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M. Leary

Vietnamese / Thai Cooking

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M. Leary   

I am trying to up my mise en place game this summer with some fairly standard Thai and Vietnamese dishes. So far so good. I have done a few Vietnamese "noodle salads" and a honing a pad thai recipe. Any suggestions or recommendations this direction?

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Anders   

I can whole-heartedly recommend this website for authentic Thai cuisine.

 

It's funny that Pad Thai has become the go to for Americans eating Thai food, since it's hardly the most representative food of the country (try some of the grilled chicken and sticky rice dishes).

 

Can I recommend next trying a soup, maybe Tom Yung Goong? If you can find the ingredients, it's not that hard.

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M. Leary   

Yes! That is exactly the kind of help I am looking for. I went with Pad Thai first because I knew the kids would enjoy it as their first experience of these flavors. And they really did...

 

A few pork recipes there that I now have on the list.

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Andrew   

Pho is what everybody seemed to be eating, north and south, on my two trips to Vietnam.  And it's so dang good - by the time I left, I was eating it for breakfast.  On a note of dubious authenticity, my daughter, fiancée, and I love Thai iced tea, which is pretty easy to make.

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Anders   

Pho is what everybody seemed to be eating, north and south, on my two trips to Vietnam.  And it's so dang good - by the time I left, I was eating it for breakfast.  On a note of dubious authenticity, my daughter, fiancée, and I love Thai iced tea, which is pretty easy to make.

 

Yeah, pho is awesome. But my trip to Vietnam ruined me on most pho here in N. America. Mostly has to do with the freshness of the rice noodles I think.

Last night we actually made a Thai-style dinner. Our menu:

 

- fresh veggie rolls (rice paper, rice vermicelli, lettuce, mint, cilantro, shredded carrot, can add shrimp but we were making it to share with vegan friends)

- veggie Thai red curry (curry paste, coconut milk, mushrooms, fried tofu, Thai basil leaves)

 

and though not veggie, my favourite was

 

- rare-beef Thai salad (thinly sliced rare sirloin steak, salad cucumbers, mint, cilantro, sliced Asian shallot, fresh red chilli, fish sauce, lime juice, palm sugar)

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Anders   

Palm sugar is such a wonderful ingredient.

 

Was this last dish served with noodles?

 

No noodles. This meal was served with Thai rice. I eat the salad just as a salad, on the side of my rice and the other dishes. I'm sure low-carb folks could really dig Thai food by just cutting out the rice. Also, it is important that you serve decent Thai rice: no "minute-rice." It should be labeled "fragrant" or "Jasmine" rice.

 

In terms of Thai eating conventions, noodles are often an individual lunch dish. They are rarely served as a part of large meals or as evening meals. Also, it is uncommon for Thai people to order individual dishes for evening meals, if it ever occurs (Side note: it is one of my pet peeves of going out for Thai or Indian food with people here at home, they don't want to share dishes). Often you will order 4-5 communal dishes and your own bowl of rice. Thai palates crave variety of texture (crunchy, chewy, etc.) and taste (sweet, spicy, sour). I've seen folks in Thailand out for an evening meal at a Western restaurant sharing a hamburger, a slice of pizza, and a caesar salad among 3 people.

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M. Leary   

Such a lovely way to consider the sharing of food. Cooking this direction has changed the way we consider preparing food for guests.

 

I prepared a pho beef broth last night, which takes about four hours start to finish (though I gather some let it simmer longer). It is wonderfully complex in that it requires the parboiling and washing of bone, the charring of its savory elements, and the skimming of the whatnots that float to the top. But that first hit of the broth you get when reaching the point at which it is time to adjust flavors is an incredible gift - the deep notes of hot umami work wonders for my mental health.

 

But the pleasure of the preparation is the recognition that the broth is simply one complex element of all the flavors that come together in the actual eating process itself. I gather that one does not simply dump in a handful of the herbs and sprouts right away, but slowly adds bits of chili, sprout, and fresh mint, basil, and coriander as one eats so that there is a constant stream of these cool, fresh, and crispy ingredients that balance out the deep, dark beefy bass clef of the broth.

Edited by M. Leary

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But the pleasure of the preparation is the recognition that the broth is simply one complex elements of all the flavors that come together in the actual eating process itself. I gather that one does not simply dump in a handful of the herbs and sprouts right away, but slowly adds bits of chili, sprout, and fresh mint, basil, and coriander as one eats so that there is a constant stream of these cool, fresh, and crispy ingredients that balance out the deep, dark beefy bass clef of the broth.

 

This makes my mouth water! I've been slowly teaching myself to cook Indian food over the past five or so years, and it's also a slow process. I love it, and the nuances are fascinating. For instance, adding fennel five minutes after a recipe calls for it may add different notes to the mix. 

