Vietnamese Butter Garlic Shrimp


I have been away from food blogging for much too long. I’ve really missed it! While it was fun to be away visiting Korea and Japan, I am now back and more inspired than ever to create yummy dishes and be able to share cooking tips and recipes with others. The food in Japan was notably excellent, as many chefs and cooks take such pride in their products. They value quality over quantity and strive to ensure that their customers will be satisfied with what they have been served. I may try some more Japanese recipes moving forward, as this is a cuisine with which I am relatively unfamiliar. But for today, back to my Vietnamese/Chinese roots!

To be honest, I am not even sure if this is an authentic Vietnamese dish. I just remember having some version of this when I was a kid, so I wanted to recreate and share so that all can enjoy the beauty of this dish. I remember it was flanked on all sides by yummy stir-fried veggies with bits and pieces of aromatic meats for flavoring. I remember biting into each delectable shrimp and feeling so grateful to be alive to enjoy that burst of delicious juice exploding from the shrimp shell. Folks, there is really something magical about eating shrimp that has been cooked with their shells on! This would be followed by bits of sweet shallot and aromatic garlic would then grace my taste buds, adding a fullness of flavor and umami to the whole experience.

It was always interesting to me how Vietnamese dishes use generous amounts of butter. Aha, colonialism explains yet another culinary phenomenon. Butter provides a delicious richness to the sauce, which then mingles with the juices of the shrimp, creating an amazing burst of flavor when you bite into each shrimp.

Cooking Tips:

Definitely do not skimp on the butter. You need some olive oil to prevent the butter from burning, but the butter is what provides the beautiful flavor and silkiness to the sauce. Do not be afraid. Just enjoy!

Having your shrimp defrosted and drained ahead of time is very important to prevent excess water from diluting the flavor of your sauce. It will also ensure a better sauté. This is a good general rule to follow when searing any meats and protein: drier is better. In some cases, e.g., fish, steak, you would want to pat your meat dry before searing.

In Vietnamese and Chinese cooking, people often pre-mix their sauces before they add to their dishes. This allows you to make sure that the sugar is well-incorporated, but it also gives the advantage of being able to taste your sauce for seasoning before you add it to your food. This can prevent you from under- or over-seasoning. Dilute with water and add sugar if your sauce is too salty. Add in oyster, soy, or fish sauce when your sauce mix is too diluted.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Serves: 4-6

½ stick unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 red jalapeno, sliced
1 tsp red pepper flake, to taste
1 head garlic, finely chopped
2 lb large shrimp, shells on
2 tbsp black pepper
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup oyster sauce
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp sugar
green onion, chopped

Rinse shrimp and leave to drain in a colander. Meanwhile, begin prepping aromatics and ingredients.

Heat a large frying pan on medium. Add olive oil and butter to pan and allow butter to melt. Add in shallot, and red jalapeno into frying pan. Allow to sauté for 3-5 minutes until shallots soften. Then add red pepper flake and garlic and sauté on medium 2-3 minutes, or until garlic becomes golden in color.

Immediately after your garlic turns slightly golden, add in shrimp, turn fire on high, and saute shrimp until they become pink and cooked through ~5-7 minutes. Stir constantly to allow even cooking. Add in pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, combine fish sauce, oyster sauce, water, and sugar. Mix together the sauce to make sure sugar is dissolved. Then add to the shrimp when they are just about cooked through. Adjust seasonings to taste: by adding in a splash of water, oyster sauce, fish sauce, black pepper, or sugar.

Mix in green onion and cook for another minute until green onion is slightly softened. Serve in pan with lots of fresh lemons and white rice or crusty French bread. Enjoy!









Seared Tuna Poke Bowl

IMG_0719A few days ago, summer officially began. This has been a cooler summer so far, and for that, I am incredibly grateful. There are times that I leave my air conditioner on at home to prevent my dog from overheating. So the cooler days are much appreciated. To fight against the heat in the summer, I eat lots of cold foods, Vietnamese spring rolls, salads, cold sandwiches, especially summer fruits. Watermelon, cantaloupe, Hami melon, honeydew… I love them all. Eating cool foods reduces the amount of heat generated in my kitchen from cooking. Another reason is that the coolness of the food itself is a welcome contrast to the ambient heat. I have heard that in countries where summers are ridiculously hot, the people eat spicy foods so that they can sweat and cool down. While I understand that logic, I dread the idea of being drenched in my own sweat while suffering both the heat of summer and the heat of my food.

