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Khô bò (beef jerky) with lemongrass, kumquats, cinnamon, star anise, and cloves

Growing up, I have always loved my Mom’s khô bò (beef jerky). Each bite was tender and packed full of flavors. It was an addictive snack by itself or in a beef jerky salad with green papaya or spaghetti squash. Store-bought beef jerky, which is hard to chew and tasting only of soy sauce and chilli pepper just can’t compete. When I bought a food dehydrator for one of our cooking experiments (making beef crackling, subject of another post), it was time to ask Mom for her khô bò recipe.

What she sent back was just a list of ingredients (with no measurements, of course :)) and a general sketch of the method. It was so different from the detailed recipe she wrote for spring roll dipping sauce. A measure of my progress in cooking? After a couple batches with consistent success (defined by how much people enjoyed my khô bò), here’s my adapted recipe.

Homemade khô bò / beef jerky

Enough rambling already, let’s get to the recipe!


Tofu-misozuke: update #2

Quick update on our tofu-misozuke experiments:

– Yellow miso tofu-misozuke is completely creamy now, after 2 months. Everyone who has tasted it so far loved it, both for the texture and the taste. We are very happy with how this batch turned out.

– The tofu block that was aged with brown organic miso is slightly softer now, but it is still pretty hard and dry. We’ll let this run for another few months to see if it will become creamy.

– Both Lamp and I started new batches (in MI and CA) last night:

  • My batch experimented with different kinds of tofu:
  1. soft (silken),
  2. medium firm
  3. firm

Due to feedback from a friend who was bothered by the saltiness of our current batch, I decided to use less miso mix to cover the tofu blocks. I ended up using 3/4 of the miso mix, so I’ll add another tofu block to this batch tonight. This extra block will be incubated with miso mix and minced lemongrass to see if we can create tofu-misozuke with lemongrass flavor.

  • From the same complaint, Lamp decided to experiment with different levels of salt in the miso mix. After surveying the kinds of miso available, Lamp also decided that varying the amount of miso marinade would be the most efficient way to control the salt level, if the low marinade samples would cooperate and not spoil. Rough calculations w/ many assumptions led to an estimate of 3.5% aqueous phase sodium in the original recipe. Lamp varied miso marinade amounts to yield tofu misozuke blocks with 2.75, 3, 3.25 and 3.5% sodium.

We’ll post again next month on how these batches turn out. Stay tuned!

Previous posts: First batch; first update


Gà hấp muối (salt-steamed chicken)

This is definitely one of the few chicken dishes that I love: it’s very simple to make and the method preserves the flavor and juiciness of the chicken. I don’t ever want to boil a chicken again after knowing this recipe.


Fragrant, juicy and flavorful chicken

Before I go further into the step-by-step recipe, though, a warning: this is NOT the chicken that you get at Chinese BBQ shops (Chinese salt-steamed chicken where you cook the chicken in a salt shell) nor is it Hainanese chicken.

Without much further ado, here is the recipe with photos for the major steps:

1. Line a thick, large pot with aluminum foil. Be generous with the foil as you can use the remaining foil at the top to make a closed packet to keep the moisture in


aluminum foil-lined pot

2. Next, line the foil with coarse salt. The amount of salt used depends on the size of the pot. I used about ~1.5 bowl of salt this time, to completely cover the bottom of the pot

Add coarse salt

3. Then crush 6-8 lemongrass stalks, cut them into shorter length to fit in the pot. Lay the lemongrass stalks on the salt to form a lattice of sort.

Lattice of crushed lemongrass stalks

4. Then lay lime leaves on top and in between the lemongrass stalks

Next come the lime leaves

5. Next add rau răm (Vietnamese coriander) and ginger (optional). All the herbs should be laid down in such a way that the chicken will not come into contact with the coarse salt at the bottom

Rau răm (Vietnamese coriander) and ginger round out the bedding

6. Then, stuff a few lá chanh (lime leaves) and a bunch of rau răm (Vietnamese coriander) inside the chicken, rub the skin with generous amount of salt and pepper, then lay the chicken on top of all the herbs

Main feature: free-range chicken

7. Cover the chicken with more herbs: lá chanh (lime leaves), rau răm (Vietnamese coriander) & ginger

Chicken is covered with lime leaves, rau răm and ginger

8. Fold the aluminum foil sheet down to make a closed packet

completed foil packet, ready to go on the stove

9. Cover the pot and cook on medium high heat for ~35-40 minutes (depending on how hot your stove is, you might want to turn the heat down a bit after having it on medium high for 10-15′ to avoid burning the salt too much). Turn off the heat and leave it on the stove for another 10 minutes. Take it off the stove & open up the packet:

Careful with the steam

Remember to take the herb stuffing out of the chicken before serving.

