Pork · Vietnamese

Thịt Xá Xíu {Char Siu – Chinese Barbecue Pork}

Thịt Xá Xíu {Chinese Char Siu - BBQ Pork}
Stroll down the streets of most Chinatowns and I am rather certain that hanging alongside the lacquered Roast Ducks in shop windows, you’ll also find the ubiquitous Char Siu – or Chinese style barbecue pork.

You can’t really miss it from its bright reddish-pink hue, coupled with its deeply savory, spiced and somehow sweet mouthwatering scents.

In Vietnamese, we call it Thịt Xá Xíu and you can find it pretty much served with everything due to its versatility.  We love it with our noodles, whether it be , bún or hủ tiếu. It’s a very common protein in our beloved bánh (sandwiches) and can be found in bánh bao –steamed buns. Heck, it’s great just over steamed rice!

Thịt Xá Xíu {Chinese Char Siu - BBQ Pork}

Since I’ve been on a real kick lately of restocking my freezer, I thought it was high time to add a few stashes of Xá Xíu to the mix.

I’m a BIG fan of keeping a well stocked freezer. Not only for those days that you just feel too BLEH to cook but also for those times you’re hankering some comfort food but don’t have the time to commit hours in the kitchen to make anything. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given myself a little pat on the back when I was quickly able to throw a bowl of Bún Chả Giò (Cold Vermicelli Noodles with crispy Vietnamese Imperial Rolls) together or heat up some Pan Fried Dumplings because I stockpile the freezer.

Seriously, it’s a lifesaver.

Thịt Xá Xíu {Chinese Char Siu - BBQ Pork}

Enough on that…let’s get back to the Xá Xíu…..

Right off the bat, I’ve got to tell you that I happily turn to a Char Sui seasoning packet to start the marinade. I’ve got absolutely no guilt about this and totally feel justified because this is how Mom used to do it.

Can’t argue with that, right?

Thịt Xá Xíu {Chinese Char Siu - BBQ Pork}
I do doctor it up with few things like Shaoxing wine, garlic, pepper and a bit of five spice powder before rubbing the pork shoulder with the mixture. It then marinates in the fridge overnight so that all that goodness seeps in.

Two quick things before we move on.

1) If you use a seasoning packet, the powder (and eventually the marinade) will be pink. Super pink. It can vary on brand but it’s mostly due to some curing salt (think corned beef) and well, food color. If that freaks you out, nix the premixed seasoning and make your own.

2) I like using pork shoulder instead of something too lean. The Xá Xíu should have a bit of fat on it and pork loin, particularly tenderloin, doesn’t it cut it for me.

Thịt Xá Xíu {Chinese Char Siu - BBQ Pork}

Once the pork is done marinading, I bake it in a hot oven for 20ish minutes on a wire rack that sits on a rimmed baking sheet. This not only helps with even cooking but it lifts the pork up from any excess liquids that may render out.

Pro Tip? Add a bit of water to the baking sheet while the pork cooks. The water helps keep the moisture in the oven (and thus in the pork) as well as helps reduce the amount of smoke that may occur from any fat drippings that will accumulate on the sheet.

While the pork roasts, take the marinade and whisk some hoisin sauce into it. You’ll then use this to glaze the pork to help add a bit more flavor as well as get that sheen. Don’t worry that the marinade had raw pork sitting in it because after you brush it over the Xá Xíu, you’ll then broil it for a few minutes on extremely high heat.

Thịt Xá Xíu {Chinese Char Siu - BBQ Pork}
And that’s it!

Easy-peasy, right!? Maybe one of these days I’ll attempt to make it without a premixed seasoning packet but gosh….it’s just so darn convenient and tasty.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Ăn Ngon!

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Thịt Xá Xíu {Char Siu – Chinese BBQ Pork}

Ingredients:

 

1 packet Xá Xíu/Char Siu seasoning
½ teaspoon five spice power
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into long pieces about 2-3 inches wide
cooking spray
water
2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce

In a bowl, whisk together the Xá Xíu/Char Siu seasoning, five spice powder, pepper, garlic, Shaoxing wine and oil. Rub the marinade all over the pork and place in the refrigerator overnight.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Place a wire rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet that has been lined with aluminum foil. Lightly cover the wire rack with cooking spray. Remove the pork from the marinade and pat dry with paper towel. Place the pork on top of the rack and place in the preheated oven. Pour about ¼ cup of water into the baking sheet. The water helps keep the moisture in the oven (and in the pork) as well as helps reduce the amount of smoke that may occur from any fat drippings that will accumulate on the sheet. Roast the pork for about 20 minutes, flipping halfway through, or until its internal temperature reaches about 145 degrees F.

While the pork roasts, pour the marinade from the pork with any liquids that may emerged into a small bowl with the Hoisin sauce. Whisk together to create a glaze. Set aside.

Once the pork has cooked through, remove the tray from the oven. Brush the glaze over the pork and place it back in the oven, directly under the broiler. Broil the pork, rotating every 45 seconds or so to create a nice char. Be careful to keep a close eye on the pork at this point since it can burn quickly. Remove the pork from the oven and let rest for several minutes before slicing.

ENJOY!

