Category Archives: Southeast Asian
Fish sauce is one of my favourite weapons to have in the pantry. It packs a powerful umami punch and can be used from simple dressings or to bring dimension to soups and braises. Today, I’m gonna show you a simple Vietnamese pork recipe that combines fish sauce and caramelized sugar to achieve an incredible flavour in a short amount of time. Get ready because it’s gonna happen right now on The Aimless Cook!
You will need:
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 pound pork belly or boneless pork shoulder (skinless or skin-on), cut-into 1-inch cubes
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 large shallots, chopped
- 1 scallion, green part only, thinly sliced
- rice for serving
Line the bottom of a medium sauce pot with the sugar. Place the pot over medium low heat. When the sugar melts and becomes amber-colored, add the water and fish sauce. The darker the sugar turns, the more bitter the caramel will taste so be watchful. Add the cubed pork belly or shoulder and stir until coated.
Add a pinch of salt. Simmer on medium-low heat for at least 25 minutes or until the pork is fork tender.
Stir in a couple chopped shallots and and cook until translucent, another 5 to 7 minutes. The sauce should now be thickened. If that’s not the case, turn the heat up a little and simmer for another few minutes.
Serve on steamed rice and top with chopped green onion and fresh cilantro. This dish goes well with rice vinegar pickles to cut the richness of the pork.
What’s your favourite dish with fish sauce?
Red curry paste is a great ingredient to have handy. It lasts practically forever in the fridge and is extremely versatile. I use it in many different recipes, including this one for my version of the famous Indonesian fried rice, Nasi Goreng. There are so many varieties of Nasi Goreng depending where you go and who’s making it.
I love this dish because it’s flavourful, aromatic, spicy, and it’s the perfect way to use up leftover vegetables. Throw in some bacon lardons or sausage, top with a fried egg, and you have yourself a delicious breakfast. So what are we waiting for? Let’s cook Nasi Goreng!
For the sauce, you will need:
- 1 tablespoon of red curry paste
- 1 tablespoon kecap manis (sweet soy sauce, ABC brand is the best)
- 1 teaspoon (or more to taste) sambal oelek (garlic chili paste)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon fresh minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
For the rest:
- 2 – 3 cups of cold leftover rice
- 2 tablespoons fresh minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons chopped shallots or red onion
- some vegetables (julienned carrots, mushrooms, etc)
- some leftover meat (bacon lardons, sausage, bbq pork, prawns)
- fresh cilantro or chopped green onion
- lime wedges
- a touch of salt
In a bowl, combine the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.
In a hot wok, add a couple tablespoons of oil. When it starts to smoke, add the garlic and shallot and fry for about 30 seconds. Add the rice and continue to cook, breaking up the clumps with your spatula. Cook for a minute or 2, before adding the sauce.
Once you add the sauce, continue to mix everything until the sauce is well distributed. At this point you can add your vegetables and meat (totally optional) and cook until they’re done.
Top with fresh chopped green onion or cilantro and squeeze some fresh lime juice over top just before serving.
Also, dont forget to top your nasi goreng with a sunny side up fried egg. There’s nothing like digging into that first bite with that lovely runny yolk. Enjoy!
What is your favourite rice dish?
This Thai-style salad is a lot like som tam, but uses green apples instead of green papaya. Since green papaya can be hard to find, the green apple provides a nice tart flavour and crisp texture that’s incredible in this type of salad. I hope you love it!
You will need:
- 1 Granny Smith apple, julienned
- 1 carrot, julienned
- 1 large shallot, sliced lengthwise
- 1 small handful grape tomatoes, quartered
- ¼ cup green beans, trimmed and cut into 2 inch lengths
- 1 tablespoon dried shrimp
- ¼ cup roasted peanuts
- the juice of ½ lime
- fish sauce, to taste
- sugar, to taste
- 2 Thai chilies, chopped
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
In a mortar and pestle, add the green beans and about 6 grape tomatoes cut in half. To that, add the shallots, chilies, a tablespoon of dried shrimp, and a clove or 2 of garlic. Pound that mixture together until the tomatoes are crushed and the green beans are bruised.
Season your mixture with about a teaspoon each of fish sauce and sugar and continue to lightly mix in the mortar and pestle until the ingredients are combined. Finally, add a ¼ cup of roasted peanuts and crush them coarsely.
If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can do all of this with a ziplock bag and a rolling pin.
Combine the contents of the mortar and pestle with the apple and carrots in a large mixing bowl. Add the shallots, toss everything together and give it a final taste. Balance out the flavours if you have to and finish by adding a handful of fresh chopped cilantro. Traditional som tam is made entirely in the mortar and pestle, but I wanted to preserve the crunchy texture and look of the apples and carrots.
