Beef cooked sous vide (under vacuum) for 24 hours with phở spices was so dramatically tender and flavorful and deserving of extra attention, serving phở dry-style was our way to highlight our favorite new star. Serving noodle soups dry with broth on the side showcases the flavors of the meats and emphasizes their textural interactions with the other ingredients, all before a rush of hot broth reconstitutes the noodle soup experience. Phở isn’t usually served this way, but we were inspired by the dry variant of Hủ tiếu Nam Vang (Phnom-Penh style noodle soup). Surprisingly, this style also made phở more drink-friendly (more on that later) !
We are excited to host the next installment of Delicious Vietnam, a monthly web roundup celebrating Vietnamese cuisine. Entries could be anything related to Vietnamese food: recipes, restaurant reviews, essays, etc. If you don’t have a blog, we can host your entries.
We can’t wait to read all the contributions this month!
Click on the logo to see recaps from past events. A special thank to Jing at My Fusion Kitchen for a lovely recap of Delicious Vietnam #13!
Gỏi bưởi (pomelo/grapefruit salad) is an unusual dish and is rarely featured on restaurant menus, but the first time we had it, we knew we wanted to do something fun with it. Traditional gỏi bưởi consists of broken pieces of supremed pomelo mixed with boiled shrimp and pork and served with a fish sauce based dressing and the usual Vietnamese salad garnish (rau răm/Vietnamese coriander, crushed roasted peanuts, fried shallots). The salad has a unique combination of the refreshing and clean sweet-tartness and fragrance of pomelo and herbs with savouriness of fish sauce, sweetness of shrimp and richness of pork belly. We wanted to start with that combination all in one bite of pomelo, then experiment with new flavors on top of that base. We had to learn several new techniques and technologies before we got the results below, which we were very happy with:
Mì Vịt Tiềm is one of my favorite comfort food but I hadn’t been able to get a good bowl since I’ve been in the States. The central appeal of the dish is the use of thuốc Bắc (traditional Chinese medicinal herbs) that give the duck and broth an ancient, mysterious fragrance – but it’s inexplicably overlooked or dialed down by restauranteurs in the States. We had to learn for ourselves what medicinal herbs to use before we could make a proper bowl of mì vịt tiềm … and then we had to go and alter different pillar of the dish
Common ingredients used to flavor the broth included ngũ vị hương (five spice), nấm đông cô (shiitake), táo tầu (dried jujube), quế (cinnamon) and đại hồi (star anise). The medicinal herbs included huynh ky (huáng qí, Astragalus propinquus root), đương quy (dāngguī, Angelica sinensis root), kỷ tử (gǒuqǐ, goji berry / Lycium chinense fruit), and suynh khôm (chuānxiōn, Ligusticum wallichii root). The last 3 common ingredients and all of the medicinal herbs were included in mì vịt tiềm kits imported from Guangdong. We were happy with results from the kits but if fetishizing minutiae is a hobby for you too, you can also pick up the herbs individually – they would be in less fragmentary pieces and presumably higher grade.
Duck pieces were marinated in ngũ vị hương, sugar and soy sauce overnight, then given a quick, searing stir frying.
Duck meat and bones were cooked in a stock pot with all the spices. The medicinal herbs were used in equal proportions, except suynh khôm of which a half portion was used because its contribution was so strong. The broth was brought to a boil and then simmered on low-medium heat for 1-2 hours until the duck was soft. Chicken broth and additional ngũ vị hương can be added to the pot. We also added shiitake mushroom and dried jujube.
In our variation on this dish, we cooked the fry-seared duck pieces inside a spaghetti squash. The squash was roasted at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Duck jus from inside the cooked squash was added to the stock pot – this provided more sweetness to the broth and a lovely smoky flavor that blended perfectly with the traditional vịt tiềm fragrance.
We used the strands inside the spaghetti squash as our noodles and garnished the bowl with boiled cải rổ (chinese broccoli) – cải rổ was flashed boiled in the broth itself. Another garnish we used and were happy with was bamboo shoots.
Mì vịt tiềm bí was served several times during this past holiday season to our friends and family. Everyone loved that fragrance of authentic vịt tiềm, with or without recognition of the added roasted squash in the mix. The use of spaghetti squash noodles – crunchy and flavorful in its own right – was a fun surprise, but some missed the resilience of grain noodles. We’re working to improve that and have made some progress.