 

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Vietnamese

Hủ Tiếu {Vietnamese Pork and Seafood Noodle Soup}

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang
The East Coast has been experiencing some crazy snow storms lately –to the point that I’m sure that the White Walkers are just vacationing around there until Season 8 of GoT is released. Or at least until a release date is announced.

Just thinking about it makes me shudder and want to bundle up. But before you laugh at me, know that it’s actually been cold in San Diego these past few weeks—even by non-Southern Californian terms. We’re talking in the 30 degrees F in the late nights/early mornings! BRRRRRR!!!!

Maybe a straggling Walker wanted to check out Disneyland?

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang
I’m constantly cold. Which is why I have been nonstop cooking and eating soups lately–noodle soups, mostly. Can you blame me?

I’ve been getting my full of chowders, ramen, wonton noodle soups and of course, Phở. Hey-I need comfort food! But as much as I love phở, there are so many other noodle dishes in Vietnamese cuisine than the popular soup.

There’s Miến (glass noodles), Bún Riêu (tomato & freshwater crab noodles), Bánh Canh (Udon-like noodles), Bún Măng Vịt (bamboo and duck noodles) and Bún Thang (Northern Vietnamese chicken-based noodles)……

But my favorites are Bún Bò Huế (spicy beef noodles) and Mì Quảng (seafood & pork turmeric noodles).

SUPER NGON!!!

Translation: SUPER DELICIOUS!!!

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang

Though I’ve got to tell  you — I do LOVE me a big bowl of Hủ Tiếu.

Which type of Hủ Tiếu?

Well, that’s where things get a bit difficult because depending on who you ask, the “variations”, well…….vary.

There’s Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang which is considered the Vietnamese version of the Cambodian noodle soup from Phnom Penh.

There’s Hủ Tiếu Mỹ Tho which is the signature noodle dish of the city Mỹ Tho located in the Tiền Giang Province on the Mekong Delta.

And there’s also Hủ Tiếu Tàu, which just translates to Chinese Hủ Tiếu. Yeah…they could have been more creative with that one.

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang

What are the origins of Hủ Tiếu?

Whelp, other than the fact that it originates from China and somehow blended its way through Southeast Asia, everything else is a bit fuzzy. But it has become iconic in Southern Việt Nam and most can at least agree that the broth is pork bone based.

Oh…I forgot to mention that on top of the different the types of Hủ Tiếu you order, you can choose to have it khô (dry noodles served with a dark salty-sweet sauce and the broth on the side) or with nước (broth and noodles served together).

I know….we’re a complicated bunch. But we’re a People that like options.

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang
So which type of Hủ Tiếu do I make?

I can’t really say it’s traditionally Mỹ Tho or Nam Vang. And I’ve got to admit, although it sounds trivial, it’s definitely times like these that I wish I could ask Mom. Would she have the right answer? Eh…questionable. But she’d likely give me a confident answer and just tell me to do what tastes good.

Smart woman.

So that’s what I do.

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang
I enjoy Hủ Tiếu broth because it’s light, slightly sweet and not as spice-forward as phở. Again, I do adore phở –but it’s good to have options. But like phở, it should be wonderfully clear like a beautiful consommé.

Most Hủ Tiếu broths start off with lots of pork bones but I like to add chicken bones too. Why miss an opportunity to have a richer broth right?

To start on that consommé-like path, you’ve got to give the bones a good scrub down. Mom always taught us to clean bones and all proteins first before cooking by exfoliating it with salt and thoroughly rinsing it. Then you’ll need to parboil the bones for several minutes, dump out the water and rinse off any of the impurities that have come out before starting the broth in a clean pot.

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang
I then throw in some onions, shallots and to provide some sweetness– daikon and dried shrimp. This is when you can also add dried squid that has been rehydrated. I didn’t have any on hand when I made this batch but I will next time. Following those ingredients are some dried shiitake mushrooms (not traditional but I like the added depth of flavor), salt and rock sugar. Once you’ve gotten to this point, let the broth simmer on very low but steady heat for about 2½-3 hours.

And remember that consommé-like goal we’re aiming for? It’s this low and slow simmer that seals the deal. That and also skimming the broth every 30 minutes or so to discard of any impurities that may have risen to top.

I know —this is a labor of love….for my stomach.

I should note that traditionally the broth is seasoned with only salt and not fish sauce. But I’ll admit it, after the broth has simmered for a few hours, I’ve been known to throw in a few dashes of Vietnamese liquid gold if I feel that it needs a bit more magic.

I’m a rebel.

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang
Now let’s spend a few moments talking about toppings, shall we?

I believe across the board for Hủ Tiếu, you’ll find that there will be some variation of pork and whole shrimp. But when it comes to everything else–it’s all fair game.

Common items in various Hủ Tiếu are boiled quail eggs, offal, Vietnamese ham, fried shrimp crisp and sliced beef. And when it comes to pork, it can come in the form of poached, ground or  Chinese “barbecue” known as char sui or xá xíu.

They also say that Hủ Tiếu Mỹ Tho should have an abundance of seafood so in addition to the usual suspects, you’ll find toppings like crab claws, squid, fish balls, imitation crab, fish and so forth.

