Distinct character in this Vietnam-style soupFood For Thought
(March 31, 2017) Vietnamese food is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world; the deliciously fresh flavors are a true testament of the culture’s impeccable approach to the overall culinary experience.
According to Differences in Vietnamese regions, Vietnamese food can be basically divided into three main types of regions.
Northern Vietnam is characterized by mammoth mountains, high altitudes and is the coldest region of the country. The North is also influenced by their Chinese neighbor, so stir fries and slow-cooked stews are quite prevalent for the cold weather.
Central Vietnamese cooks pride themselves on developing a cuisine that is built on complexity, sophistication and spiciness. The foods are colorful and decorative which results in a delightful presentation. As a result, portion sizes have a tendency to be on the smaller side, but the number of courses increases.
The Southern region of Vietnam is graced with gorgeous sunshine and fertile crops that lead to an abundance of tropical fruits, leafy vegetables and succulent seafood. Southerners are also known for their sweet tooth; coconut milk and sugarcane are major components that sweeten things up.
Despite the various differences, Vietnamese cookery has many parallels. A brilliant balance of aromatics, heat, sweetness, sourness and fish-sauciness reigns supreme. Vietnamese dishes also include five types of nutrients: powder, liquid, mineral elements, protein and fat. Five seems to be the common denominator; Vietnamese cooks try to include five colors (white, green, yellow, red and black) in their pageantry of beautification.
In addition, Vietnamese dishes must appeal to the five senses: food presentation stimulates the eyes, the deconstruction of crispy dishes harmonize to a symphony of satisfying sounds, the tongue swirls in a bouquet of flavors, aromatics tease one’s sense of smell to daily familiarities, and of course the sense of touch climaxes the fundamental features of sense perception.
Vietnamese cuisine is a reflection of the personality and culture of the Vietnamese people; warm, charming and sophisticated. If one had to choose a dish that is most representative of the Vietnamese cultures, there is no doubt pho (pronounced “fuh”) would be voted number one.
Pho is the national dish of Vietnam and sold everywhere from upscale restaurants to street corners where home cooks set up makeshift kitchens and sell their version of this cultural treasure. Pho is an aromatic rice noodle soup that is served with a plate of lean meats, bountiful seafood, crispy vegetables and fragrant herbs.
There is no denying that the pho broth is what gives this soup its distinct character and is the most important element. Anyone who is familiar with this dish knows the broth is the soul of the dish. The beauty of pho is that once you have cooked the broth and noodles, everything else is made to order.
Many recipes call for a preparation using two stockpots of water. The bones and scraps of meat are parboiled in one pot for a brief time. This is to remove all the impurities on the outside of the meat and bones. Then they are rinsed and placed in the second pot of water.
The second pot’s temperature is kept at a simmer for a few hours, skimming any scum on a regular basis. Spices are then added according to personal preference. Pho purists insist that onions and ginger need to be charred in open flames before adding to the soup for more depth of flavor.
After a few hours, the soup bones are removed. The remaining broth is allowed to simmer for a few more hours. The pho broth is then strained and seasoned with fish sauce, salt and rock sugar. At this point, the pho broth should be clear and free from impurities.
Preparing traditional pho at home can be challenging for the simple fact that it takes time for the marrow in the bones to dissolve into the water to form a perfect pho stock. You cannot force it with a shorter and harder boil. The flavor of the marrow is the essence of the broth and it must be brought out gently and doing so takes time.
Vietnamese style shrimp noodle soup is a simplified version of pho. From start to finish it should not take you more than 1.5 hours. In a restaurant, the pho broth alone can simmer as long as 8 to 12 hours.
You have three options of how to present the soup. The first is to serve individual bowls filled with hot stock and noodles with a large platter of meats, vegetables and herbs for your guests to choose from. You can also serve each guest with an individual plate of toppings. The third option is to serve the soup with the embellishments already on the soup.
Spring is perfect for trying one’s hand at the art of pho. Cooking is about expanding and appreciating other cuisines. Vietnamese style shrimp noodle soup is a tasty, fun way to experience that. Enjoy!
Vietnamese Style Shrimp Noodle Soup
8 ounces rice noodles
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 cloves, whole
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons ginger root, peeled and minced
½ tablespoon chili garlic paste
5 cups seafood stock
3 cups chicken stock
3 strips lemon peel
2 star anise
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 cups bok choy, chopped
Toppings for Soup
sweet onions, very thinly sliced (preferably on a mandoline)
jalapenos, sliced thinly
scallions, sliced thinly
fresh Thai basil leaves
fresh cilantro leaves
chopped salted roasted peanuts
1. Prepare the rice noodles according to package directions and set aside.
2. Toast coriander, cloves and peppercorns in a dry pan over medium heat for 4 minutes or until they become very aromatic. Remove from heat and crush with mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
3. In a large pot, warm sesame oil over medium heat. Add garlic, ginger and chili paste and sauté for 1 minute to release the flavors.
4. Add stocks, lemon peels, star anise, fish sauce, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sugar, cinnamon and reserved toasted spices. Bring to a soft boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add bok choy and simmer for another 5 minutes. Add shrimp and cook just until the shrimp are done; do not overcook. Readjust seasoning of broth if necessary.
5. Divide rice noodles evenly between four large bowls and ladle soup into each bowl. Either serve soup toppings on one large platter for all to share or individual plates of toppings. You also have the option to serve each individual portion fully embellished with the soup toppings.
Secret Ingredient - Purity. “The purity of soul cannot be lost without consent.” – Saint Augustine