It’s my last week to explore Vietnamese cuisine as October comes to an end, I will soon be on to November in South America! But before I leave Vietnam, here are a few miscellaneous items that I wanted to share.
Lemongrass is one of those ingredients I had never used until this month, but it’s really quite easy to work with. This is what it looks like whole. The botanist in me wants to tell you that it IS an actual grass, native to India. Look for the stalks with larger stems like this, because for most dishes (unless you’re flavoring a broth and will later remove the tough stems) you want to use only the tender inner part of the stalks. If you’ve ever used leeks, this is a very similar type of stalk. Trim off the root end, and remove the outer layers of the stem until you get to more tender tissue. Then slice it in half length-wise, and slice those pieces in half, continuing until you have many long thin strips. Cutting across the strips then results in very small minced pieces of lemongrass that should not be tough or noticeable in the final dish. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, you can also purchase lemongrass already minced up in a tube in the herb section of many grocery stores. It’s more expensive this way, but convenient. If you’re only using it occasionally this may be a better option, because it will keep for a long time in the refrigerator or freezer.
I am not a coffee drinker, but from what I have read and what my friend Minh tells me, Vietnamese prepare coffee one small cup at a time, and the coffee is filtered by gravity through a special filter directly into the cup after a certain amount of steeping. The French press method is a reasonable substitute, and uses a similar size grind of coffee. Of course, coffee is yet another item that became popular in Vietnam through French influence and is now very common at breakfast. It is often served with sweetened condensed milk.
Grilled pork and pork chops is a meat that I’ve seen and eaten regularly in Vietnamese restaurants. The grilled pork can be served over vermicelli or in a Vietnamese submarine sandwich called banh mi. My family has always enjoyed cooking with pork (I’ve been told it’s a Showalter trait, from my dad’s mother’s family?), so I wanted to learn how to marinate and grill this kind of pork.The recipe I found online called for 2 lbs. of pork shoulder, but since the only shoulders I could find at Kroger were 8+ pounds, I decided to buy a top loin roast instead, it had enough fat marbling to provide some good flavor and worked well for this dish. I put the roast in the freezer for about an hour to stiffen it up for easier slicing and then sliced it thinly. I marinated the pork slices for about 1.5 hours in a Ziploc before grilling. It was a bit too salty when I made it, but here is an adjusted recipe that I think will work well;
Grilled pork – Vietnamese style
2 lbs. thinly sliced pork
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 scallions, minced
4 Tbsp. fish sauce
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
Mix together the marinade ingredients to dissolve sugar. Marinate sliced pork in the mixture for at least 1 hour. Grill until cooked through and somewhat charred on both sides (5-10 minutes).