For me, I’m not a fan of many offals, let alone poached pork liver. Don’t get me wrong– I do love a good pâté but liver in this soup form has never got me excited. So I don’t include it. And as much as I love all kinds of eggs, boiling and peeling them are just too tedious for me –so I nix those too. And no–I don’t buy or enjoy canned quail eggs. They taste very metallic to me.

I generally stick to the basics such as poached shrimp, imitation crab and browned ground pork. But if I really feel like going the extra mile (or if I was smart and kept a stash in the freezer), I’ll make xá xíu, too.

Oh–and don’t forget the accompanying veggies, herbs, chilies and fresh lime!

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang
Now let’s talk about the noodle types.

One of the reasons why I like Hủ Tiếu so much is that most of the time, it is served with what is called Hủ Tiếu Dai which are tapioca based noodles. The texture is much more firm than phở noodles have — which are typically rice flour based. Hủ Tiếu Dai are chewy in similar ways to why I adore bucatini pasta  – but without the hole in the center of the noodle. Delish.

But you can also find Hủ Tiếu served with standard rice noodles or even Chinese egg noodles. In those cases, it’s called Hủ Tiếu Mi – also good, but just different. And if you can’t decide which you prefer, some places will serve the different noodles mixed together for you!

Told you we like options.

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang
Lastly, let’s chat a bit more about what I mentioned earlier on having it served khô or with nước.

If you were to ask for a bowl of Hủ Tiếu (whether it be Nam Vang, Mỹ Tho or Tàu), you’ll likely have a wonderful steaming bowl of noodle soup delivered to you. The noodles and broth are in one bowl — and it’s a party. Sometimes they’ll call it Hủ Tiếu Nước (with broth) but generally if you say “Hủ Tiếu”, that’s what you’ll get. And it’s glorious.

However, some spots will have Hủ Tiếu Khô available and I’ll tell you, it’s also glorious. Essentially, the bowls are assembled nearly the same with the exception of two things. The noodles will have a rich salty-sweet sauce either drizzled on top or underneath the noodles and the the broth will be served in a small bowl on the side. You’ll stir the noodles up with that rich sauce — and of course you can pour some of the broth in it too. But this way, you’ll get to enjoy the flavors of the noodles, toppings sauce and then slurp the broth separately. And I’ll tell ya, when I was young, I wasn’t really much into the broths of noodle soups. Sure–I liked some of it but I was more focused on the GOODS! This method was perfect for me! Plus, the sauce adds another level of flavor—yes, it too, is glorious.

Nowadays I enjoy both so don’t make me pick sides.

Hủ Tiếu Nam Vang

I know. Probably more than you ever wanted to know about Hủ Tiếu but I was feeling wordy today. I blame it on the weather. ❤

Ăn Ngon!

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Hủ Tiếu {Vietnamese Pork and Seafood Noodle Soup}
Makes approximately 6 bowls

Ingredients:

 

4 pounds pork bones
2 pounds chicken bones
kosher salt
water
1 large yellow onion, quartered
1 large shallot (or 2 small ones), quartered
1 medium-sized daikon, peeled and cut into small chunks
1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
1 small rock sugar piece, about 1 tablespoon
½ cup dried shrimp that has been rehydrated with boiling water, rinsed and drained
3-4 dried squid that has been rehydrated with boiling water, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1 pound ground pork
½ tablespoon fish sauce
½ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 package Hủ Tiếu Dai– chewy tapioca noodles
¼ pound imitation crab, cut into 2 inch pieces
herbs and veggies: fried shallots, fried garlic, bean sprouts, cilantro, culantro, chilies, limes, scallions, etc.
other protein options: pork slices (poached or char sui/xá xíu), boiled quail eggs, liver or other offal, sliced squid, etc.

Sauce for serving Hủ Tiếu Khô:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoons minced shallots
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon 5 spice powder
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
½ cup Hủ Tiếu broth

Place the pork and chicken bones in the sink and liberally sprinkle salt over them. Using the salt as an exfoliant, scrub the bones well and rinse. Place the scrubbed bones in a large pot and cover with cold water. Set the heat to high and boil or 5-7 minutes. At this point, some of the impurities and “scum” will have boiled out. Place a colander in the sink and carefully pour the bones in to drain. Rinse the bones thoroughly to remove all the impurities. If you intend on using the same pot for the Hủ Tiếu broth, wash it well before adding the bones back in. Do not skip any of the above important steps in order to get a clear and clean broth.

Pour in about 6 quarts of water over the cleaned bones and bring to a boil. Add the onions, shallots, daikon, shiitake mushrooms, rock sugar, rehydrated shrimp, squid, peppercorns and 2-tablespoons kosher salt. Stir until the rock sugar has dissolved and lower the temperature to a gentle simmer. Allow the broth to simmer, uncovered, on very low heat for 2½-3 hours. During that time, periodically skim and discard any impurities that may have formed on top of the broth. At the end, you’ll want a semi-dark but very clear broth like a consommé. Before serving, taste the broth and add additional salt if needed.

While the broth simmers, prepare the toppings.

In a small bowl, mix the pork, fish sauce and pepper together. Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over medium. Sauté the garlic until fragrant but not browned. Add the pork and cook thoroughly while crumbling up the ground meat. Take off heat and set aside.

