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Tamarind Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Mam Me)

Tamarind Dipping Sauce--a tangy and slightly sweet sauce that will tantalize your taste buds!If you’ve had this tangy, spicy and slightly sweet sauce, just the thought of it should start you salivating.  Made of tamarind, garlic, red chilies, lime juice, sugar and fish sauce this sauce is a unique combination of tart and sweet.  A tantalizing concoction, this sauce is typically served with baked fish wrapped in rice paper and enjoyed as fresh spring rolls.  (Stay tuned, next week I’ll share this companion dish, Asian-Style Baked Salmon.)  I also love this sauce as a dressing for refreshing salads or rice noodle bowls.  If you’re looking for a vegetarian option, substitute the fish sauce with soy sauce or tamari.  Enjoy!

Notes on the Recipe, Tips and Tricks

Depending on where you live tamarind may be difficult to find.  The dried tamarind is often sold packaged as a block (like cheese) or a disc (like a big rice cake). Sometimes it’s labelled as “wet tamarind” to differentiate between the dried whole pods (picture below). Look for these products at your Asian grocery store.

If you have a Latin market nearby, you can buy the dried whole pods (see picture below).  The tamarind is packaged in small plastic bags and very inexpensive.  Simply peel off the skin and cut off the stringy parts attached to the pods.  Then cut the fruit into small pieces for this recipe.

If dried or wet tamarind is not available, you may be able to find tamarind paste.  When using tamarind paste, the intensity may vary so you’ll need to experiment a bit before finding the right combination for this sauce.  (Also keep in mind that some pastes include additional spices likes ginger.)  For the below recipe, you need 1/3 cup of tamarind puree so add 2-3 teaspoons of the tamarind paste with 1/3 cup hot water.  Stir to dissolve and then follow the recipe as per below.

Watch the video below for instructions.

Ingredients

2 oz dried or wet tamarind
3/4 cup boiling water
3 garlic cloves
3 red chili peppers (this is spicy, cut back if you want less spice)
1 Tbsp lime juice
3 Tbsp fish sauce
3 Tbsp sugar

Directions

Put the dried tamarind into a bowl or measuring cup and add the boiling water.  Mash tamarind using a small whisk or spoon to extract the fruit.  This takes approximately 5 minutes.  Strain the mixture using a sieve.  Use the back of a spoon to push the tamarind through the sieve until all that’s left is the pulp.

Finely minced the garlic and red chilies.  Set aside for now.

Add the tamarind puree into a small saucepan.  Add the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar.  Over Low heat, stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved, approximately 2-3 minutes.  Let the sauce cool for a few minutes.

Add the garlic and chilies and combine.  Pour sauce into dipping bowls and serve.

Refrigerate any uneaten amounts.  The sauce is best if consumed within the week.

Yields: 3/4 cup

Dried Tamarind --this one of a kind fruit has a distinctly tart taste!

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Braised Fish in Clay Pot (Ca Kho To)

There are some classic foods that remind us of our youth and this is the dish that transports me back in time.  Perhaps it’s the uniqueness of this dish that makes it stand out in my mind or perhaps it’s when I think about this dish I am reminded of my Mom’s boundless energy and painstaking efforts to cook us the most delicious Viet foods.  Braised Fish in Clay Pot was her signature dish and one the whole family loved.  My Mom’s original recipe uses a homemade caramel sauce (nuoc mau).  She would make a big jar of it and have it ready for this dish.  If you’ve ever made caramel for braising meats, you’ll know that it can be tricky and it’s very easy to burn the sugar.  It’s all in the timing.  You want to get the caramel a rich amber color without scorching it.  (If you’ve ever burned sugar, you know it smells awful.)  Cooking caramel is an art and so many folks in my generation don’t bother making it.  Our local Asian grocery stores conveniently sell jars of caramel sauce ready for use.

My recipe adaptation is an homage to my mom’s homemade caramel recipe but you don’t need to make a big batch ahead of time like she use to do.  Instead, you make just enough caramel for the dish so it’s easier to time.  You still need to keep your eyes on it.  Once the sugar melts and turns a honey color, it can burn in a matter of seconds.  If you’re more experienced with making caramel, you can cook at a higher temperature.  If you’re a novice, I suggest you keep the heat on low.  It takes a little bit longer but will give you more time to react.  Another trick I use is to add the minced scallions and garlic to cool the caramel instantly and to stop it from cooking further.