Which leads to today’s post: seared tuna poke bowls. I had some white rice leftover in my refrigerator, so it was just a simple matter of giving a quick sear to the tuna steak that I had and then combining with vegetables and a quick and easy poke sauce for a refreshing and light meal. This is such a simple and fast meal, especially if you already have rice ready to go. Poke bowls have become more and more elaborate with its recent celebrity status in the food world. Toppings can range from fried onion and garlic chips to salmon roe. I encourage folks to use whatever toppings are available to them in their pantry and refrigerator. I had cucumber in my refrigerator and sesame seeds in my pantry, so those were my toppings of choice for this poke bowl.
The sauce is a very easy combination of sugar, soy sauce, a splash of sesame oil, and a splash of water. It is a quintessential flavor combination of sweet and savory that is characteristic of many Asian dishes. This basic sauce is incredibly versatile in Asian cooking and can be used as the foundation of a salad dressing, the sauce for a yummy stir fry, brushed onto seared meats as teriyaki sauce, or as the base of a marinade for chicken, pork, beef.


Cooking Tips

Fresh fish is the key to delicious poke. Buy the best quality fish that you can find to ensure a tasty outcome. I find that Costco has some nice quality fish at prices that do not completely drain your wallet. Salmon could be a substitute for tuna in this dish.

When making the sauce, make sure that the sugar is well-mixed. Otherwise, sugar granules may fall to the bottom of your sauce and create a grainy texture and uneven flavor profile when you pour your sauce into your poke.

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

½ cup uncooked rice, washed
½ cup water
2 Persian Cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 small avocado
½ lb tuna or salmon steak
salt & pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 splash of water
1 tbsp sesame seeds

Follow rice cooker instructions to cook rice. Otherwise, place rice and water in a pot and place it on high heat until it begins to boil. Reduce to low heat and cover with a lid. Cook for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until rice is just done (rice should still be chewy, but soft).

Slice avocado and cucumber tomato thinly. Set aside.

Make sauce: add soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and a splash of water together.

Pat tuna steak dry, and then season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a pan on high heat until it begins to smoke. Then add oil and place tuna steak gently on the pan. Allow to sear for 1 minute, then flip and allow the other side to sear for another minute. Remove immediately from the heat and allow to rest.

Thinly slice seared tuna into ¼ inch thick slices and set aside.

Check rice for doneness. When the top grains of rice have softened, the rice is ready. Give rice a quick stir and spoon evenly into 2 bowls.

Top rice with tuna slices, cucumber, and avocado slices. Sprinkle on sesame seeds.

Pour sauce onto fish and rice and eat immediately.




Seafood Paella


Paella is a wholesome and soulful meal that is meant for sharing. It transforms relatively humble ingredients into a deliciously complex and pleasing dining experience. While I love traditional Valencia-style seafood paella and never hesitate to order it at Spanish tapas restaurants, I find myself hard-pressed for time trying to juggle work, fitness, chores, taking care of Benji (my senior dog), spending quality time with my loved ones, meal prepping, and finding calm and tranquility in my day. Wow, it feels so much more overwhelming now that I’ve listed my responsibilities so exhaustively. And I’m sure the average person is struggling with similar challenges of having too much to do in the day and simply not having enough time and energy. This is why I am a fan of simple and hands-off cooking techniques. You remember the “set it and forget it” slogan from Ronco’s Showtime rotisserie machine? Maybe I just dated myself…Anyhow, I often use non-fussy cooking methods that will provide quick returns or at least require less of my attention and time. This is why I am a huge fan of the slow cooker and one-pot meals. Searing and boiling food, and then allowing it cook itself with minimal monitoring? Sign me up! So, I made a variation of seafood paella that veers away from tradition. I cover my rice with a lid to allow it to steam rather than babysitting it for an hour, carefully ladling broth in and massaging the rice. As much as I would love to do that, I am just pressed for time. I guess this recipe is more of an “arroz con mariscos” because other Latin-American countries also use the lidded pot for its steaming properties rather than the traditional paella cooking method

I made this for my family during one of our weekly Wednesday night dinner’s at my dad’s house. My sister has been having a stressful time in school, and I wanted to show my support in one of the best ways I know how: by nourishing her body and soul. I was really shocked when my father actually made positive comments about my dish. He comes from a culinary background as a dim sum chef, and he also has this strange idea in his head that Chinese and Vietnamese foods are the only ones worth eating. Yes, I realize that his is a very narrow-minded approach to food than most, and I most heartily disagree, but that’s my father for you.  I have learned to accept it, as you must do with most circumstances in life that are out of your hands. I have also learned to accept that he will likely never approve of anything that I make or think that it is tasty. It will never be authentically Chinese enough or Vietnamese enough. Which was why I was really shocked at his words “Wow, it looks good!” when I placed the finished paella on the dinner table. So there is your food miracle for the day. =P I hope that this dish brings some positive moments with you and your loved ones as it did with mine.

Cooking Tips

When in doubt, always have your fire lower rather than higher when you are cooking any potted rice dish with the lid closed. It is better to have to cook your dish longer than to have burnt rice. No one likes that. I prefer to cook my paella on medium low heat.

