Anyone who isn’t confused really doesn’t understand the situation.
~Edward R. Murrow

Clustered around the banks of the Sông Hương (Perfume) River, Huế is a quaint city in the Thừa Thiên–Huế province and the imperial capital of Vietnam held by Nguyễn feudal lords during the 18th to the mid 20th centuries. Well, until the French, then later the Japanese and then the French again and finally the Americans, interceded. No doubt, for typically myopic home politicians, this was way too much dominion for locals but bred sublime cuisine.

Huế, sometimes referred to as the City of Ghosts, is centrally located on the Indochina peninsula, a few miles inland from the South China Sea with verdant mountains nestled behind…and vast palaces, pagodas, colored tiles, rice paddies, tombs. A culture where ancestors never die. Huế was the royal capital until 1945, when then emperor Bảo Đại abdicated, and a government now convened in Hà Nội (Hanoi).

Huế was the site of perhaps the most ruthless battle of the Vietnam (or American) War. At the height of this costly and equivocal conflict, there were some 500,000 American troops in the country. Only a rather small percentage of the US public even knew where Vietnam was located.

In preparation, Vietcong troops launched a series of attacks on isolated garrisons in the highlands of central Vietnam and along the Laotian and Cambodian frontiers. Then, one early morning in late January, 1968, Vietcong forces emerged from their dark tunnels and holes to launch the Tet holiday offensive. In coordinated attacks throughout South Vietnam, they assaulted major urban areas and military bases in an attempt to foment rebellion against the Saigon regime and their American backers. Callous fighting ensued for several weeks, some of the most brutal at Hué — much of which was house to house with US Marines facing overwhelming odds, and the North Vietnamese suffering heavy casualties. Eventually, artillery and air support was brought to the forefront, and then nightmarish civilian massacres occurred. No burials, no altars.

But, as a result of the words and images from Saigon, the homeland press and public began to challenge the administration’s increasingly costly war. In the wake of the Tet offensive, the respected journalist Walter Cronkite, who had been a moderate observer of the war’s progress, noted that it seemed “more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.”

Oh, the sublime scents, flavors, sights, sounds of this evocative city. So many ambrosial even balmy and slurpy dishes in the Vietnamese repertoire originated in the Thừa Thiên–Huế region.

BUN BO HUE

2 lbs oxtail, cut into 2″-3″ pieces or pigs’ feet cut into chunks
2 lbs beef shanks, cut into 2″-3″pieces
2 lbs pork necks
2 lbs beef marrow bones, cut into 2″-3″ pieces
1 lb beef brisket

8 lemongrass stalks, leafy tops discarded and fleshy part retained
1 bunch scallions, white parts only, halved lengthwise
2 T paprika
1/2 C fish sauce

1 1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 t annatto seeds and/or saffron, ground

1/4 C+ canola oil
1 C shallots, peeled and sliced
1 t fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 C lemon grass, minced
2 t shrimp paste
2 t sea salt
2 t local honey

1 package dried rice (bún) noodles

Thai basil sprigs, chopped
Cilantro leaves, chopped
Mint leaves, chopped
Green or red cabbage, thinly sliced
Lemon wedges
Lime wedges
Yellow onion, thinly sliced

Bring some water or broth to a rolling boil, and then add the oxtails, beef shank, and pork bones. Return the water to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Drain the bones into a colander and rinse under cold running water. Rinse the pot and return the rinsed oxtails, neck bones, and shanks to the pot. Add the marrow bones and brisket.

Crush the lemongrass with the end of a heavy chef’s knofe and add it to the pot along with the scallions, paprika and fish sauce. Add 8 quarts fresh water and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the liquid is at a simmer and skim off any scum that rises to the surface.

After 45 minutes, ready an ice water bath, then check the brisket for doneness to ascertain whether the juices run clear. When the brisket is done, remove it from the pot (reserving the cooking liquid) and immediately submerge it in the ice water bath to cease the cooking process and give the meat a firmer texture. When the brisket is completely cool, remove from the water and pat dry. Also set aside the oxtails, beef shanks, pork shanks and beef marrow bones.

Continue to simmer the stock for another 2 hours, skimming as needed to remove any scum that forms on the surface. Remove from the heat and remove and discard the large solids. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a large saucepan. Skim most of the fat from the surface of the stock. Return the stock to a simmer over medium heat.

In a spice grinder, grind the red pepper flakes and annatto seeds into a coarse powder. In a frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the ground red pepper flakes and annatto seeds and cook, stirring, for 10 seconds. Add the shallots, garlic, lemon grass, and shrimp paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more, until the mixture is aromatic and the shallots are just beginning to soften.

Add the contents of the frying pan to the simmering stock along with the salt and honey and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and more honey, if necessary.

Arrange the basil, cilantro, mint, cabbage, lemon and lime wedges, and onion slices on a platter and place on the table. Thinly slice the brisket against the grain. Divide the cooked noodles among warmed soup bowls, then divide the brisket slices evenly among the bowls, placing them on top of the noodles. Ladle the hot stock over the noodles and beef and serve promptly, accompanied with the platter of garnishes.

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Mushroom Broth (Stock)

August 18, 2011

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

~William Shakespeare, Macbeth

The debate over broth vs. stock. Why has this always been so perplexing, even amusing?

Broth derives from the Old English noun broþ, having trickled down from an Indo-European verb root bhreu- or bhru- (“to heat, boil, bubble”), which also produced the word “brew.” So, etymylogically speaking, the noun broth means “liquid in which something has been boiled.”