Place the shrimp in a mesh metal strainer. Dip the strainer into the simmering broth and stir the shrimp around so that it poaches in the hot liquid. Once the shrimp becomes bright pink, shake lightly to remove excess liquids and set aside.

Prepare the noodles according to the directions on the package. Usually it will instruct you to soak the noodles for 10-15 minutes in hot water and then boil for a quick few minutes before draining well. Set aside.

To assemble if serving the broth with the noodles, divide the cooked noodles among the bowls. On top of each bowl, place 3-4 poached shrimp, a couple of pieces of imitation crab and a few spoonfuls of cooked ground pork. Sprinkle on the fried garlic, fried shallots and chopped scallions. Ladle the boiling broth over the noodles and toppings. Serve with fresh herbs, chilies and limes on the side.

If serving Hủ Tiếu Khô (dry noodles), prepare the accompanying sauce by heating the oil over medium low in a small saucepan. Add the shallots and cook until just golden. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute, stir to avoid it from burning. Sprinkle in the 5 spice powder and cook for 30 seconds before adding the remaining sauce ingredients. Raise the heat so that the liquids boil and then reduce to a simmer. Allow the sauce to cook for 2-3 additional minutes. Assemble the Hủ Tiếu Khô by adding a heaping spoonful of the dark sauce at the bottom of each bowl. Top with the cooked noodles, 3-4 poached shrimp, a couple of pieces of imitation crab and a few spoonfuls of cooked ground pork. Sprinkle on the fried garlic, fried shallots and chopped scallions. Serve with a small bowl of hot broth on the side along with fresh herbs, chilies and limes.

Pork · Seafood

Sichuan Wontons in Chili Oil Sauce – Happy Lunar New Year!!!

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
Friends, today is the beginning of Tết – the Vietnamese Lunar New Year!

As with every new year, I’ve done all the rituals like scrubbed down the house, prepared an altar of traditional Tết goodies and went to the bank to get crisp “new money” to stuff all the bags of lì xì for the munchkins.

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce

Man…I miss the good ol’ days when I was the one collecting stacks of lì xì. Now, Cô Nam just doles out the red envelopes.

Being a grown up is seriously overrated. But at least there’s still all the good food!

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
Every year I look forward to eating copious amounts of fried Bánh Tét with Dưa Món. Bánh Tét are steamed sticky rice cakes and are cylindrical in shape. Bánh Chưng are essentially the same but are shaped as squares.

The savory ones are filled with pork belly and mung beans. Although they can be eaten just as is, I prefer it fried so the crust is nice and crispy but the interior is still soft. SOOOOO good! And of course, it’s best eaten with a side of Dưa Món – pickled veggies.

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
Bánh Tét/Bánh Chưng are not something my family make—well, at least not since I’ve been alive!

It’s REALLY a time consuming process and it’s one of those things that if you’re going to go through the efforts to make a few, you might as well make 100. But that would take you foh-evah!

So like most Vietnamese folks nowadays, we buy ours. But we still like to cook other traditional Tết dishes.

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to include some dishes in my yearly rituals that we didn’t grow up eating for Tết. And dumplings definitely top that list!

Sure, our Chinese kin definitely prepare and eat a variety of dumplings as a part of their Lunar New Year traditions. They’re eaten for luck because they symbolize wealth and richness as their shape resembles Chinese gold ingots.

But hey–if it can bring luck and taste delicious, why not adopt the practice, right?

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
I’ve shared a few of my favorite dumpling versions with you before like:

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
But for this year’s Tết, I thought I would share with you my Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce.

They. Are. So. Dang. Tasty.

But what’s the difference between a dumpling and a wonton?

Honestly I’ve found that the answer changes depending on the person you’ve asked. But generally folks tell me that dumplings are often quite plump and are steamed or pan-fried. Wontons are most often boiled and served in soups or a broth. The wrappers (or skins) are also supposed to be really thin and since they aren’t filled as much as the former, it allows the soup/broth/sauce to stick to the excess dough. That way, you can just slurp them up!

Oh…and some say that wontons only use square wrappers and dumplings use a round shape. But really… you can call them whatever you want —because I’ll take ANY version of them.

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
These Sichuan Wontons are filled with a 1:1 ratio of pork to shrimp. And unlike my other dumplings, I don’t add much filler other than aromatics. No cabbage, no mushrooms—just protein and few other things.

Why?

Because the co-star of this dish truly is the Chili Oil Sauce that it’s pretty much bathed in. The sauce starts off with my homemade Sichuan Chili Oil. Does it have to be homemade? Well…technically no. But it makes SUCH a difference. And not only is my recipe super easy but it lasts a long time in your fridge!

The chili oil is then combined with soy, Chinese black vinegar (there’s really no substitute for it), sugar and a couple of other items. Simple right? That’s because the homemade oil is so aromatic that it needs very little else!

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
And if you’re REALLY fiery, after you’ve sauced the wontons, you can add a few extra dollops of the Sichuan Chili Oil everything. You can sure bet that I do—but perhaps dial it down a bit if you’re serving little ones.

There are also several different ways to fold wontons as I’ve shown above but I generally just go for the standard “ingot” fold as I’ve described in the recipe.

