Thursday, September 4, 2014

Pho/Mi Ga Kho -Dry Chicken Pho

In my family, chicken pho isn't as popular as beef pho.  I definitely would choose beef over chicken any day.  However, chicken pho is so much easier to make than beef pho and only take 1/3 of the time.  For those reasons, I still make chicken pho pretty often.

A couple years ago, a friend of mine mention having pho ga kho and how much she enjoyed it.  I thought it was a great idea because this way we can switch things up a bit with pho ga.  I love hu tieu kho more than the soup version, maybe I will like the dry version of pho ga more than the soup version as well.  Plus I love eating dry noodle because we can add a lot of veggies and herbs to your bowl.  

It's really simple, you pretty much just make a pot of pho ga like usually.  The only thing you will need to do extra is come up with a sauce.  This was the part where I had a little trouble with in beginning because at the time I've never had pho ga kho before.  I had to rely solely on my friend's description.  I played around with the sauce several time and a lot of time it came out pretty similar to the my hu tieu kho sauce.  During my recent trip to Vietnam, I had the opportunity to try this dry chicken noodle dish from Da Nang.  Instead of pho noodles, they used an egg noodle similar to lo mein.  It was so delicious that we kept going back to eat it several times a week!  I fell in love with the sauce, it was sweet and more soy base.  

Please refer back to my Pho Ga recipe.


Shredded chicken from Pho Ga
Pho noodle/egg noodle
Bean sprout
Green onions
Fried shallots
Pho ga broth (as a side)

1.  I like putting my veggies(bean sprout/lettuce) at the bottom of the bowl.
2.  Add noodle of choice on top of veggies.
3.  Add shredded chicken on top veggies.
4.  Spoon enough sauce(sauce recipe below) into your bowl.
5. Top everything with herbs of choice, fresh minced chili, and fried shallots.
6.  Squeeze some fresh lime juice and stir everything together.
7.  Enjoy with some broth on the side!


4 tablespoon of olive oil
1 cup of soy sauce
2 cup of pho ga broth
1/4-1/3 cup of brown sugar (depending on how sweet you like your sauce)

1.  Combine all ingredients in a pot.  
2.  Heat up all the ingredient until they marry together and the sauce has reduce a bit.  

Garlic Noodles

It's all started when my oldest friend told me how much she loves eating garlic.  The first thing that came to mind was garlic noodles!  Luscious noodles covered in a savory butter sauce with lots of minced garlic.  I was told the noodles were so good the jumbo shrimps were not even necessary!


1-16 0z bag of lo mien noodles
1/2 stick of butter
2 tablespoon of finely minced garlic
3 tablespoon of oyster sauce
2 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 tablespoon of chopped green onions
Parmesan cheese

1.  Boil the lo mein noodles in water until it's about 80% done.  I like my noodles with a firm bite, so it's important to NOT overcook the noodles
2.  Drain and set aside.
3.  Melt 1/2 stick of butter on medium heat and add the minced garlic.  Let the garlic infused in the butter and become fragrance.
4.  Add the oyster sauce, soy sauce, and sugar to the garlic butter.
5.  Toss in the lo mein noodles and coat the noodles with the sauce. Add the garlic powder to the noodles.
6.  Just when the noodles are about done add the chopped green onions.
7.  Serve with your choice of protein and top with rated Parmesan cheese.
8.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Nuoc Cham - Vietnamese Fish Sauce/ Dipping Sauce

I secretly critique Vietnamese restaurant base on their nuoc cham.  Seriously 9/10 times it's right on the money!  If they have good nuoc cham, most likely their food will be decent as well.  The reasoning behind this theory stems from my mom.  She said "If you want to be good at Vietnamese cooking, practice making nuoc cham."  Making nuoc cham is combining and balancing different flavors; salty, sour, spicy, and sweet.  If you can learn to balance flavors then you can easily cook Vietnamese, it's really that simple.  If you know what the final product should taste like, think about what flavors are missing.  Get in the habit of tasting your food instead of relying on measurements.

I've been meaning to write an entry on nuoc cham for so long now, I can literally write a novel on it!  There are so many different ways to prepare nuoc cham. Nuoc cham for deep fried fish is not the same nuoc cham for spring rolls.  Nuoc cham for banh beo is not the same nuoc cham for banh bot loc.  Today I will share the recipe for a multi-purpose nuoc cham that you can use for many Vietnamese dishes.  Hopefully once you get the hang of making nuoc cham, you will no longer need to rely on measurements and just start making it by taste alone.  Here are a few helpful tips before you make your batch of nuoc cham.