If you don’t have a clay pot, you can use a saucepan or skillet.  Just make sure your cookware is large enough so the pieces of fish lay flat.   This will ensure they are evenly coated in the delicious caramel sauce.  The success of this dish is how well the sauce permeates the fish.  I use tilapia, a tender fish that cooks fairly fast.  To help infuse the fish with the savory sauce, you need to spoon the sauce over the fish as it’s cooking.  Sorry, this is not one of those dish where you set it and forget it.  Although the total cooking time is not long, you need to be diligent with all of the steps.  I promise, you will be rewarded with a beautiful and mouth-watering dish.  Enjoy!

Watch the video below for instructions.

Ingredients

12 oz of tilapia fillets
1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced shallots
3 red chilies

for the Marinade:

2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Directions

Mix together all ingredients for the marinade and set aside.

Add oil and sugar to the pot.  Cook over Low heat stirring occassionally until sugar melts and turns a dark amber color, approximately 5-6 minutes.  Add minced shallots and garlic and combine with the caramel.  Cook for 1 minute.  Add the marinade prepared earlier and stir together.  Add the chilies.  Lay fish fish fillets flat inside the pot.  Add enough water to cover the fish and cook on Low heat for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, spoon the sauce over the fish several times coating it well.  Cook for another 3 minutes.  Turn up the heat to Medium High and cook until more than half of the liquid is evaporated, approximtely 3-5 minutes.  Continue spooning the sauce over the fish as it cooks.  (Note:  If you prefer more sauce for dipping cucumbers or to spoon over rice, adjust the cooking time and don’t let as much of the liquid evaporate.)

Transfer the pot to a cool burner.  Cover slightly and allow to cook for another 10 minutes.  (If using a steel pot, simply simmer for another 5-6 minutes.)

Sprinkle more ground black pepper on top and serve hot.

Yields: 2-4 servings

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5-Spice Beer Can Chicken (Ga Nuong Ngu Vi Huong)

Cooking a chicken on a beer can may seem gimmicky but you will be amazed at how tender and juicy the chicken comes out using this cooking method.  Every time I cook a chicken this way I am amazed with how simple the recipe is and how it never fails to wow my guests.  The rub with its abundant and varied spices adds such robust flavor to an otherwise plain chicken.  It may seem like there are too many spices in the rub but they all work together very nicely.  The brown sugar helps the chicken to get that nice golden color whether cooking on the grill or in the oven.  It really is a no fuss recipe and I hope you’ll give it a try!

Notes on the Recipe, Tips and Tricks

I use a disposable foil tray to catch the drippings.  You’ll be surprised at how much fat drips out of the chicken.  The tray catches everything and makes the clean-up super easy.

The below rub recipes makes approximately 1/4 cup of rub and it should be more than enough for a 5 pound chicken.

I am not a fan of chicken skin and will peel it off and discard it.  So that I don’t lose any of the wonderful flavors, I put the rub underneath the chicken skin.  Just gently work the rub underneath the skin with your finger.  The chicken skin is really stretchy and you can get to most areas of the chicken simply by lifting the skin and then running your index finger between the skin and meat to create pockets where you can then place the rub.

 Watch the video below for instructions.

If you enjoyed this recipe, you may also like: Asian-Style Stuffed Cornish Game Hens.

Ingredients

for the Rub
1/2 Tbsp 5-spice powder
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 Tbsp garlic powder
1/2 Tbsp ginger powder
1/2 Tbsp onion powder
1/2 Tbsp sea salt
1/2 Tbsp paprika powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne powder

5 lb whole chicken
1-12 oz can beer
1/4 small onion

Directions

To make the rub, add all spices into a measuring cup or bowl and mix well making sure to break-up any chunks of spice.  Alternatively, put all ingredients into a jar, seal tightly and shake the jar for 1 minute to combine the spices.

Open beer can and pour out 1/2 cup of beer into a glass.   Drink just the beer in the glass before proceeding to next step.  🙂  Use a can opener to make some additional holes on the top of the can.  Add 2 tsp of the rub into the can.  Coat the can with a thin layer of vegetable oil.  (This will make the chicken easier to remove after it’s done cooking.)

Remove giblets from inside the chicken.  Rinse the inside and outside of the chicken with cool water.  Shake off any excess water and then pat dry with paper towels.  Using kitchen shears cut off the flaps of fat at the opening of the chicken and discard.

Sprinkle spice mixture and rub it onto the chicken, coating it evenly.  Put some rub inside the chicken too.  Optionally, work the rub underneath the skin.

Hold chicken with one hand and beer can with the other.  Tilt beer can slightly and insert into the opening of the chicken.  Lower the chicken onto the beer can until it can stand on its own.  About 1 inch of the can should be visible.  Arrange the legs to help support the weight.