This salad is great on its own, or as a side with some fish or this home-style fried chicken which I’ll show you in the next episode.
When was the last time you used a fruit as a vegetable?
Today I have an Indonesian-inspired chicken stir-fry I made as a result of running out of soy sauce and mirin. I was originally gonna make some teriyaki chicken, but all I had left was some kecap manis and shaoxing cooking wine. Threw in some chili and a half red pepper and here’s what I came up with. Put this on your weekday cooking playlist. It’s easy as pie and I’m gonna show you how to do it right now!
Pie, there’s something else I should do…
You will need:
- 1 lb chicken thigh or breast, boneless/skinless cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- salt and pepper
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 2 tablespoons kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing cooking wine
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
- 2 Thai chilies, finely chopped
- sambal oelek, to taste
In a small bowl, combine the Shaoxing cooking wine and kecap manis. Add the sesame oil and a couple chopped Thai chilies. Mix well then set aside.
Heat up a couple tablespoons of oil in a wok over high heat and add the chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces. Add a couple cloves of minced garlic and cook until the chicken is opaque. Next, add the red pepper and continue to cook for about 2-3 minutes. When that’s done, add the sauce mixture and cook until thickened. Add sambal oelek to taste and serve on steamed rice with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
This simple dish packs a lot of flavour and takes only a few minutes to put together. Take this recipe with you, make it yours and have fun in the kitchen!
Vietnamese Coffee is one of my favourite drinks. Hot or on ice, the sweet and creamy condensed milk complement the strong coffee (and sometimes chicory) of the French coffee. In this recipe, I am using the famous Cafe Du Monde brand from New Orleans. If you love it as much as I do, you gotta go and find yourself a Vietnamese coffee brewer. Believe me, it’s worth the effort.
You will need:
- 2 tablespoons Longevity brand condensed sweetened milk
- 2 tablespoons Cafe Du Monde coffee
- boiling water
Simply add the sweetened condensed milk to a small glass and set aside. Add the coffee to the coffee brewer and set (or screw) the top filter firmly on the ground coffee. Set the brewer on top of the glass and pour a little of the boiling water into the brewer to give the coffee an initial soak. Afterwards, fill the brewer to the top and set the lid on. Let the water fully pass through the brewer while you answer some emails or update your Facebook status to “I’m about to have some Vietnamese coffee…WOOT!” When the coffee is done, simply take off the brewer and set aside, stir the coffee and milk to combine and enjoy hot or pour into a glass of ice. Bliss.
Hong Kong meets Vietnam in this snack house inspired soup that you can do at home with a couple tomatoes and a few leftovers. This is easy home cooking and you’ll be delightfully surprised at how flavourful this quick broth is.
For the soup broth, you will need:
- 2 medium, ripe tomatoes
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 chili pepper, minced
- 500 ml chicken stock
Start with a deep skillet on medium heat with a little olive oil and add the tomatoes, a clove of minced garlic, a minced shallot and a minced chili pepper. Let that cook for a few minutes while the tomato breaks down then add the sugar and fish sauce. Continue to cook until the tomato is completely broken down and becomes a sauce.
Now at this point, you can serve this sauce on pretty much anything, but let’s keep going. Today I’m making a soup, so I will add the chicken stock and just stir to combine.
Give it a taste and adjust with salt til you get it the way you like it. You probably won’t need much additional salt since you have the fish sauce. I didn’t.
For the rest of this soup, that’s where your creativity comes in. I have some instant ramen noodles here, but you can use whatever noodles you have handy. If you want an authentic Hong Kong snack house experience, use elbow macaroni.
Other toppings you can use:
- leftover steak or pork chops
- roasted chicken
- cold cuts
- tofu or tempeh
- cooked spinach, peas and carrots, green beans
- eggs (fried, poached, boiled, omelette)
Have fun with this recipe, make it yours and have fun in the kitchen!
Today, we’re making a Thai style spicy mango salad. To go with it, I’m cooking up a mouth-watering pan-fried halibut from my friends at Dor-Bel Fine Foods. Dor-Bel is the only retailer in Alberta that sells sustainable seafood carrying the Oceanwise brand. This mango salad is very simple to prepare and is a prime example of the flavours that are typical to Thai cuisine.
For the mango salad, you will need:
- 1 green mango (firm, not ripe)
- a slice of watermelon
- 2-5 thai chilies (adjust to your tolerance)
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar (or brown)
- the juice of 1 lime
- 1 shallot, finely sliced
- ¼ cup green onion, finely chopped
- ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
For the halibut:
- 2 (8 oz) portions halibut fillet
- 1 thai chili, finely minced
- Extra virgin olive oil
- kosher salt, to season
Start by drizzling some extra virgin olive oil on both sides of the watermelon. Put on a grill on high heat and grill them til they have those nice marks. Watermelon tastes incredible when grilled. The surface sugars caramelize and take on a honey flavour that will complement the other flavours in the salad. When the watermelon is done, cut into cubes and set aside.