1.  Fish Sauce:  
This is what makes the sauce so the brand does matter or I should say the concentration.  There are so many brands of fish sauce, I usually stick with the Vietnamese brand or the Squid brand (Thai) because it's what I know.   So you have the Squid Brand, Red Boat, 3 Crabs, and etc.  They all vary in prices due to how well it's filter and the purity of the product.  Squid is probably consider the worst quality and the cheapest, yet it's my only choice when I make nuoc cham.  Before you call me crazy, let me explain my reasoning (stems from mom)!  Squid brand is the most concentrated because it hasn't been filtered very much, therefore it is very salty and pungent.  It's the best to make nuoc cham because it has the most depth of flavor.  The more expensive brand are filtered and diluted for taste, therefore if you use it to make nuoc cham the flavors will get lost once you add water.  Basically you are diluting your fish sauce even more once you prepare your nuoc cham.  Don't get me wrong the expensive brand (filtered fish sauce) is good fish sauce but it's good on its own.  Once you start adding water, sugar, and lime it's going to dilute it and it will lose its flavor.  I prefer Squid brand because it's the most concentrated and salty.  I use the Squid brand when I cook as well because you don't need to use a lot of it compare to the expensive brand. 

2. Vinegar Vs Lime
Both are fine to use but I prefer lime because it just gives the nuoc cham some freshness.  

3.  Boiling the water
It's important to use boiling water so you can dissolve all the sugar so you can actually taste the sweetness.  Note that not all nuoc cham required water such as the ones for deep fried fish.  

4.  Garlic
Some nuoc cham are more syrupy (such as the one use for banh hoi and heo quay) which is made by smashing garlic together with the sugar.  If the food doesn't call for a syrupy nuoc cham you can just minced it up finely.

5.  Boiling Water > Sugar > Minced Garlic > Chilli > Lime > Fish Sauce
Remember this step if you want to start making nuoc from taste, trust me it's better than measuring!  Add boiling water to the sugar and stir so it dissolved.  Let the sugar water cool.  Add the minced garlic and fresh chili.  Add about 1/2 a lime first.  Then slowly start adding the fish sauce.  As you are adding more fish sauce, taste to see what it is missing.  More lime? More fish sauce?  More chili? Add whatever you feel is needed!

6.  For some reason when you store your prepared fish sauce in the fridge it tend to get diluted, so I usually make it a little saltier when I make them to store.  I know pickled carrots (do chua) taste really good in nuoc cham but avoid storing them together otherwise your nuoc cham will get diluted.
7.  Below is the recipe for a basic nuoc cham for spring rolls, cha gio, banh xeo, bun thit nuong, and the likes.  Usually nuoc cham for banh beo, banh uot, and banh cuon calls for a sweeter fish sauce so just use a little more sugar then the recipe below.  Good luck!

Ingredients: This will make one big container.

3 cups of boiling water
3/4-1 cup of sugar (for a sweeter nuoc cham use 1 cup)
1 lime (1/4 cup)
~ 3/4-1 cup of fish sauce (I use Squid brand, if you are using a more filtered fish sauce you will need to use more)
fresh chili (your liking)

1.  Boil your water and then add it to the sugar.  Stir the sugar to dissolved and let the sugar water cool down.

2.  Add the minced garlic and fresh chili.  If you add garlic to hot sugar water, it will turn green. 

3.  Add 1 lime. 

4.  Measure out one cup of fish sauce, you may or may not use the whole 1 cup.  Slowly add your fish sauce and taste as you add additional fish sauce.  Note:  If you are using a filtered fish sauce you may need to use more than 1 cup. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Che Chuoi - Banana Coconut Pudding

Not only am I not a huge fan of dessert, I don't even like eating bananas.  Oddly there is something so comforting and tasty about a bowl of che chuoi, and it's making me break all my rules.  My sister-in-law taught me how to make this che over the phone, so it's quite simple to make.

This che does require a specific type of banana, the short Asian bananas (looks like baby bananas).  I'm sure you can use regular bananas but it won't taste as good.  The short bananas has more starch, is more firm, and is less sweet than regular bananas.  It will hold up better during the cooking process and there will be more of a bite to it (regular bananas will get too mushy).  Make sure the bananas are ripe before making this che otherwise these short bananas will have a bitter taste. Enjoy!