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Anders   

 

I prepared a pho beef broth last night, which takes about four hours start to finish (though I gather some let it simmer longer). It is wonderfully complex in that it requires the parboiling and washing of bone, the charring of its savory elements, and the skimming of the whatnots that float to the top. But that first hit of the broth you get when reaching the point at which it is time to adjust flavors is an incredible gift - the deep notes of hot umami work wonders for my mental health.

 

But the pleasure of the preparation is the recognition that the broth is simply one complex elements of all the flavors that come together in the actual eating process itself. I gather that one does not simply dump in a handful of the herbs and sprouts right away, but slowly adds bits of chili, sprout, and fresh mint, basil, and coriander as one eats so that there is a constant stream of these cool, fresh, and crispy ingredients that balance out the deep, dark beefy bass clef of the broth.

 

This makes me want to rewatch TAMOPOPO. Yes, I know pho vs. ramen, but you get the idea.

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M. Leary   

I can whole-heartedly recommend this website for authentic Thai cuisine.

 

I have abandoned much else other than this site for now. Her recipes are very straightforward, seem to comport with other standard Thai recipes I compare hers to, and she provides helpful prep tips.

 

Yesterday I made her recipe for Thai Grilled Pork. You grind a paste of white peppercorns, cilantro stems, and a mound of minced garlic. Fold in a light soy, oyster sauce, and a fist sized nugget of micro-planed palm sugar. A few pounds of fatty pork rest in this for a few hours (which has to be cut correctly, across the grain into strips 1/4-1/2" x 3", or else all is lost). The pork slowly deepens in hue to mahogany. All pretty simple at this point. 

 

Skewers of this pork (which are agonizing to prepare as the palm sugar has by now glazed the meat in such a way that you just want to pop the raw bits in your mouth) hit the grill over charcoal spread evenly. Then they sit for a while as you brush them with... coconut milk. The palm sugar caramelizes quickly as you rotate the skewers, leaving a crisp, ruddy finish on the pork. The lower strains of soy and oyster brine begin to hint at untold pleasures. Then you begin to splash them with coconut milk, which thickens directly on the seared pork and produces a sweet aromatic drape across the grill that fades in color with the heat. 

 

We ate this with jasmine rice and a bowl of fish sauce, finely sliced chilies, and lime juice as a condiment. The pork was really complex, savory, and bright all at the same time. The coconut milk seems to deglaze some of the marinade that emerges from the pork as it grills, the kind of little technical detail that makes Thai recipes more complex than they seem. At the end of each bite, the cilantro and lime peek through a little bit. An egg crisply fried sunny-side up in oil would have rounded all this out very well...

Edited by M. Leary

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Thom   

Okay. Late to the party but I am on this. Love Thai food and this would be a great cooking experiment(s) with the boys this summer. Thanks, Mike!

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M. Leary   

I keep working on various beef noodle soup recipes of southeast Asian extraction. When it comes to a few Vietnamese recipes I have encountered, there is a heavy emphasis on the clarity of a finished broth. A successful broth will be, like a consomme, clear as glass. This takes a lot of practice and attention, because this clarity is really deceptive. A successful broth also tastes very complex, almost elusive. One can smell the cinnamon and anise; taste the coriander and charred ginger. But then cardamom comes to mind. And... clove? Ancient umami mists? Sometimes coriander. It just depends on the kitchen. I like the conversations that happen over a good bowl of something like pho, which become guessing games, a mutual search for culinary adjectives.

 

The real pleasure of cooking these recipes has been playing with another layer of the process that involves picking the right bones. Oxtail is always a go-to choice for beef broths. It is easy to find and has a low marrow/fat to meat ratio (which means it exudes a lot of flavor, but doesn't require as much skimming as other cuts). But there is also the beef knuckle to consider. And beef shin or leg bone. And beef tendon. These are really dense meats (from lean parts of the leg, knee, or below the knee) so they lend a lot of a flavor to a broth. They also have a lot of connective tissue, which is key.

 

When simmered, this kind of tissue makes a broth full and heavy. Even if you have your flavor profiles right, they will slip right through a thin soup. You need a net to capture those deep bass notes of beef that make something like pho work. Collagen provides that net. The additional marrow often present in these bones and joints makes for deeper, beefier flavor. But you also need a skimmer, and something like cheesecloth for a final strain. Once you get that ratio of beef to bone right (and an afternoon of periodic attention to your stove) you will end up with the food equivalent of a riddle: something hot and crystal clear, dark as tea, yet also somehow invisibly thick and rich.

 

Right now, an oxtail, a few pounds of beef knuckle, and fatty fists of chuck seem to do the trick.

Edited by M. Leary

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Anders   

Thai food fans should check out the book my brother-in-law (who currently still resides in Chiang Mai, Thailand) got my for Christmas. POK POK, by Andy Ricker. It's fantastic, full of stories and images and detailed instructions for making Thai food. I'm loving it.

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