Sichuan Wontons with Chili Oil Sauce
And with that dear friends, let Bella and I wish you all Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!!! May the Year of the Dog be filled with happiness, good health, prosperity and endless Foodventures!

ps. Bella believes EVERY year is the Year of the Dog.

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Sichuan Wontons in Chili Oil Sauce
Makes approximately 80 wontons

Ingredients:

For the wontons:
4 scallions
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves
1 small shallot
½ cup fresh cilantro
1 pound shrimp, peeled and roughly chopped
1 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or other preferred rice wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce, more to taste
2 tablespoons fish sauce, more to taste
1 tablespoon sesame oil
½ tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
80-100 square wonton wrappers

For the sauce:
4 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons Chinkiang Black Vinegar
½ tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons homemade Sichuan Chili Oil (both the oil and flakes)
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
½ teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced scallions

For garnish:
chopped fresh cilantro
chopped scallions
toasted sesame seeds

Place the scallions, ginger, cloves, shallot and cilantro in a food processor. Pulse several times until all of the ingredients have broken down and become roughly the same minced texture. Add the shrimp and pulse until everything has combined and the shrimp has turned into somewhat of a paste. Add the pork, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, sugar and pepper. Pulse just until the ingredients have fully combined.

Test the filling for seasoning by taking a small spoonful of the mixture and pan fry in a nonstick skillet for 1-2 minutes on each side. Taste and if needed, add more soy sauce or fish sauce to the uncooked filling.

Begin assembling the wontons. Place one wonton wrapper down on a flat surface so that it points towards you. Dip the tip of your finger into water and moisten the top two edges of the wrapper. Place about 1 heaping teaspoon of the filling in the center of the wonton wrapper. Fold the bottom corner (the one nearest you) over the filling so that it meets the top point and forms a triangle. Press down to seal the edges of the triangle while pressing out any air that may have been trapped inside. Add a dab of water to the two outer corners of the triangle and fold in so that they meet. Press corners together to firmly seal. Place the wonton on a baking sheet and continue until all the filling/wrappers have been used.

Prepare the sauce by whisking all the ingredients together in a bowl until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the wontons to the pot (no more than a dozen or so at a time) and lower the heat so that it’s at a steady but not rapid boil. Constantly stir so that they do not stick together. Allow the wontons to cook for about 3 minutes or until the wrappers become translucent and the filling has cooked through. Use a large slotted spoon or kitchen spider to remove and drain the wontons. Transfer to a serving dish and spoon the sauce over the wontons. Garnish with scallions, cilantro and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Sunday Family Dinner

Homemade Soup Dumplings & Tonkotsu Ramen–Because We’re Insane…

Nov 2015 Fam Din

It’s been two weeks since Thanksgiving and I think I’ve finally recovered from the madness.

Just in time for 15 full days of holiday craziness with my family.

Pray for me.

Nov 2015 Fam Din

At the close of Thanksgiving and 15+ hours of shopping, we held our monthly Family Dinner. When we had chatted about potential menu options a few weeks prior, my seesters and I agreed that we wanted dishes that were low-key and stress-free since we would have been so wiped out from Thanksgiving.

So obviously, we chose a menu that took hours and hours of preparation, that needed to be started days in advance and was highly laborious.

Apparently our strategy was slightly flawed.

We never learn…..

But as always, we started with some cocktails….. Pomegranate-Raspberry Saketinis!

I muddled a bunch of fresh raspberries with pomegranates in a pitcher. Added sake, a few glugs of vodka, several splashes of Cointreau, some fresh lime juice, pomegranate juice and then topped it off with a bit of pomegranate-berry soda.

Nov 2015 Fam Din

Then came the appetizers – Xiao Long Bao or “Shanghai Soup Dumplings”. Normally I would say that dumplings aren’t typically too difficult to make. In fact, I usually love making them and find the folding process rather relaxing.

Not these buggers! We’re all still traumatized!

Nov 2015 Fam Din

Xiao Long Bao are a Shanghainese dumpling with a very thin skin/wrapper. They’re filled with a variety of ground proteins and an aspic that once steamed, becomes soupy–thus the name Soup Dumplings! Dumplings and Soup all in one? BRILLIANT!

Seester T took the lead with these and man, did they take some prep work! Using The Woks of Life recipe, she started with the aspic. Vegans beware because essentially, it’s a natural meat gelatin.

Yes…as in J-E-L-L-O.

Pork bones and other porky bits are thrown into a pot with water and several aromatics. Everything simmers for a few hours and then is strained and chilled.

Voila—Aspic!

Nov 2015 Fam DinShe then made a ground pork filling and threw in some shrimp because surf and turf is always a good idea. Once done, the aspic was cubed up and folded into the filling.

Next, we enlisted our niece Nini to help out with the assembly. Seestrah made the dough according to The Woks of Life’s recipe and used my pasta roller to make thin sheets for the dumpling wrappers.

Remember when I said laborious? It definitely was!

Hand cranking out the sheets so that they were paper thin and then cutting them into perfect circles with a biscuit cutter. Nini then meticulously filled and folded the dumplings to ensure they were all sealed up tightly so that none of the soup would run out during the steaming process. It took about 3 hours for us to make the wrappers and fill them all. Granted, it was our very first time but I will never, NEVER take it for granted next time I have Xiao Long Bao. Those folks can make them in lighting speed!

