Saturday, October 23, 2010

Canh Bun - Ricefield Crab Noodle Soup

Meet Bun Rieu's sister, Canh Bun, which also originated in Northern Vietnam.  During the short time I lived in Saigon, Canh Bun was my breakfast of choice. It is called "canh" because you cook the noodles and vegetables in the broth the same way we use the term Banh Canh.  Canh Bun is a tad lighter than Bun Rieu, but made in a similar way with smashed rice field crab (cua dong).  The usual suspect we find in Canh Bun are tofu, blanched morning glory, and pork blood.  All the ingredients are cooked in the broth with the noodles, which add their own flavors to the broth.

It may appear similar to Bun Rieu but definitely have some difference.  The crab mixture in Bun Rieu is sturdy and becomes almost like a cake. Canh Bun's crab mixture is fluffy and easy to break apart. To achieve that fluffy texture fresh rice field crabs are smashed, shell and all, into a paste.  The paste is use to flavor the broth, the cooked crab paste then floats to the top of the pot similar to bun rieu.  I use frozen ground rice field crab to flavor the broth, no Canh Bun is complete without the aroma and bits of rice field crabs in every bowl.  I use a jar of crab meat in soya bean oil instead of the jar we use to make bun rieu, there is less seasoning because it's just crab meat in oil.  Some canh bun vendor does not use tomato, I like tomatoes in mine so it's your call.

I also included rice paper (banh trang) in the ingredient list.  I'm not sure if vendors still sell Canh Bun with rice paper nowaday but it's a must for me.  Rice paper was used as another form of noodle.  Since rice paper is cheap, vendor would add it to Canh Bun to make it more filling.  I personally love it because the rice paper absorb all the flavor and the texture is just amazing. 


pork bones (1 lbs)
1/2 cup of dried prawns (tom kho)
1 container of frozen rice field crab paste
1 jar of crab meat in soya bean oil
2 eggs
mushroom seasoning
fish sauce
shrimp paste (mam tom)
rock sugar
3-4 large tomatoes (quarterd)
1 large bunch of morning glory
pork blood (cubed)
large rice noodle (use for Bun Bo Hue)
Vietnamese chive
herbs of choice (optional)
rice paper (optional)

1. Par boil pork bones.  Rinse bones well under cool water.  Transfer clean bone to a 6 quart pot and fill with water.
2. Let bone simmer in pot.
3. Soak dried prawns in warm water until soften, and add dried shrimp to the pot.
4. Season the broth with 4 tablespoon of salt, 1 chunk of rock sugar, and 2 tablespoon mushroom seasoning.
5.  Sauteed the crab meat in soya bean oil in a smal sauce pan and then add it to the pot.
6.  Combine the ground rice field crab with 2 eggs, and blend them together in a blender.
7.  Pour the crab mixture into a microwave safe container.  Wrap the container with plastic wrap and cook this crab mixture for 10-15 in the microwave.  Let the crab mixture cool. There might be excess liquid in the crab mixture, drain as much of it as you can add it to the pot.  Set the crab mixture aside for later.
8. Wash morning glory and then blanch, drained and let dry.
9. Cook the noodle until al dente, drained and then let dry.
11. Transfer 1 cup of the broth to a sauce pan, add 2 tablespoon of shrimp paste and let it cook.  Once the shrimp paste dissolved completely, add the shrimp paste liquid into the pot.  This will help flavor the broth.
12. Add tomatoes, tofu and blood cubes.  
13. Add more sugar, and fish sauce if needed.
14.  The broth is ready for eating.You can put noodle and morning glory right into the pot and start cooking it. I like to use a separate smaller pot to prepare each bowl. Cook a little bit of everything in the broth.  Since the crab mixture is very delicate, keep it on the side until the very end when you are about to transfer the soup to the bowl.  Since it is already cooked, I just scoop a little bit of it into the bowl.  Enjoy!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ca Nuong - Baked Fish

If you could eat one thing for the rest of your life...what would it be? My mom and I had a conversation about this over dinner a while ago. We made a nice dinner spread which included ca kho (fish braised in caramel sauce), dau hu chien (fried tofu), and canh kho qua (bittermelon soup). We both agreed it was the best meal EVER, and could literally eat it everyday. Things got semi-serious when I asked her what she would eat if she could only eat one dish for the rest of her life. She said hands down it was ca kho. Then it was my turn. First I picked Bun Bo Hue, then I changed it to Canh Chua, and then it was Bo Luc Lac. I thought about it for days. I finally decide that I can seriously eat banh trang cuon (summer roll) for the rest of my life. With good fish sauce, anything rolled in rice paper will be satisfying. My protein of choice is definitely fish, baked fish!

