Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hue-style Beef Noodles

Most people are familiar with the Vietnamese beef noodle soup, pho (pronounced fuh). Pho is good, but bun bo Hue (pronounced boom baw way), or Hue-style beef noodle soup, is great. If pho was like flying a kite, bun bo Hue would be like flying a jet fighter: intense and not for the weak. If the red color of the broth doesn’t give it away, the first bite will. In central Vietnam, Hue is an area known for its generous use of chili peppers in cooking.

A good bowl of bun bo Hue will make you look like you just did yogalates in a sauna. But not all bun bo Hue is extremely spicy. Sometimes, it's served not spicy at all. And even though it's called beef noodle soup, pork knuckles and shanks are an important part of the dish. Just please don’t know me how I know about yogalates. The recipe below is courtesy of Mai Pham of Bon Appetit.



6 lemongrass stalks (bottom 3 inches only), outer layers peeled
3 pounds beef shank
8 cups low-salt chicken broth
8 cups water

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 onions, thinly sliced, divided
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon (or more) sambal oelek or Thai chiles
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
3 tablespoons fish sauce (nuoc nam or nam pla)*
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons red shrimp paste with soya bean oil*
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 8.8-ounce package dried thin rice noodles (vermicelli-style)
2 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 cups thinly shredded cabbage
1/2 cup rau ram (Vietnamese coriander)* or Thai basil leaves* or regular basil leaves
3 dried Thai bird chiles,* chopped (optional)
4 lime wedges


Finely chop enough lemongrass stalks to measure 4 teaspoons. Cut remaining stalks in half. Place beef and stalks in large pot. Add broth and 8 cups water; bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer 1 1/2 hours.

Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1/3 of sliced onions and garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon sambal oelek, paprika, and chopped lemongrass; sauté 1 minute. Add sambal oelek mixture to soup; mix in fish sauce, sugar, shrimp paste, and salt. Simmer until beef is tender, skimming foam from surface, about 1 hour. Remove beef from soup. Skim fat from surface of soup. Simmer soup until reduced to 8 cups, about 10 minutes. Add more sambal oelek for spicier flavor. Trim off any fat from beef; cut meat into bite-size pieces.

Bring large saucepan of water toboil. Add noodles; boil 1 minute. Drain; rinse under cold water and drain again. Using scissors, cut noodles crosswise. Divide noodles among 4 large bowls. Top with beef, remaining sliced onions, green onions, and cilantro.

Bring soup to boil; ladle over noodles. Toss cabbage and rau ram in small bowl. Sprinkle over soup. Top with chiles, if desired; squeeze lime over.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tagliatelle with Truffle Butter

Despite my doctor’s warnings, I love rich, buttery pasta dishes. But I can’t help but feel guilty after consuming a large bowl of carbs and cream. Then, somewhere along the way, I was introduced to truffles added to buttery pasta, which is good since truffles are like expensive mushrooms. And since mushrooms are said to have medicinal benefits that must mean truffles are extremely beneficial to my health. Healthy pasta? Check.



Kosher salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 ounces white truffle butter
Freshly ground black pepper
1 (8.82-ounce) package Cipriani tagliarelle dried pasta or other egg fettuccine
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
3 ounces Parmesan, shaved thin with a vegetable peeler


Add 1 tablespoon salt to a large pot of water and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large (12-inch) saute pan, heat the cream over medium heat until it comes to a simmer. Add the truffle butter, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, lower the heat to very low, and swirl the butter until it melts. Keep warm over very low heat.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes, exactly. (If you're not using Cipriani pasta, follow the directions on the package.) When the pasta is cooked, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta. Add the drained pasta to the saute pan and toss it with the truffle-cream mixture. As the pasta absorbs the sauce, add as much of the reserved cooking water, as necessary, to keep the pasta very creamy.

Serve the pasta in shallow bowls and garnish each serving with a generous sprinkling of chives and shaved Parmesan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve at once.

FYI, I was lazy and used already grated Parmesan. Another thing to keep in mind is that the pasta absorbs a surprising amount of liquid, so the pasta might seem runny at first, leading you to think you won’t need the extra cooking water, but you’ll end up using it all. Just keep tossing as the liquid is absorbed and you’ll have creamy, tender truffle pasta.