1 hand of RIPED banana (the short Asian kind if possible)
1 can of coconut
2 cups of cubed cassava roots (I use the frozen kind)
1/4 cup of tapioca pearls

1.  Cut bananas down about 1 inch in length.  Marinate bananas with about 5 tablespoon of sugar, let it marinate overnight so you can make it the next day.
2.  Boil the cassava roots until it's about 60% done, you will finish cooking it in the coconut milk.  I like my cassava roots pretty firm otherwise it will fall apart.  Cube the cassava roots to about 1/2 inch.
3.  Wash your tapioca pearls.
4.  Pour the entire can of coconut milk in a large pot on medium heat.  Fill up that coconut milk can with water and stir it in with the coconut milk.
5.  Add the cubed cassava roots and the tapioca pearl.  Add about 4-5 tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of salt.  More or less sugar depending on how sweet you like, don't forget the bananas were marinated with additional sugar.
6.  Let the cassava roots cook in the coconut milk until the tapioca pearl has expand.
7.  Add the marinated bananas.  Let the bananas cook until it's tender.  I like my bananas firm so it's about 10 minutes.
8.  Transfer to bowl and enjoy with roasted peanuts.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Thit Heo Quay - Crispy Pork Belly

The nearest Chinatown is roughly 2 hours away from us, therefore food such as roasted pork or duck is just out of the question.  We have to travel all the way to Chicago just for some good BBQ meat.  It's such a shame because there are so many Vietnamese dishes that calls for roasted pork.

Last fall I got the chance to learn how to make roasted pork at home.  It was so incredibly easy and to be honest it was better than store bought; the skin was so incredibly crispy.  It's as easy as dumping salt on a slab of pork belly and popping it in the oven.  All you really need to do is make a rub out of salt, sugar, and whatever spices you prefer.  I usually go for a classic five spice rub to go with my Vietnamese dishes.  But be creative with your rub, crispy pork belly is such as universal dish.

Crispy roasted pork is good on it's own but here are some my favorite ways to eat thit heo quay.  I will eventually post recipe for each of the dish below, bare with me!

1.  Banh Hoi:  Thinly woven vermicelli noodles with sweet garlic fish sauce and plenty of fresh greens.
2.  Bun Mam Nem:  Vermicelli noodle with fermented fish paste, pickled carrots, and assorted fresh vegetables.
3.  Chao:  Shredded roasted pork congee with 1000 year old duck egg.


A slab of pork belly

Five Spice Rub:
(This is the ratio of the rub, you want to use just enough to cover the size of your pork belly)
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of salt (a little less than 1/2)
1/4 cup five spice powder
2 tablespoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon of paprika

1.  Wash your pork belly well.  Use paper towel to absorb as much moisture as possible.
2.  You want to use something sharp or pointy to poke holes in the surface of the skin, this pretty much allows the fat underneath to rise up and crisp up the skin.  I like using a razor or the pointy tool below (I have no idea what it is, but I found it in my dad's garage).  Razors are harder to handle especially on tough pork skin, so you might want to go with some pointy to be safe.
3.  Marinate the meat side of the pork belly with the rub.  Don't forget the rub above is a ratio.  You just want to use enough of it to cover the meat.  You can poke holes or cut into the meat so the rub will season the inside of meat better.  I usually keep it whole unless it's a thicker slab of meat.  You don't really need to a marinate the pork belly for a really long (about and hour or less for me), because once you pop it in the oven the rub is not going anywhere it's just going to form a flavorful crust.
4.  I like placing a cooking rack on top of pan and then putting it in the oven.  When cooking the fat will drip down to the pan. Try to position the cooking rack as low as you can in the oven because you will be using the broiler.  It would be better if the pork belly is not to close to the heat source otherwise it will burn too fast.
5.  Set the oven at 350 degrees on broil.  Place the pork belly meat side up and let it roast until it browns (approx. 25-30 minutes).
6.  Take pork belly out and wipe the skin dry from all the moisture.  Brush some vinegar on the skin, this will keep the skin dry and allows the skin to crisp up.  Place the pork belly back in the oven skin side up until it browns and crisp up.  Keep eye on the skin because some parts may burn faster so you might need to re-position your pork belly in the oven.  Whenever there is too much moisture on the skin, you'll want to take it out and wipe of the moisture.  Brush more vinegar on the skin and pop it back in the oven.
7.  When the skin has brown and crisp up enough, remove and let it cool.
8.  Cut up your pork belly and enjoy it however you like.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Nui Xao Bo - Stir Fry Beef Rice Macaroni

This fun and delicious stir fry wasn't around when I was little but nowadays it's all over Vietnam.  It is the Vietnamese take on Western pasta, which have gain a lot of popularity amongst children and teens.  I remember trying it for the first time several years ago in Saigon, it was an awesome mix of both worlds.  You get the rich tomato flavor but then you get hints of familiar Asian seasoning.  Unlike Western pasta where the sauce is pile on top, Vietnamese pasta is more dry.  The sauce is part of the the seasoning that coat the macaroni, the sauteed beef seasoned perfectly is piled on top, and then you get some fresh veggies on the side to help cut some of the oil.  I make this almost weekly because it doesn't take a lot of time and effort.  Enjoy!