Peel the mango and cut it into julienne. No fancy tools needed, just make parallel cuts into the fruit by hacking it with a knife and shave the strips off into a large mixing bowl. If you have a mortar and pestle, pound the Thai chilies to release the oils and fragrance. Alternatively, you can use a knife handle, mallet or a rolling pin. Add the chilies to the mango, then add the fish sauce. Toss lightly to combine then the sugar. The sugar will balance out the flavour of the fish sauce and chili. To that, add the shallot, cilantro and green onion. Finally, add the juice of 1 lime and the watermelon and toss everything together until combined. Set aside in the fridge and let’s cook the halibut.
On a cutting board, evenly sprinkle on 1 or 2 chopped chilies then drizzle on some extra virgin olive oil. Add a touch of kosher salt, then put the halibut on the board. Flip them over to get the seasoning all over both sides.
From here, you can either pop them on the grill or panfry in a hot skillet with a couple tablespoons of oil (I prefer pan-frying because I like to get that nice crust). Fish takes very little time to cook, so you’ll only need to cook until the meat is golden brown.
To finish, simply plate the fish and put the mango salad right on top. Serve right away and enjoy!
If you don’t have halibut, you can use any kind of meaty fish that’s not too fatty like catfish or red snapper. My halibut today was donated by the fine folks at Dor-Bel Fine Foods, who are partners with the Oceanwise organization. Oceanwise is a non-profit organization that researches and compiles information on fish and shellfish stocks in an effort to educate retailers and restaurants on what seafood to buy or avoid.
This simple fried fish goes well with the spicy, sour and sweet Thai flavours of the mango salad. Take this recipe, make it yours and have fun in the kitchen.
Do you like seafood? If so, what is your favourite kind?
This recipe for Thai Beef and Basil is incredibly quick to prepare and very tasty. The key to this dish is using the freshest ingredients you can get your hands on, so if you can’t find the Thai Holy basil, use your local basil, as it will bring some impressive aroma to your finished meal.
- 250 g of beef, sliced skirt steak or ground
- 1 red chili, roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 cup of fresh basil leaves
- 1 large chili sliced
- 1 handful of green beans
- canola oil for cooking
Start by pounding up a roughly chopped red chili pepper and 3 cloves of garlic in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of kosher salt til they release their oils and fragrance. The coarse grain of the salt will help season as well as provide some texture while you pound the chile and garlic.
Next, in a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce, fish sauce and oyster sauce. Mix well and set aside.
In a wok or frying pan heat up 1 tablespoon of oil on high til it starts to smoke, then add the chilli garlic mix. Stir well for about a minute until it starts to smell really fragrant. Add 250g of sliced skirt steak and keep everything moving as you continue cooking for another minute. Next, add the sauce mixture and combine.
Next, stir in a handful of green beans (or long beans) and a sliced chili pepper. Finish off with adding 1 cup of fresh basil leaves. Mix to combine, then give a final taste. You shouldn’t need salt since you have fish sauce, but if it’s a little too spicy, balance it out with a touch of palm or brown sugar. When it’s tasting perfect, plate up on a fresh bed of steamed rice and top with a crisp fried egg if you have them.
The skirt steak is much like the flank, but with a coarser fibre. When you slice it thinly across the grain, you will get a really tender stirfry meat that cooks very quickly. As for the basil, the purists will insist on using Holy basil which is a Thai variety. Since I live in Canada and there are so many great places here that make some incredibly fresh and fragrant basil, I’m using it. With simple dishes, the freshness of the ingredients is crucial. Go out to your local Farmers Market or community garden and make good use of the bounty that’s available for you. It’s simply a waste if you don’t. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
So my question of the day for you is: What are your favourite fresh herbs to cook with?
Laksa is a spicy noodle soup that is widely popular in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, and of course, the version depends on the region. There are 2 main types of laksa. Asam laksa is a sour fish broth soup base and curry laksa, which has a curry and coconut milk soup base which I’m going to be making today. In this version, I’m using Penang curry paste, which is a milder curry since I like to adjust the heat myself.
Rice noodles, fresh toppings and cilantro brought together in a rich aromatic broth. These are the flavours of Southeast Asia in one, happy bowl. This is a very simple recipe to put together and can make any night special.