The chicken can be cut into manageable pieces with a cleaver, or you can just dig in with your hands. The first time I made this chicken, I definitely couldn’t resist the urge to immediately tear off a thigh. It’s more fun to eat with your hands anyway :). If there’s still a lá chanh (lime leaf) left, it can be sliced into very thin strips and sprinkle on top of the chicken. This last step is not necessary because the chicken is already very fragrant with lá chanh (lime leaves) and rau răm (Vietnamese coriander) flavors.

Forgot to add a note about the chicken: it’s best if you use free-range chicken for this. Normal chicken from a supermarket might be ok. The thing you should avoid is frozen chickens that have been injected with saline. That type of chicken will mess up this dish because the saline fluid will ooze out and dissolve the salt, which will turn your dry-steamed chicken dish into salt-water boiled chicken. Definitely not appetizing.


More on periwinkles (ốc gạo)

Lamp wrote about how excited he was when he saw fresh periwinkles at Monahan’s Seafood, so you can imagine my excitement when I saw bags and bags of fresh periwinkles at Đại Thành supermarket in San Jose. Not wanting to repeat the coconut milk flavor that Lamp used in his post, I decided to try out other flavors: once with tamarind and the other with lemongrass, ginger & lime leaf.

For tamarind, I strongly prefer the tamarind block over all the other forms of tamarind (powder, paste, liquid, etc.). I guess I am just old-school.

Tamarind block

A chunk of tamarind is put in hot water until it’s soft and can be broken apart. It can also be boiled to speed up the process. This is what it looks like after it’s mixed well with water:

Tamarind mixed with water

c xào me (tamarind periwinkles): Pass tamarind water through a sieve to strain out seeds. Season with fish sauce and sugar to taste. Stir fry garlic slices until they are fragrant, then add periwinkles and stir for 1-2 minute. Add tamarind water, stir and cook for another 6-7 minutes. Don’t cook periwinkles for too long because the meat will shrivel up and lose flavor. The periwinkles can be dipped in the same tamarind sauce when served.

Ốc hấp sả (lemongrass-steamed periwinkles): Another method I tried was to steam periwinkles with lemongrass, ginger & lime leaf. Lemongrass is cut into thin slices or mined. Ginger and lime leaf are cut into very thin strips. Garlic is minced. Fry garlic, lemongrass and ginger until fragrant, then add periwinkles and stir for 2 minutes. Then add fish sauce and a pinch of sugar and stir for 3 minutes. Cover and cook on low heat for 5 minutes.

Cháo ốc (periwinkle porridge): I had quite a bit of leftover lemongrass-steamed periwinkles last time (due to the over-abundance of food served at dinner, not because of the quality of this dish) and decided to make periwinkle porridge. Porridge is made the regular way (boil rice in a lot of water until rice softens and expands), then add periwinkle meat & rau răm (Vietnamese coriander) and cook for 5 minutes. Porridge is served hot with additional rau răm for garnish.

Lemongrass-steamed periwinkle meat

The porridge is hard to make in the sense that you’ll have to spend time digging out all the periwinkle meat while fighting the urge to eat it right away. I probably can only make this porridge with leftover periwinkles. However, this porridge is very delicious, as it’s hot and soupy and has an amazing texture that is a mix of crunchiness (periwinkle heads) and softness (periwinkle bodies). Even though the periwinkles & rau răm are only added to the porridge at the end, it’s still enough for the flavors of periwinkles, lemongrass, lime leaf & rau răm to permeate the soup and blend together. I’d definitely make this again because the delayed gratification is definitely worth it.


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.