We’ve made do without the chinese medicinal herbs before, but what a joy it was to finally have a bowl of mì vịt tiềm with that distinctive fragrance of impossibly old port wine and curiosity shop. Personally it recalled happy times as the undisputed runamuck at my grandfather’s clinic and dispensary. We were also happy to come up with a fun variation on the recipe, one which added New World ingredients and flavors without altering the essential identity of the dish.
We can’t seem to stop making bánh tét. Lamp likes bánh tét a lot and he came up with the idea of making bánh tét with stripes (like a caterpillar). I am not a big fan of bánh tét, but the idea sounded so cool and challenging that I was persuaded. Plus, there are enough friends who like our bánh tét that we weren’t afraid of having to eat bánh tét for the rest of the year.
Working from a caterpillar photo, we knew we needed 3 colors: green, orange and black. Green and orange colors were easy: pandan leaf extract and gấc (spiny bitter gourd) are 2 common Vietnamese natural coloring ingredients. Black was a bit more challenging. We gravitated toward squid ink to color the sticky rice black, but we were worried about introducing a seafood taste to our bánh tét. Our other option we decided on was nếp than (black glutinous rice).
The ingredients were laid out in the above photo (from top left, clockwise): sticky rice with pandan leave extract, black glutinous rice, chickpea paste, sticky rice mixed with squid ink and sticky rice mixed with gấc.
Sticky rice was soaked overnight and then divided into different portions to be mixed with various natural coloring agents. Black glutinous rice already had the desired color, so we only soaked it overnight. All the sticky rice portions were then stir fried for ~20-30 minutes to partially cook them. We wanted the rice to become sticky and stay in place while being rolled into a bánh tét. Black glutinous rice was harder, so I cooked it longer and with added water until it achieved a softness similar to the rest of the sticky rice. Black glutinous rice didn’t turn sticky, though.
Since the rice was partially cooked, we only needed to cook bánh tét for 3-3.5 hours instead of the full 6 hours. However, that short cooking time meant we also had to pre-cook the meat before rolling bánh tét to make sure that meat will achieve the same level of tenderness as when it’s cooked for 6 hours in a regular bánh tét. Of course, there wasn’t 1 type of meat in this batch (how could we let such a big experiment go to waste?) Here are the different combinations for these bánh tét:
- pork belly with fish sauce & pepper (traditional)
- pork belly with kecap manis & pepper
- beef shank with fish sauce, curry & pepper
- beef shank with kecap manis & pepper
- lamb shoulder chop with kecap manis & pepper
With all the ingredients prepared, it’s time to roll our bánh tét. Lamp laid down a piece of foil between the banana leaves and the sticky rice to prevent the green color from the leaves to bleed into the colored sticky rice.
Another technique we tried was a different method for tying up the bundles. Lamp read about the lost art of cable lacing from Boing Boing and Make Blog and filed it away for future use in electronics projects. Who knew it’d make itself useful instead in streamlining our bánh tét rolling. Specifically we used a 12 foot long length of twine to secure the bánh tét via a telephone hitch and four lock stitches.
And here’s what that bánh tét sâu bướm (caterpillar bánh tét) looks like after cooking:
We were reasonably pleased with the result. Our biggest worry had been that the colors would bleed into other layers and we’d get a confused mess for a bánh tét. We were happy to see that the colors stayed where they were supposed to. However, the sticky rice grains moved a bit during rolling so the stripes weren’t as well defined as we’d like them to. Next time, we should definitely work on making the borders sharper when we laid down the grains before rolling.
Another concern was that if one sliced bánh tét before unwrapping the leaves, our hard work making caterpillar stripes would be unnoticed. But the bánh tét slices by themselves were still quite fun and colorful. And Lamp for one has no problem making jokes no one else gets.
Of the two methods to make black rice, we found the squid ink to work better. Nếp than was very fragrant but unfortunately its colorful husk prevented it from forming a solid shell like milled sticky rice. The squid ink rice on the other hand behaved glutinously, held its vivid color without bleeding (unlike nếp than) and also did not contribute a noticeable seafood flavor to the bánh tét. (Then again, why not a seafood bánh tét? …)
Finally, next time we roll bánh tét, we’ll have a mechanism to make sure the paste surrounds the meat – we’ll pre make bundles of chickpeas and meat rolled tight in saran wrap. It’ll probably have the effect of streamlining the rolling process too.