Vietnamese Butter Garlic Shrimp

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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.

Recipe
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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beef and Basil Stir Fry

IMG_1017Growing up in southern California, I have been incredibly fortunate to have a variety of cuisines easily available to me. After visiting Thailand a few years ago and tasting the local cuisine, I realized that immigrants in America are doing a wonderful job retaining the authenticity of their native cuisine. There were a few specialty dishes that I had never even heard of, but the stir fries, noodles, and rice dishes were very comparable between the U.S. and Thailand. I even took a cooking class with my husband, friend, and her boyfriend. We were dropped off in the middle of a rice field, with no buildings in site except for one shack with no walls. I realized that this design was on purpose because it allowed copious airflow into the cooking area and all one could see was green all around. It was breathtaking and stark at the same time. We made tom yum soup, pad Thai, cashew nut chicken, and mangoes with sticky rice in humongous woks, which lit on fire when swerved the right way. This was one of the best meals I have ever had in my life and would highly recommend folks to take a cooking class like this in Thailand.

Thai food is really tricky to make at home because of its delicate balance of flavors. Many dishes have elements of sweet, savory, spicy, and tangy. Garlic, basil, lemongrass, bird chiles, and galangal, are the primary aromatics used. Having all flavors in perfect balance is the culinary goal. Thai stir fries are extra yummy in my opinion because the veggies are barely cooked, retaining a nice crunch and bite to them. This is true even for Thai curries. It’s a great reminder of the freshness of the ingredients being used. One of my favorite dishes in Thailand was a chicken curry noodle soup that hailed from the north. I will never forget the aromatic and slightly spicy broth, delicately kissed with sweetness from fresh coconut milk and palm sugar. Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out how to recreate this dish. That will have to wait for another post.

Stir fries are my go-to for meal prep throughout the week. They are quick and relatively easy to execute. Stir-frying can also be a very healthy technique of preparing food, assuming one does not use an excessive amount of oil. Using a huge ladle of oil for a stir fry is actually considered the authentic method. You’ll find that most of my recipes will find a way around this, as using excessive fat is unhealthy.

 

Cooking notes/tips:

An essential nuance in cooking with a wok is timing and knowing which ingredients to stir fry first, which to stir-fry together, and which must be separately stir-fried and then combined later on with the sauce. Most stir fried veggie dishes start off with the browning of garlic in oil before adding the other ingredients. The problem is that the garlic will quickly burn if it is not given some liquid. To prevent burning of garlic, I usually add a splash of water to my stir-fry after adding the vegetables. Traditional Chinese cooking utilizes LOADS of oil to prevent garlic from burning, but that is a rather unhealthy approach, so I prefer my splash of water.

In stir-fries involving meat and veggies, I almost always stir-fry the meat first, remove it from the pan, and then stir fry the veggies separately. This allows proper cooking of each ingredient, as cooking them all at once will create a watery mess. They are later combined and stir-fried with the sauce, which is oftentimes soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, fermented bean sauce.

Stir-fried vegetables should always retain some level of crunch after cooking. When in doubt, slightly undercook your veggies. That way, the residual heat will do the rest of the softening of the veggies. For people who follow a meal prep life, undercooking the veggies is a good strategy to give your veggies the perfect texture after re-heating.

 

Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients
½ lb Flank steak, cut into thin strips
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp oil
1 bell pepper, sliced
½ onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red jalapeno, thinly sliced
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 bunch basil

Marinate steak in soy sauce and corn starch. Allow to sit at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prep other ingredients.

Turn on wok or skillet on high. When pan is hot, add oil. When oil is shimmery, add flank steak and stir fry for 3-5 minutes until beef is just cooked through. Then remove from heat.

Add oil to the skillet/wok, and when oil is shimmery, add in garlic and red jalapeno. Stir fry for 30 seconds-1 minutes to soften garlic and jalapeno. Then add bell pepper and onions. Stir fry for 3-5 minutes, until vegetables are slightly softened.

Add in beef and stir fry together. Add in oyster sauce, black pepper, and sugar. Stir fry another minute. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed with oyster sauce or additional soy sauce. Add in basil and stir fry until basil has just softened.

Remove from heat and serve.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Deconstructed Peach (or apple) Crisp

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Summer fruit is here! I’m sad that I have only just now posted a recipe featuring these nature’s delights. Peaches and nectarines are among my favorite fruits ever. Their sweet fragrance, slight sour bite, and luscious juicy texture make me weak in the knees. In fact, I am feeling saddened at the thought that fall is quickly coming, and these nectar-filled treasures will no longer grace the shelves of my grocery store. Well, better late than never.

Anyone who is familiar with my cooking preferences and style knows that I have little patience or skill when it comes to pastries, cakes, or any elaborate baking. I have an innate inability to follow directions when it comes to cooking. I feel like a rebel whenever I read a recipe, because I will almost surely veer from it. It gives a sense of satisfaction knowing that I can do whatever I want, despite what others say in their recipes. Yes, I realize this is ironic because I am also sharing recipes and attempting to instruct others on how to prepare food. Usually things work out just fine because I have developed my own sense of proportion and flavor with regards to savory foods. Unfortunately, in the world of baking, only a select few highly skilled bakers can successfully pull this off. This is why I made a peach crisp. Not a cake, not a pie, or a cobbler. Making a fruit crisp is much more forgiving than other sweets, which is why it is one of my go-to recipes for a dessert fit for entertaining.