The XLB had good flavor and paired well with the black vinegar sauce–plus they were fun to eat! If we do ever make them again (and let’s be honest, it’ll be a very LONG time in the future), I’d like to play around with the dough. It was pretty good but I think it could be even thinner, especially on the top where it all purses together so that it’s less dense and chewy.

But heck–for our first time, it was awesome!

Nov 2015 Fam DinFor the main dish, we chose Tonkotsu Ramen where we made everything but the menma and kamboko from scratch.  And if you’re keeping tally, that means the Tonkotsu Broth, Chasu, Ajitsuke Tamago, Mayu and Ramen Noodles—ALL HOMEMADE!

By chance do you recall when I said we wanted a low-fuss Family Dinner?

We’re insane.

A few days prior to Fam Din, Seestrah N started on the Tonkotsu broth because it needs hours upon hours of simmering.  She went with Marc’s route from No Recipe and pretty much followed it to the T.

On the day of Fam Din, she made the Chasu –braised pork belly from Nami at Just One Cookbook. She also threw in an extra few pieces of pork shoulder for some added protein. And let me tell you….that chasu was beautiful, unctuous, pork heaven.

Nov 2015 Fam Din

The night before Fam Din, I prepped Nami’s Ajitsuke Tamago (shoyu eggs) since it’s best to allow them to marinate overnight. They were really easy to make and would be great just atop some steamed rice.

Nov 2015 Fam Din

In addition to the Chasu and Ajitsuke Tamago, we topped our ramen bowls with:

  • Toasted Nori (seaweed) Strips
  • Menma (marinated bamboo shoots)
  • Kamboko (fish cake)
  • Kikurage (fresh wood ear mushrooms)
  • Scallions

I also made Mayu which is a black garlic oil that was drizzled on top of our bowls of ramen.

Nov 2015 Fam Din

Now let’s talk a bit about my adventure with the homemade ramen noodles.

I spend a lot and I mean A LOT of time in the kitchen. As such, I’m pretty comfortable with baking breads, working with yeast dough and making pastas. I don’t have the pasta attachment for my KitchenAid but I’ve gotten by pretty well with my hand crank pasta roller over the years. So when I was nominated (was this because I’m the youngest!?) to make the noodles, I just went with it.

I did tons and tons of research and went with Marc’s ramen noodles as well. He was detailed in account and his pictures really captured the process. If you decide to give this recipe a try, note that he was not lying that this dough is extremely dry. You’ll likely want to keep adding water but just go with it and press it all together until it forms a ball. Trust me, it eventually does.

But here’s where I start to kick myself for attempting this method without an electric pasta machine/KitchenAid attachment. Before allowing the dough to rest for several hours, you have to run it through your pasta roller a few times so that it forms smooth rectangular sheets. Sounds easy right? Well I’m sure it would have been had I not used a hand crank roller with a dry dough. It was crumbling everywhere!

I was sweating bullets trying to shove the crumbling dough into the roller….Add the fact that I tripled the recipe and now you’ll have an idea why my biceps were on fire!

Nov 2015 Fam Din

When it came time to cut them into noodles, a piece of me cried inside knowing that my arms were going to get another work out since I would need to pass the dough through the roller several more times. Another wrench was thrown into the situation when the attachment blade that cuts the noodles got stuck. I ended up hand-cutting the noodles which wasn’t ideal since I couldn’t get it as thin as I had wanted to—but it got the job done.

Moral of the story? If you’re not a pro, use a KitchenAid pasta attachment or similar thing-a-ma-bob if you make fresh ramen noodles.

Nov 2015 Fam Din

But once assembled, we were all pretty darn proud of ourselves.

It tasted LEGIT! Like, TOO-LEGIT-TO-QUIT!

Every component had a role and although laborious, had a distinct purpose to the ramen.

Nov 2015 Fam DinAnd just like the Xiao Long Bao, I will never, never underestimate or take for granted the folks who make my ramen.

Heck–they’re freaking amazing in my book.

Nov 2015 Fam Din

After polishing off our noodles and a bit of kitchen clean up, we actually took off for a little more shopping. Why? Who knows….we were delirious.

But when we came home, we tucked right into dessert.

I had made a simple Matcha Mousse-Chocolate Tart. The base was made out of crushed Oreo Cookies and filled with a fluffy matcha mousse. We’re green tea monsters, so a light and matcha-filled dessert suited us just fine.

Nov 2015 Fam DinWas dinner easy and low maintenance?

HECK NO!

Did I perhaps lose a few months off my life from the stress?

WOULDN’T DOUBT IT!

Did my sis say she needed therapy because of the XLB?

YOU BET!

But were we happy with how things turned out over all?

ABSOLUTELY!

It was a true and deep Labor of Love.

And the cherry on top?

My Trojans whooped the Bruins that day and brought back home the Victory Bell!! Aren’t my kiddos adorable in their gear???? ❤

Total Proud Auntie.

Nov 2015 Fam Din

Oh–in case you’re wondering, we went to Target and World Market after dinner/before dessert.