1 bag 14 oz
1 lb sliced beef
1 yellow onion (sliced)
4 stalk of green onions (cut into 1 in)
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
1 teaspoon of minced shallot
cilantro (garnish)
tomato (garnish)
cucumber (garnish)
fish sauce
tomato paste
oyster sauce
soy sauce
black pepper

1.  Boil rice macaroni until about 75% done, otherwise it will break when you stir fry it.  Drain water and set aside for later.
2.  Marinade beef with 2 tablespoon of oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon of fish sauce, 1 teaspoon of sugar.
3.  Heat up oil in a wok, add the garlic and shallots until fragrance. Add the sliced onions and green onions, then add the beef.  Stir fry everything until beef is cooked.  Remove and set aside.
4.  Heat up 4 tablespoon of oil in a wok, add the rice macaroni, 1/4 cup of tomato paste, 2 tablespoon of oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon of fish sauce, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.  Make sure you coat the macaroni with all the liquid ingredients and tomato paste evenly. Stir fry macaroni until it's al dente or tender to your liking.
5.  Add the sauteed beef from earlier back in the wok.  Your stir fry is ready for eating.
6.  Transfer to a plate and garnish with chopped cilantro, cucumber, tomato, and a dash of ground pepper on top.
7.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bo Vien - Vietnamese Beef Balls

I'm a huge fan of bo vien, Vietnamese beef balls, made popular by pho.  Frozen bo vien nowadays is not the same quality as before.  I get that it's processed meat but lately i'm unsure if it's meat i'm eating or just a bunch of fillers.  A year ago I decided i'm never going to buy frozen bo vien again, i'm making my own from now on!

I was fortunate to learn the basics of making bo vien from my friend's mother several years ago.  She always had homemade bo vien in the freezer.  It was so good, we would eat it by itself with Sriracha.  Unlike the frozen bo vien, you can actually taste and feel the meat.  Don't mistake dense bo vien as quality bo vien, the denseness is actually just flours mixed in with the meat.  Homemade bo vien are chewy and spongy!  

I never got the chance to write down the exact measurements but I knew exactly what goes into making bo vien. Took several tries but I came up with something i'm satisfied with.  Beware homemade bo vien is A LOT of work because the process is very time consuming. The key to making good springy bo vien is the process of stretching and binding; which require using the food processor over and over again and time in the freezer.

What kind of meat should you buy?  You can buy the mot expensive cut like shank or you can buy something more wallet friendly like ground chuck or even ground beef.  I usually wait for a sale on ground beef so I can stock up.  Go for something with more fat (I use 80/20), lean meat tends to be dry.  I like trimming the fat on beef products and save it to make bo vien.

Why is it time consuming?  Once you mix all the ingredients together, the next step is to grind it into a paste in the food processor.  You want to grind it at least 3 times, the more times you grind your meat the springier the texture of the beef balls.  That doesn't sound too bad right?  There is more!  In between using the food processor, you have to let the meat rest in the freezer so that the meat will bind together.  Basically you grind your meat, you let it rest in the freezer, and then you repeat that at least 2 more times.  After every round of grinding, the meat will get heavier and heavier.  Therefore you have to grind less at a time or you might risk breaking your processor.  Now just imagine doing all that with 4 pounds of meat, it literally take up the whole of the day.

If you are still reading this, let's go make some bo vien!


4 lbs of ground beef ( 80/20)
1 bulk of garlic (finely minced)
1 teaspoon of coarsely ground pepper
5 tablespoon of fish sauce ( I used the Squid brand which is saltier than most other brand)
3 tablespoon of sugar
1 bag of alsa baking powder
3 tablespoon of tapioca starch
crushed ice
vegetable oil

1.  Combine all the ingredients except for the crushed ice and tapioca starch.  Thoroughly mix everything together.
2.  I divided the mixture into 3 batch, maybe more or less depending on the size of your food processor.
3.  Start the first round of grinding, the easiest round. Put the first batch in the food processor and start grinding.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of tapioca starch for each batch as it is grinding.  Continue to let it grind until it become paste like, see picture below.
 4.  Once you grind all three batch into a paste, combine in a bowl and let it rest in the freezer for about 20-30 minutes.  Make sure you wrap the bowl up well so it doesn't harden.
5.  Take the beef paste out of the freezer.  Start round 2 of grinding.  The meat should be heavier than before so you might want to grind it in smaller batches.  Adding a little bit of crushed ice will help the grinding.
6. Start the second round of resting in the freezer, don't forget to wrap it up well again.
7. Repeat the grinding and resting at least one more time.
8.  Remove from freezer.  Now you begin balling your beef paste.  It's up to you how large or small you want it to be.  I like making mind large to save time, and whenever I eat it I just cut it up.  Rub some vegetable oil on your finger and hand to help you ball more easily.
9.  Once you ball up all the beef paste, cook them in boiling water.
10.  Remove cooked beef balls and place in an ice bath.
11.  Remove from ice bath.   They are now ready to eat or for storage in the freezer.