For the broth:
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1 can fish or chicken stock (or water)
- 50g Penang curry paste
- 1 tablespoon sugar (palm or brown)
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 2 kaffir lime leaves
The rest (here’s your chance to get creative):
- 100g flat rice noodles (like banh Pho)
- 10-12 grape tomatoes
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 handful enoki mushrooms (or sliced white mushroom)
- 2 large carrots, thinly sliced on the bias
- your choice of protein (fish, fish balls, tofu, tempeh, shrimp or chicken)
- some fresh greens (baby bok choy, peas, green beans)
- sambal oelek (garlic chile paste)
In a large, deep skillet, heat up a tablespoon of oil on medium high and gently fry the curry paste until fragrant. Add the coconut milk and whisk until the paste is dissolved. When the curry paste is dissolved, add the grape tomatoes, carrots, onion and lime leaves. Add the stock or water, mix and then loosely cover and simmer on medium low heat until the carrots are tender.
While you’re waiting for the broth, boil the rice noodles until tender. Strain, rinse and set aside.
Now check on your broth. Give it a taste. It should be a bit spicy. Add the fish sauce and give it another taste. Balance the spice out with the palm sugar (or brown sugar) til you get it just right. When your broth is ready, you can add your creative additions. Your green vegetables will cook fairly quickly as will your tofu or tempeh. If you are adding seafood or chicken, all you need to do is warm them through as they have already been pre-cooked. *If you’re using fresh shrimp, put them in the simmering broth until just opaque. It take about 3 minutes.
To plate up, start by putting some rice noodles into a large bowl. Add your assortment of toppings, then ladle in a generous helping of that spicy, aromatic broth over top. Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro leaves and serve with some sambal oelek on the side.
So that is my version of curry laksa. Take it home, make it yours and have fun in the kitchen!
I made this recipe after watching a show featuring Chef Andy Ricker and his restaurant, Pok Pok in Portland Oregon. He had these incredible Vietnamese sticky chicken wings that stuck in my mind. Since then, I have been wanting to make them so badly so I went looking for the recipe. Since I didn’t want to just make the Pok Pok recipe, I took a basic adaptation of it and made it my own. This recipe is a culmination of late nights online, ingredient research and some good old-fashioned kitchen experimentation.
In my version, I add a couple touches that bring nuances to the ends of the flavour spectrum on this one. Namely, nuoc mau, lemongrass and a bit of fresh lime juice. Nuoc mau is a popular Vietnamese caramel sauce used for adding a deep richness in grilled meats and such. It’s made from either water or coconut water and sugar, which is then reduced to a dark syrup with a slightly bittersweet flavour. The rest, I added to compliment and bring a brightness to the whole dish. This is an incredible recipe for chicken wings that I know you will enjoy.
You will need:
- 2 lbs fresh chicken wings
- ½ cup fish sauce
- ½ cup sugar (or palm sugar)
- 4 cloves of fresh garlic (2 crushed and 2 thinly sliced)
- 1 cup corn starch
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon minced lemongrass
- 1 tablespoon nuoc mau (aka coconut thin sauce) *optional
- oil, for deep frying
- a handful of fresh cilantro
- lime wedges
Start by making the marinade. In a large bowl, combine the fish sauce, sugar and 2 crushed cloves of garlic. Mix to dissolve the sugar, then add the chicken wings. Refrigerate for 3 hrs.
When the wings are done, take out of the marinade (save the marinade and set aside) and dry on a clean kitchen towel. Lightly coat the wings in corn starch. Meanwhile, start heating up some oil for deep frying. You want the oil to be about 350F. While it’s heating, fry the thinly sliced garlic in the medium heat til they are golden brown and crisp. *If you try to fry them in oil that’s already hot, you’ll scorch them and they’ll be too bitter. Set your garlic chips aside.
By now, your oil is hot and the chicken is nicely coated. Test out the oil by tossing in a little piece of bread. If it goes dark too fast, you have the oil too hot. Take off the heat and wait a couple minutes, then try again. Working in small batches, carefully put in the wings and fry until golden brown. They normally take about 10 minutes. Test with a meat thermometer (shoud read 180F). When they’re done, drain on a rack or on kitchen paper then set aside.
Now onto the sauce. In a large pan on medium high heat, add the marinade mixture you saved. Put in the lemongrass and nuoc mau and continue to reduce on the heat until it starts to thicken. Add the butter and continue to reduce until you get your sauce to the consistency of a syrup. In French terms, this is called nape (nah-pay). You should be able to coat the back of a spoon, draw a line through it and see the line clearly.
Have the wings ready in a large mixing bowl. Add the sauce then toss together until evenly coated. Plate up and garnish with the garlic chips, fresh cilantro leaves and some lime wedges. These are perfect with beer.
I hope you enjoy this recipe. Try it out, make it yours and have fun in the kitchen!