first two molecular cooking techniques we experimented with. While other techniques enable previously impossible textures and flavor combinations, cooking food under vacuum and/or in a circulating water bath at its simplest offer optimization and precision control over traditional culinary processes of marinating and cooking. Marinade is pulled into some interstitial airspaces when the vacuum is first established, replacing the evacuated air. When the vacuum is broken the incoming air push the marinade further into the food. With the ingredients in an oxygen free environment, low-temperature cooking is possible whereas under normal conditions, food cooked for so long a time as required by the low temperature end up stale, oxidized, and dry. On the other hand, food cooked low temperature are flavorful, moist, tender, and always at the desired level of doneness. Much more information about sous vide and low temperature cooking can be found at in these posts: 1, 2, and 3.

The equipment to apply these techniques need not cost thousands of dollars. Here is how we put together our set up for around $300:

The heart of our sous-vide machinery is a bicycle pump whose valves are replaced so that air can only flow in the opposite direction than is usual. Instructions for such a useful thing are found at Replacement check valves are mail-ordered stainless steel aquarium valves, originally designed to prevent water from flooding air pumps. The plastic valves available at the one pet supplies chain stores or the other pet supplies chain stores are both crummy but they will do in a pinch, for a day or two.

Next to the pump is a trap flask, gotten from a science surplus store – it’s airtight except for two outlets. The hose through the rubber topper leads to the vacuum pump. The hose attached to the side nipple goes to food containers. Air is pulled from the food containers, up through the topper hose, into the vacuum pump. Any marinade also sucked out of the containers remain in the flask. The flask isn’t strictly necessary, but rancid marinade mixed with vacuum grease smell terrible, and are exhausted right at the pumper through a hole on top of the pump.

We use two types of containers for food to be put under vacuum. The Foodsavers Freshsaver bags are used only for marinating. The orange thing is a bottle cap which adapts the vacuum hose to the check valve on the bags (square tab inside green circle). The mason jars are used when we need to marinate or cook things under vacuum. The white thing is a Foodsaver adapter for mason jars. There are plastic cooking bags available, but cooking in glass just seems safer.

Having put food under vacuum, here is how we cook them at precise temperatures:

The winged thing with the red nozzle is a regular aquarium pump. The squished golf club next to it is an 1000W immersion heater. It’s originally intended for folks out in the boonies who need to thaw frozen troughs of water for their cattle, or else boil up barrels of water for their own household. Both the immersion heater and the pump go into the largest tub of water that we need for a particular job. The heater does what it does and the pump circulates water so that the temperature is uniform throughout. The immersion heater is plugged into the box on the right, a Sous Vide Magic PID controller. It calculates how long and how hot to run the heater to achieve a steady state temperature within 0.1 degree of the set target. It actually accounts for around 90% of the cost of the whole set up, but it works great. In fact, our set up is the equal of any circulating water bath costing 3-10 times as much. And those can’t be converted to run as a very precise hot tub heater.

Having put all this together and playing around, we are of course finding many other uses for the vacuum and water bath beyond optimized marinating and cooking. Vacuum infusion of flavor and the pressing action from the atmosphere on the melons in vacuum bags is essential for our Orchard Sushi. The stability and convenience of vacuum packed and cooked food make our multi-course dinners possible, even if a dinner occurred during an intense workweek or 4 hours away from our home kitchen and equipment. Finally, working the pump is a fine exercise for our guests to work off their previous courses to make room for the following ones.


Chè chuối (banana dessert)

working toward making chè chuối in a bite

1st spherification method:

2nd spherification method:



Now all we need is a crunchy sugary coat on these spheres to make them into chè chuối bites.