What did I pick up?

A few more additions to my ever growing Nutcracker collection. Priorities people, priorities.

Nov 2015 Fam Din

This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Pomegranate-Raspberry Sake-tinis
Appetizers: Pork & Shrimp Xiao Long Bao {Soup Dumplings}
Entrees: Tonkotsu Ramen with Chasu, Shoyu Egg, Menma, Kamaboko, Kikurage
Dessert: Matcha Mousse and Chocolate Tart

Pastas/Noodles · Pork · Seafood · Sponsored

Spicy Shrimp and Sausage Pasta — Surf & Turf Made Easy!

Spicy Shrimp & Sausage Pasta
Now let me admit this to you.

Some girls love flowers delivered to their door and some gals love chocolate.

Me?

You’d have my attention with a nice bottle of vino or meat. 🙂

Yes, you read that correctly.

 

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So when our friends at Farmer John sent over a box of their latest Cheese & Wine Flavor Smoked Sausage, I squealed with joy.

Seriously…squealed.

Not only because I was so excited to try it out but we coincidentally were having our monthly Sunday Family Dinner just a few days after. Complete divine intervention since a part of our menu required for us to bust out our beloved habachi grills.

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It was perfect since our proteins mainly consisted of seafood (calamari, prawns, shellfish, lobster) and sausage was a much welcomed addition.

We sliced a few links up and threw them on the habachi which imparted even more of a smoky flavor. The sausage itself turned out to be a tad on the sweeter side (likely because of the wine) but it paired well with the salty-briny seafood.

So when it came time for me to use the sausage in a dish, I wanted to make sure to balance out the flavors.

Cue in spices, herbs and tomatoes.

 

Spicy Shrimp & Sausage Pasta

I played around with a few ideas and decided to use the browned sausage with a heavily spiced shrimp in a tomato sauce.

I finished the whole sha-bang with a mountain of fresh herbs and tossed it with linguine — a pasta that can hold up to a hearty sauce.

 

Spicy Shrimp & Sausage Pasta

It. Was. Delish.

Don’t believe me?

Well…shame on you!

Because it was.

Fo’ reals!

Spicy Shrimp & Sausage Pasta

The entire dish was then showered with a mound of freshly shaven parmesan cheese….and then I paused…..

Because when you make happy things in your kitchen, it deserves a moment of silence…

Followed by a serious dance-it-out session and a swig of chianti…or whatever you’re sipping on.

It’s completely mathematically sound.

Spicy Shrimp & Sausage Pasta

And yes, all of the flavors balanced out perfectly.

The salty, sweet sausage paired well with the spicy shrimp. The acidic tomato sauce with its aromatics added the much needed punch to the dish. And the cheese—well, the cheese added love.

Obvi.

Much thanks again to our friends at Farmer John – we love ya!

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Spicy Shrimp and Sausage Pasta
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

½ pound shrimp, cleaned and deveined
½ teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning (or other Cajun spice blend)
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
black pepper
½ teaspoon garlic salt
kosher salt
olive oil
1 pound smoked sausage (I used Farmer John® Wine and Cheese Sausages), sliced
¼ cup sliced shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup white wine
1 28-ounce can crushed Roma tomatoes
5-6 fresh thyme sprigs
½ tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 pound dried linguine
¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
1 cup parmesan (shaven, grated, etc.)

In a bowl, mix the shrimp with the Old Bay Seasoning, cayenne pepper, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, garlic salt, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Set aside.

Heat 2-3 tablespoons oil in a heavy bottom, deep skillet (or pot) to medium. Add the sausage slices and brown on both sides. Toss in the shrimp and cook until they turn pink – approximately 2 minutes. Remove the contents to a clean bowl and set aside.

Add the shallots to the skillet and cook for a minute before adding the garlic. Cook for a minute and stir in red pepper flakes. Add tomato paste and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat to high and pour the wine into the skillet. Use a wooden spoon and scrape the bottom of the skillet to release all the brown bits. Allow the wine to come to a boil and reduce the liquid for 2-3 minutes on the high heat.

Add tomatoes with its juices and bring to a boil. Once it comes to temperature, lower the heat to medium-low. Use the wooden spoon to crush and break apart any large pieces of tomatoes. Stir in the thyme and oregano and simmer the sauce, partially covered for 20 minutes.

While the sauce cooks, boil the linguine for approximately 10-12 minutes in heavily salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta and reserve ¼ cup of the starchy water that the pasta was cooked in.

Stir the shrimp and sausage into the simmered tomato sauce. Toss in the cooked linguine, coating the pasta well. If you want a looser based sauce, add a tablespoon at a time of the pasta water until you reach your desired consistency. Season with additional kosher salt and black pepper as needed.

Plate the pasta and sprinkle each dish with parsley and the freshly shaved parmesan.

Enjoy!

 

 **Disclosure: I did receive products from Farmer John, but as always, my opinions are my own.**

Pork

Slow Cooker Kālua Pig

Kālua Pig

 

It’s ALOHA FRIDAY and what better way to kick off the weekend with some island grindz? And it sure doesn’t get any easier or more ono-licious than Kālua Pig made in a Crock Pot!