Place an onion wedge into the neck cavity and pull the skin around the onion to hold it in place.

Cooking in the Oven

Transfer chicken to a baking dish or sturdy disposable foil pan.

Arrange oven rack so it is at the lowest position.  Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until the internal temperature of the breast meat is 165 degrees.  After 1 hour, check the temperature with a meat thermometer and then keep checking every 5-6 minutes until the it reaches 165 degrees.  (A 5 lb chicken takes approximately 1 1/2 hours.)

Cooking on the Grill

Transfer chicken to a sturdy disposable foil pan.  Set the grill temperature to Medium and place the tray over indirect heat.  (If your grill has 2 heat sources, turn on the one heat source and place the chicken on the opposite side so the chicken is not directly over the flame).  Close the lid and grill until the internal temperature of the breast meat is 165 degrees.  After 1 hour, check the temperature with a meat thermometer and then keep checking every 5-6 minutes until it reaches 165 degrees.

After Chicken is Done 

Remove from the oven or grill and allow to cool for 15 minutes.  Use 2 pairs of tongs to remove the chicken from the beer can.  Clamp the chicken with one pair of tongs and use the other pair of tongs to extract the beer can.  Be careful with this step as the chicken, can and the beer inside is really hot.

Serve the chicken as a rice plate with broken rice, egg meatloaf, carrot and radish pickles, scallion oil and fish sauce dipping sauce.

Yields: 4-6 servings

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Lemongrass Beef over Rice Noodles (Bun Bo Xao)

This popular Vietnamese dish is wonderfully fragrant and tasty–best of all, it’s easy to make! The lemongrass adds great flavor to the beef and the generous use of fresh herbs and vegetables makes this dish so light and refreshing it’s often called a “salad”. If you’re short on time, buy frozen minced lemongrass at your local Asian grocery store. I also found it in a squeezable tube (like toothpaste) in the produce section of my grocery store. If you’re watching your carbs, omit the noodles and double up on the veggies. Yum! Making dinner just for two? This recipe is portioned for 2 servings or for one really hungry person. Enjoy!

Watch the video below for instructions.

Ingredients

1/2 pound beef flap meat or flank steak
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp olive oil for marinade + 1 Tbsp olive oil for stir fry
1 stalk lemongrass (2 Tbsp minced)
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 shallot thinly sliced

3 cups cooked rice vermicelli
1/2 cup each of fresh herbs: mint, Thai basil and cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup shredded lettuce
1/2 cup cucumbers thinly sliced
1 cup bean sprouts
1/4 cup crushed roasted peanuts
1/4 cup pickled carrots
1/2 cup fish sauce dipping sauce

Directions

Slice beef into thin strips about 3 inches long by 1/4-inch thick. Combine meat with fish sauce, oyster sauce, black pepper, olive oil and marinate for at least 15 minutes.

Mince lemongrass by hand or use a food processor.

Heat a wok over high heat. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil to pan. Add garlic and shallots and stir fry for 10-15 seconds. Add lemongrass and stir fry for another 10-15 seconds. Add marinated beef into pan and stir fry until the meat is the desired doneness. Add 1/2 cup of bean sprouts and stir fry for another minute.

To serve, spoon the stir fried beef over rice noodles. Sprinkle peanuts on top and garnish with pickled carrots. Serve with fresh herbs, shredded lettuce, cucumber and bean sprouts along with fish sauce dipping sauce.

Yields: 2 servings

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Vietnamese Fish Sauce Dipping Sauce (Traditional Recipe) (Nuoc Mam Cham)

I call this our “awesome sauce” and every family has a unique recipe.   I’ve had many versions of this Viet dipping sauce and found every one likes this special fish sauce mixture a different way.  There are variations to the acids used from different vinegars (distilled, rice wine, etc.) to lime or lemon juice.  Different brands of fish sauce have varying intensities and some recipes combine multiple types of fish sauce for a truly potent punch.  Sugar levels also vary greatly with the recipes ranging from super sweet to make-your-face-pucker tart.  So I’d like to just say, there’s no wrong way to make this dipping sauce as long as you love the taste!  The recipe below is my family’s recipe and we prefer it on the milder and sweeter side–we don’t use as much fish sauce as some of the other recipes.  You can easily adjust this recipe to suit your taste buds.  Make it as robust as you dare!

Watch the video below for instructions.

Ingredients

1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup lime juice or vinegar
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 Tbsp finely chopped garlic
2 finely chopped small red chilies

Directions

In a small bowl stir together all ingredients until sugar is dissolved.

Store in refrigerator in airtight jar or bottle.  Best if consumed within the week.

Yields: 1 3/4 cups

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