Cookbook Review: Charles Phan’s Vietnamese Home Cooking

Charles Phan Home Vietnamese Cooking Shaking Beef

Charles Phan is a James Beard Award-winning chef in San Francisco and owner of the popular Vietnamese restaurant Slanted Door, as well as other Asian restaurants such as Heaven’s Dog and Wo Hing General Store.  Vietnamese Home Cooking is Chef Phan’s first cookbook.  He is of Chinese parents and raised in Vietnam.  Most of the recipes in the book are Vietnamese, but there are quite a few that are Chinese in origin.  I have enjoyed eating at Slanted Door and love the flavors of Vietnamese cooking, so I was eager to try out some of the recipes in the book.

The book is divided into multiple sections based on cooking technique.  The stocks that are important for Pho and other soups are presented first.  There are also chapters on street food, braising, stir-frying, and grilling.  Each recipe has a helpful introduction, listing of ingredients, and well-written directions.  The book is beautifully laid out with color photographs of finished dishes as well as a helpful pictorial glossary of ingredients for those not familiar with the Vietnamese pantry.  Many of the ingredients are readily available in Asian supermarkets.  Chef Phan also explains how to make everything from scratch, including the various stocks and even fresh rice noodles if one is so inclined.

The Shrimp and Sing Kua Stir-fry was really delicious, fast, and easy.  Sing Kua is also known as a Chinese okra.  It has the same shape but can grow to about a foot long.  It has a mild flavor, a little bit like zucchini which might be a good substitution, and the texture when cooked is soft but not quite as sticky as American okra.  It goes very well with the shrimp, and both the shrimp and sing kua absorb a ton of flavor from only a few additional ingredients: rice wine, fish sauce, garlic, and ginger.  This dish is definitely on the repeat list.

The Shrimp and Pork Spring Roll is a classic version of the popular appetizer.  Nothing fancy, just clean fresh flavors.  The peanut dipping sauce recipe was quite unusual.  It is thickened with sticky cooked sweet rice.  I wonder if there is a mistake in the recipe, which calls for two cups of sweet rice to be cooked and then blended with the other ingredients.  However, cooking that much sweet rice led to about four cups of cooked rice to be added to the sauce, but the recipe states that the final volume of the peanut sauce is only two cups, and I ended up with much more.

Shaking Beef is another popular dish on the Slanted Door menu.  Here, marinated beef tenderloin is cooked quickly with red onions and served on a bed of watercress.  The lime-salt-pepper dipping sauce makes the dish really delicious.

Beef Bavette with Tomatoes and Potatoes is Chef Phan’s version of the Peruvian dish Lomo Saltado.  Marinated skirt steak is stir-fried with tomatoes, fish sauce, and oyster sauce that combine to make a flavorful sauce that is absorbed by french-fried potatoes.  The recipe calls for deep-frying potatoes, but I cheated and used store-bought frozen french fries.

Bun is a dish made with rice vermicelli and different toppings, like grilled shrimp, egg rolls, pickled daikon, bean sprouts, cilantro, and a fish-sauce-based dipping sauce.  This is a multi-component dish which is good, but might be a little bit too involved for home and probably better at a restaurant.

These relatively simple dishes have a ton of flavor, and I am looking forward to trying some of the more complex dishes.  Based on the results of the dishes I have tried so far, I am confident the rest of the recipes in the book will deliver.  Definitely recommended.

Link to Vietnamese Home Cooking here.

Recipe Review: Cold Rice Noodles with Grilled Chicken and Peanut Sauce

One of my favorite dishes in Vietnamese restaurants is a cold rice noodle bowl, topped with grilled meats, crispy spring roll, vegetables, and fresh herbs, all tied together with a pungent dipping sauce.  This recipe from David Tanis writing in The New York Times, is a healthy, delicious take on this dish that is great for a summer meal.  There is grilled chicken marinated in garlic, ginger, lemongrass, brown sugar, fish sauce, and soy sauce.  Vegetables include cucumbers, carrots, and mung bean sprouts.  There are fresh herbs – cilantro, basil, and mint.  To top things off there are crunchy peanuts and two sauces – a dipping sauce made from fish sauce, garlic, chiles, sugar, and lime, and a peanut sauce made with peanut butter, fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, and ginger.  The peanut sauce is great and differentiates Tanis’ dish from traditional Vietnamese rice noodle bowl.  This dish is light and fresh, and there is a lot of flavor.  The recipe requires a lot of specialty ingredients that can be sourced at an Asian market.  There are a lot of individual components (chicken marinade, dipping sauce, peanut sauce) but nothing too difficult.  Total time to make was almost two hours.  Be careful with the Thai chiles, because they are tiny but pack a lot of heat!

Link to recipe here.

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