 

Sure, you could go traditional and dig an imu in your backyard to channel the Hawaiian spirit. And heck – I would definitely be the first to give you mad props if you did! But as my family have continually denied my pleas to dig a large hole in their yards, I’ve had to settle for conventional methods and use slow cookers.

Kālua Pig

It really is a fool proof method of creating delicious Kālua Pig since you throw everything into the pot and then twiddle your thumbs for the next 10 hours. But the secret is the addition of banana leaves and liquid smoke which truly impart the authentic flavors an imu provides.

I like to serve my Kālua Pig over sticky rice with mac salad or sandwiched in my beloved Kings Hawaiian rolls with a tangy slaw. However you choose to serve it, your loved ones will adore you for channeling the flavors of the islands onto their plates.

Alohas!!!

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Slow Cooker Kālua Pig

Ingredients:

5 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat
sea salt (Hawaiian sea salt if possible)
black pepper
3-4 banana leaves
½ small white onion, thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 dried bay leaves
4-5 dashes liquid smoke
Using paper towels, dry off the pork and generously season with the sea salt and black pepper.

Line the bottom of the slow cooker with banana leaves, setting aside one to top off the pork. Place the seasoned pork shoulder in the cooker and top with the onions, garlic, peppercorns and bay leaves. Wrap the remaining banana leaf over the top and cover the slow cooker. Cook the pork on low heat for 10 – 12 hours.*

Once done, carefully remove the pork from the slow cooker and place on a platter or large dish. Using two forks, shred the meat into pieces.

Skim and discard the fat and oil from the liquids left in the slow cooker. Pour the liquid over the shredded pork and stir in the liquid smoke. Taste and season with additional sea salt as needed.

Serve over rice or my favorite Kings Hawaiian sweet rolls.

*You can also cook the pork over high heat for about 5-6 hours but I prefer the texture of the low and slow method.

Appetizers/Small Plates · Pork · Salads

(Isaan) Pork Larb Gai – Thai Minced Pork Salad

Pork Larb Gai

Larb (also often spelled as laap or laab) has been one of my favorite Thai dishes for a long time. It essentially translates to “minced meat salad” and can be made from a variety of different proteins – pork, beef, chicken, fish, duck, etc.

The word larb means “to chop up” in Thai. That’s right folks–authentic larb aficionados use a cleaver to chop/mince their proteins until they reach the perfect consistency. But truthfully, I’m a tad lazy and use pre-ground pork/chicken/turkey.

Andy Ricker, chef and author of Pok Pok does a beautiful job narrating his adventures of Thai cuisine and does an infinitely superior job of explaining the nuances of larb than I ever could. In a nutshell, there are two different schools of larb — the Northern Thai version and Northeastern Thai (Isaan) version. I gravitate towards the Isaan style that is heavily laden with citrus and toasted rice powder. The Northern style also uses various proteins and herbs but often includes pork/beef blood.

Pork Larb

I’m obsessed with Isaan-style larb because it’s truly a flavor explosion (I’m so cheesy). It’s incredibly savory with the garlic, shallots, fish sauce……bright and aromatic from the tons of citrus & fresh herbs…..and rather “earthy” from the toasted rice powder. Whether you eat it with sticky rice or as lettuce wraps, larb has multiple layers of texture, especially when you take intermittent bites of fresh cucumber slices, cabbage or fresh chiles.

My version isn’t totally authentic but it definitely is my homage to the original and can be whipped up in about 20 minutes. Not bad at all when you need a quick bite and its lightness is perfect for a warm summer meal.

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(Isaan) Pork Larb Gai – Thai Minced Pork Salad

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon warm water
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided
3 tablespoons fish sauce, divided
1 tablespoon minced Thai chiles, divided
3 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 pound ground pork
2 scallions, chopped
1 heaping tablespoon toasted rice powder*
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly torn
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly torn
1 cup fresh Thai basil leaves, roughly torn
accoutrements: extra fresh herbs, lime wedges, cabbage, lettuce leaves, cucumber slices, steamed rice

In a bowl, create the sauce by whisking together the sugar and warm water until dissolved. Add in 2 tablespoons lime juice, 2 tablespoons fish sauce and 1/2 teaspoon minced chiles (more to taste). Set the sauce aside.

Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the shallots, garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add 1/4 teaspoon minced chiles (more to taste), red chili flakes and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Increase the heat to medium-high and add in the pork.

Using a wooden spoon, stir the pork around the wok/skillet while breaking it apart to a crumbled consistency. Cook the pork until it is no longer pink, approximately 3-4 minutes. Stir in the remaining fish sauce and scallions.

Remove the wok/skillet from the heat. Toss in the rice powder, remaining lime juice, red onions, mint, cilantro, and basil. Stir in a few spoonfuls of the sauce to taste. Plate the larb with extra fresh herbs, whole chiles, lime wedges, sliced cucumbers, lettuce and cabbage. Serve with either steamed rice or whole lettuce leaves for wraps. The remaining sauce can be served alongside as a dipping sauce.

*If you cannot find pre-ground toasted rice powder, you can easily make your own. Toast uncooked jasmine rice in a skillet over low heat until golden brown. Once cooled, transfer the toasted rice into a spice grinder and grind until you get a fine powder.