Cooking Tips

Since peaches are in season, I made good use of them. Pitting and coring them was a huge drain of my energy, but it was all worth it in the end. Other fruits can be used for this fruit crisp, including apples, plums, blueberries, or any other berries. I’m a fan of apple crisps because apples are available year-round in the United States.

I would recommend using less cinnamon if you choose to make a fruit crisp using a berry. Cinnamon does not play as well with berries as it does with apples or peaches. I would recommend using more vanilla extract and omit the cinnamon from the fruit mixture. It should be fine in the crispy topping.

I purposely prepared the fruit separately from the crispy topping. Just like the famed Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, I dislike soggy textures for baked goods. Which is why this peach crisp is a deconstructed one. I recommend combining the crispy topping with the fruit only when serving it. Otherwise, keep them separate.

Add more salt to bring out the richness in this dessert.

 

Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
5-6 peaches, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
juice of ½ lemon
½ cup brown sugar

¾ cup oats
¾ cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup butter, cut into cubes, cold
½ cup brown sugar
large pinch of salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare crispy topping separately from peaches. Mix together oats, flour, cinnamon, salt, and brown sugar until they are well-combined.

Using a pastry cutter, mix butter into flour and oat mixture. Make sure your butter is cold. Continue to cut butter into mixture until the texture resembles small peas.

Place oat mixture onto a lined baking sheet and spread onto baking sheet in an even layer. Allow to bake for approximately 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

While crispy topping is baking, prepare peach mixture. Add peaches, cinnamon, vanilla extract, lemon juice, and brown sugar into a large sauce pan. Turn fire on medium and allow peaches to cook down. Toss gently every few minutes for even cooking. Cook about 10-15 minutes, and then cover with lid, turn off the fire, and allow peaches to sit for at least 10 minutes. This will prevent the peaches from overcooking.

When crispy topping is done, remove from oven and allow to cool.

When ready to serve, scoop a spoonful of simmered peaches and top with crispy oat topping, and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Enjoy!

 

 

Rice Congee with Fish

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Rice congee is a classic Chinese breakfast dish. People from all over China and Hong Kong eat this dish. It has even spread to Vietnam, Korea, and Cambodia, and many other Asian countries. It is essentially the oatmeal of the East. The only difference is that congee is cooked down until the rice almost loses all of its original structure, resulting in a thick but wet soup. Another major difference is that rice congee is often eaten as a savory item. It is either cooked with a protein and its broth or with just plain water, then served with pickled savory vegetables. Oftentimes, it is served with a savory long donut for dipping.

When I think of congee, 2 things come to mind: grandmothers and being sick. The latter is not the most pleasant of thoughts, I realize. I have fond memories of having a big bowl of congee made lovingly by one of my grandmothers when I was down with a cold/flu. It was a vehicle for them to convey the warmth and love in their hearts. One grandmother actually made plain white rice porridge for us every day, which led to an eventual aversion to rice congee for much of my adolescence. As an adult, I can now reconnect with my roots and appreciate congee for both its complexity and simplicity.

Some classic congees are: egg, chicken and ginger, fish and ginger, pork and thousand-year egg.

 

Cooking notes/tips:

Make sure that you have an excellent quality broth to cook with your congee, because that is the foundation of flavor. If you rely solely on MSG-filled canned chicken stock, your congee will not be as nutritious or delicious. I always have homemade chicken stock in my freezer because I boil chicken for my dog to eat. If you want to make your own stock, just add some chicken thighs, breast, or bones to a big pot of water and let it simmer for an hour or so, and you’re good to go!

To save time, I use a rice cooker to cook the rice down first, and then I add it to the broth to cook down on the stove. Having the rice do its initial cooking in the rice cooker means that you do not have to monitor or stir until you start cooking it on the stove.

Toppings are everything when it comes to congee. Having fresh green onion and cilantro (unless you are one of those people with a genetically determined aversion to it) is almost a must. If you have time to make the shallot oil, that would be even better. Adding this touch is something I learned from my brother-in-law’s family, who has Cambodian roots. I believe Chinese people tend to drizzle a tiny drop of sesame oil as a topping for their congee.

Recipe
Serves: 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2.5-3 hours

 1 quart chicken broth (homemade preferred)
1 quart water
½ cup michiu (rice wine)
1 cup white Jasmine rice, washed
2 tilapia filets (or other white fish)
4 tbsp minced ginger
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp of white pepper
3 tbsp fish sauce or to taste
1 bunch green onion, finely chopped
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
2 tbsp oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced

Heat a large pot with water, chicken broth, and rice wine. Once water begins to boil and turn fire to medium low. Add in rice. Drop a metal or porcelain spoon into pot –this prevents sticking. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

Boil for 2 hours until rice begins to cook down, resulting in a thicker consistency. (a thick soup texture). Stir occasionally and scrape bottom of pot to prevent burning and sticking.

Cut fish into thin pieces (½ inch thick) and marinade with fish sauce and ginger. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes, then add to porridge. Cook on low fire for another 10 minutes until fish has cooked through and porridge is at desired consistency (much wetter and thinner than cooked oatmeal). Add approximately 4 tbsp of fish sauce, or to taste. Add white pepper.

While porridge finishes cooking, heat 2 tbsp of oil in a pan and place shallots in the oil. Fry on low medium heat until golden brown. Set shallot oil aside for topping.

Spoon into individual bowls and garnish with fresh green onion, cilantro, and some shallot oil.

Enjoy!