Simplicity is key to baking the perfect fish! You just want to lightly salt both side of the fish. Brush a little oil on your cooking sheet so the fish doesn't stick and fall apart. Bake the fish in the oven at 375 degrees. I don't really have a set time, just until both side become golden brown, and the top side I will leave it in until it's crispy. In my family we fight for the crispy tail! Just before I take out the fish, I will sprinkle minced green onions on top. I don't brush any additional oil on the fish because catfish is oily enough. When the fish is ready to serve, I top more green onions as well as fried onions (hanh phi). It's really that simple. Once you combine the fish, herbs, and noodles and drench it in fish sauce, every bite will leave you wanting more. I can sit there and eat 10+ of these rolls! Honestly, I pray I NEVER would be limited to one food item for the rest of my life and wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy.

Components to Ca Nuong
Rice paper ( banh trang)
Vermicelli rice noodle (bun)
Choice of lettuce
Pickled vegetable (optional but I usually have pickled carrots at hand)
Herbs (cilantro, basil, fish mint, etc)
Dipping sauce
Green onion in oil (sautee green onions in oil)
Crushed Peanuts

Preparing the Fish: I like to use catfish for this recipe.  If it's a bigger fish, you might want to butterfly it.

1. Lightly rub both side of the fish with salt.
2. Pop it in the oven at 375 degrees until the fish has crisp up.
3.  Mix one teaspoon of honey with one teaspoon of vinegar and brush it on top of the fish.
4.  Pop it back in the oven on broil until the fish is golden brown.  The honey/vinegar will form a sweet coating and help achieve more color.
5.  Brush the fish with some sauteed green onions and topped off the fish with some crushed peanuts.
6.  Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Beef Chow Fun - Banh Uot Xao Bo

I love eating Chinese Chow Fun and Thai Pad See Ew because of the use of wide flat rice noodle. When it is done right the noodles will be soft yet chewy. I'm definitely not a fan of overcooked mushy noodles. I used to buy the fresh rice noodles from the Asian market to make stir fry. It sadden me that 75% of time it ended up in the garbage because I just could not find the time to use them before it went bad. I finally found the perfect substitute that has a much longer shelf life!

I came across these one day, had very low expectations since it is not fresh. Once I finally tried it out, I was in love! These rectangular shape noodles are great to use after a good soaking in water. I use them anytime I want to fix something up really fast. I had 2 hour before work so I decide to make some Beef Chow Fun for lunch. I had already thawed out some slice beef the night before and just used whatever I had laying around in the fridge.


sliced beef
green onions (cut into 1/2 in)
yellow onions (thinly sliced)
Chinese kale choy sum (cut in half)
rice noodle
minced garlic
fish sauce
oyster sauce
soy sauce
cooking oil

1. Soak noodles in warm water.
2. Marinade sliced beef with soy sauce,minced garlic, and sugar.
3. Clean and cut all your vegetables.
4. Drain noodles and let it dry for a bit. The noodles has soften but not enough to eat.
5. Heat up some cooking oil in a pan.
6. Add the beef and stir fry until brown, remove and put aside.
7. Repeat #5, flash fry the choy sum. Remove and put aside.
8. Repeat #5 enough to cover the surface of the pan, add minced garlic and then rice noodles. Add two tablespoon of oyster sauce, 1/2 cup of water, a little bit of sugar. Cover the pan and let the liquid soak into the noodles.
9. Uncover the pan and you shouldn't have very much liquid left and the noodles should be softer. Add the yellow onion, green onion, a dash of fish sauce, a dash of soy sauce and continue to stir all the ingredients together.
10. Re-add the beef and choy sum. Stir everything together.
11. If you prefer the noodles to be extra soft, just add more water and cover the pan.