Here, I served it with some "seared" scallops topped with some fleur de sel with dried garlic and basil. Yes, I know the scallops look fried. I got happy and used too much oil so the scallops ended up fried rather than seared. But it was still delicious.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Vietnamese Pork Skewers

Last week I shared a simple recipe for naked fried chicken. Today I’ll share a deceptively simple Vietnamese recipe courtesy of my aunt and uncle from Austin. What makes it deceptively simple is the marinade. A casual eater would have no idea of the amount of time that goes into the ingredients: mincing hay-like lemongrass, toasting and grounding sesame seeds, thinly and uniformly slicing a slab of pork, and making a dark caramel sauce. For those with the dedication and free time, this recipe is worth all the effort.



2 tablespoons minced lemongrass
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds, lightly toasted, coarsely ground
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 1/2 teaspoon of caramel sauce or 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
2 shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2/3 pound pork shoulder, untrimmed, cut across the grain into thin slices (about 2" wide by 4" long and 1/8" thick)
12 (8-inch) bamboo skewers, soaked in water 30 minutes


Combine the lemongrass, sesame seeds, fish sauce, caramel sauce, shallots, garlic and oil in a bowl and stir well to blend. Add the pork and let it marinate for at least 20 minutes. Thread the meat onto the skewers and set aside.

Preheat a grill with hardwood charcoal. Oil the grill, then grill the pork slices until the meat is done and the edges are nicely charred, about 3 to 4 minutes. To make life easier, we used one of those fish grill baskets which let us flip 6 skewers at a time rather than burning our finger tips turn each skewer individually.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Simple Fried Chicken

Like everyone reading this blog, I don’t have enough time in the day. Between my day job, my nearly 4-month old daughter and America’s Got Talent, I hardly have time for the gym…um…yeah. But just because we all are trying to accomplish more than there are hours in a day, that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some yummy home-cooked goodness. Often times, food is like photography in that less is more. When setting up a shot, I focus on 3 photographic elements: foreground, subject, and background. For me, a similar trinity applies to cooking my own concoctions: cooking method, subject, and spices. Overly simple? Maybe. But the recipe below is proof that simple can still be delicious.


1 1/2 to 2 pounds of chicken drumsticks (subject)
1 teaspoon of garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper
1 teaspoon of dried rosemary (use fresh if you have it)
1/2 cup of cooking oil

In a large bowl, combine the chicken, salt, pepper, and rosemary. Toss to coat evenly and refrigerate for at least an hour before cooking. Sometime long ago I learned that the average palate really only registers 3 flavors at a time. Since that has stuck through the years, when creating my own dishes, I try to start off with only 3 spices when cooking. If I must add a fourth, it’s usually cayenne to add some heat.

In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Let the oil get nice and hot before adding the chicken. Cook the chicken for 18-20 minutes, turning three times. When I fry chicken legs, I treat them as having 4 sides. This way, the legs are golden brown all around rather than burnt on two opposing sides and white on the other two.

Serve with your favorite starch and veggies, which are rice and spinach for me.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Clams and Ham at Dolce Vita

My sister-in-law visited recently and requested that we get some pizza at Dolce Vita. My response was a quote of Jules in Pulp Fiction, “Shit Negro! That's all you had to say!” Unfortunately, the reference was lost on her and we enjoyed a moment of awkward silence followed by my attempt to explain the reference followed by more awkward silence.

In addition to great pizza, Dolce Vita is a favorite spot of mine for photographing food. It’s something about the antique glass plus the black tables plus the colorful pizzas that make for some great food photo opportunities.

ham pizza-1
The first pizza was a special of porchetta and Portobello and basil, which is fancy talk for ham, fungus and weeds. Nomenclature aside, the pizza was great. The porchetta would make Oscar Meyer green with envy and the mushrooms were nicely sautéed.

clam pizza-1
The next pizza was their vongole, which is Italian for clams. Adorning this pie were vongole, garlic, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella. I’m a fan of clams and what I really liked about this pizza was that the clam juices worked its way through the melted cheese and into the crispy crust. The result was a juicy pizza with a bottom whose crispiness was paper-thin. Any juices that collected on my plate were sopped up by the crust that I butterflied to maximize its juice sopping capacity.

So if you find yourself in Dolce Vita
Try the pizza named after clams
Their crust is like a crispy pita
And you can say you ate like Tam