When cooking rice, I prefer to put less water than to put too much water because I hate mushy rice. Then, I will slowly add more liquid toward the end of cooking if the rice does not become soft to the desired texture of chewiness. Usually when cooking white rice, the ratio of liquid to rice should be 1:1.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Serves 6-8 people
2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 heads shallots, minced
pinch of salt
½ lb chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch chunks
½ sweet onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
½ Kielbasa or any spicy cooked sausage
3 cups Arborio rice, washed and drained
½ cup dry white wine
1 can crushed tomatoes
½ quart of chicken broth
1 tbsp seasoned salt, or to taste (Trader Joe’s seasoned salt or Goya seasoning)
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp saffron
½ lb large shrimp, deveined and peeled
½ lb calamari, sliced
1 green onion, sliced
lemon wedges for squeezing
Heat a large and deep skillet/pan on high heat. Add in oil, and fry garlic and shallots for 2-3 minutes, or until soft. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add to the frying pan. Allow to brown.

Remove chicken from the pan. Add in more olive oil and stir fry onion and bell pepper on medium high heat for 2-3 minutes.

Add chicken back into the pan, along with Kielbasa, and stir fry together with vegetables on high heat for 1-2 minutes. Season to taste with seasoned salt. Add rice to the pan to stir fry together with meat and vegetables.

Add in wine, crushed tomatoes, and chicken broth. Season to taste with seasoning salt, paprika, and saffron. Mix rice thoroughly with liquids and then turn heat on medium low.

Place the lid on the pan, and allow rice to simmer on medium low heat for 20-30 minutes, depending on your stove and how often you peak at the rice. When most of the liquid has evaporated, check rice for doneness. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Add chicken broth or water as needed.

When your rice is just “al dente” mix calamari into the paella and place shrimp on top of paella and place the lid back on. Allow to steam and finish cooking until rice reaches desired level of doneness and most liquid has evaporated (~5 minutes).

Remove from heat, and serve with lots of green onion and lemon wedges on top.

Enjoy with your loved ones!


Vietnamese Braised Catfish (Ca Kho To)

IMG_0530.JPGFull disclosure: I actually used to hate catfish because of its muddy/earthen flavor. But throughout the years, I’ve learned to appreciate this meaty bottom-feeding fish that at first looks quite intimidating with its dragon-like whiskers. Growing up, my aunt would make delicious Vietnamese food for us for Sunday dinners. It was akin to the Sunday roast dinner that many American families have, but rather than a huge roast, we would have specialty dishes that required lots of time and preparation. I have lost count of how many times I’ve watched my aunt cooking this dish.

With the widespread popularity of pho and eggrolls being the ambassador foods of Vietnamese cuisine, many equally delicious Vietnamese dishes have been hidden in their shadow. My family actually never made pho at home because of how time and labor intensive it is. Ca kho to, however, is relatively easy and quick to make and packs such a punch of flavor. There are recipes that utilize a pre-made caramel sauce. I am going to challenge my readers to make their own caramel. It is such an easy and cheap product to make; yet its ready-made versions are often overpriced at grocery stores. And if I have any pet peeve it’s got to be overpaying for something that is not all that difficult to make myself. So, have a little faith in yourself, and give caramel a try! Once you master this skill, you can make caramel sauces for desserts, caramel candies, and even caramel sugar art if you are extra ambitious.

Cooking Tips:

Use fresh coconut water from a young coconut if possible (water from a brown coconut is no good). This will imbue your fish with the most intense and delightful coconut flavor.

I love getting my fish at the Asian grocery store because they offer fish cleaning and cutting services, which saves me lots of time and unnecessary mess in my kitchen. Have your butcher cut the catfish into steaks, as boneless filets will easily fall apart in the braising process.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4

1 tbsp peanut oil
1 lb catfish steaks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh coconut water
1 large shallot, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup oyster sauce
1/4 cup water
1 red jalapeno, sliced
green onion, chopped

Place sugar into a saucepan on medium-high heat. Allow sugar to melt. Mix sugar crystals with melted sugar to ensure an even caramel. Continue heating until melted sugar becomes a light caramel brown color. At this point, add coconut water. Mix well and continue boiling on medium heat until the sauce reduces to the point where it can coat the back of a wooden spoon (~20 minutes)

Meanwhile, heat a deep frying pan on high. Drizzle with oil and sear catfish steaks on medium high heat until golden brown (3-5 minutes each side). Remove fish from pan and add in garlic, shallot, and red jalapeno into frying pan. Allow to sauté for 3-5 minutes until shallot softens.

Add seared catfish back into the pan and add fish sauce, oyster sauce, and a splash of water. Once the coconut caramel has thickened, add it into the catfish and mix well with the sauce. Allow catfish to braise in the sauce on medium low heat until sauce thickens and each side of the catfish has absorbed a thin coating of the sauce (~10 minutes). Flip catfish once one side has taken on a nice caramel color and allow the other side to braise in the sauce.

Adjust seasonings to taste: by adding in a splash of water, oyster sauce, fish sauce, or sugar.

Garnish with green onion and serve with white rice. Enjoy!