The Germanic form brotham was borrowed into vulgar Latin as brodo, which by way of Old French broez came into 13th century English as broys or browes.

Stock presents a tad more complicated root scenario given its varied definitions and uses (inventory, corporate stock, summer stock, livestock, paper stock, stock remark, etc.). The word originally denoted a “tree trunk,” coming from the Germanic stukkaz. Stock, as used in the sense of broth, was so coined in the mid 18th century, because one keeps a “stock” of “broth” on hand in the stockpot.

Etymylogically, they seem nearly interchangeable. But, many chefs may dispute this, contending that stock is produced by slowly simmering relatively unseasoned bones and cartilage, some meat scraps, vegetables and aromatics in order to extract their essences. Often, the collagen rich bones are first oven roasted with the vegetables, and then added to the water to further enhance colors and flavors. This gelatinous, rich, and viscous stock is then strained and later used as a base to build sauces, gravies, soups or braises. Broth, on the other hand, they claim is crafted with whole meat morsels, is more delicate by nature and refers to an already finished and seasoned product. So, although not necessary broth can be made of stock.

Add to this semantic cauldron culinary terms like bouillon, court bouillon and consommé and mayhem ensues.

The distinction between vegetable stock and broth seems neglible. As for mushroom broth, made from those noble fungi taxonomically classified as a kingdom separate and apart from plants and animals and more genetically related to animals than plants…a vegan conundrum?

MUSHROOM BROTH

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lbs crimini mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1 1/2 C large mushroom stems (e.g., portabella), cleaned and sliced lengthwise
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1 C dry white wine
1 T shoyu
1 C dried mushrooms, such as porcini and/or shiitake
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 t dried herbes de Provence
3 sprigs fresh thyme
8 whole black peppercorns
3 C water
3 C vegetable stock

In a heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over moderately high heat. Add the mushrooms, stems, onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms release their liquid, about 5 minutes.

Add the wine, shoyu, dried mushrooms, salt, dried herbs, thyme, peppercorns, water and vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to moderate and simmer until the liquid is reduced about one half, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Pour the hot broth through a fine strainer into a large bowl. Strain a second time for good measure.

Store broth in the fridge for up to four days, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Vegetable Stock

August 8, 2009

An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh.
~Will Rogers

Another of the savory basics which, by the way, slipped through the cracks. Roasting the vegetables first brings out the rich M. Maillard reactive depth of flavors in this broth which has endless uses.

ROASTED VEGETABLE STOCK

2 plump, fresh garlic heads, halved crosswise
2 C mushrooms, halved
4 carrots, sliced thick
4 stalks celery, leaves removed and sliced thick
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced thick
2 leeks, rinsed well, greens removed and sliced thick
1 poblano chili pepper, quartered and seeded
1 medium tomato, quartered and seeded

1/3 C extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

8 C water
1″ ginger, peeled and sliced
2 t dried thyme
2-3 thyme sprigs
6 sprigs parsley
2 bay leaves

Preheat oven to 425

In a single layer, arrange the garlic heads, mushrooms, carrots, celery, onions, leeks, poblano, and tomato in a large baking dish or sheet lined with aluminum foil. Drizzle the olive oil over the vegetables, and then season with salt and pepper.

Roast the vegetables in the preheated oven, turning once or twice (with the exception of the garlic), until tender and slightly browned, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Combine the water, ginger, thymes, parsley, and bay leaves in a large, heavy stock pot over medium high heat. Squeeze the heads of garlic into the stock pot, and discard the outer husks. Then, place the mushrooms, carrots, celery, onion, leeks, poblano, and tomato in the stock pot. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and gently simmer for 1 1/2 hour. Taste and season while cooking. Strain into a bowl with a fine sieve or chinois, pressing to squeeze out all of the liquid.

Refrigerate up to 6 days or freeze up to 6 months.

Beef Broth a/k/a Stock

February 24, 2009

Back to fond. Rich, fullbodied broths form the essence of savory soups and sauces. (See Chicken Stock post). While this broth takes some time to cook, the liquid will reduce and become more concentrated with flavorful gelatin. Broths should be brought slowly to the simmer and should not boil vigorously. As the temperature increases, proteins in the meat and bones will rise to the surface as broth—they should be skimmed away.

Broth can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 4 to 6 months.

BEEF BROTH

6 pounds meaty beef soup bones (shanks or short ribs)
2 T canola or vegetable oil

3 medium carrots, chopped coarsely
3 celery ribs, sliced
2 medium onions, chopped coarsely
6 quarts of cold water

3 bay leaves
1/2 C dried mushrooms
8 to 10 whole peppercorns
3 to 4 sprigs fresh parsley
3 to 4 sprigs of thyme

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Cut away as much fat as possible from the outside of the bones. Dig the marrow out and reserve for other purposes (I adore it on roasted bread, in a pasta, etc). Left in, the marrow melts in the broth and becomes part of the fat that is skimmed away—a waste of a precious thing. Cut the meat away from the bones into rough cubes.

Toss the meat and bones in the oil, then place them in a large roasting pan. Roast uncovered, for 45 minutes to brown. Add the carrots, celery and onions. Roast 15 minutes longer.

Drain fat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer meat, bones and vegetables to a stock pot or large Dutch oven. Deglaze the roasting pan with a little water scraping the bits off the bottom of the pan.

Pour deglazed pan juices to the stock pot. Add enough cold water just to cover. Slowly bring to a simmer and skim off the froth that rises to the surface. This should be done several times until the surface is relatively clear. Add the remaining ingredients, partially cover the pot and gently simmer for 4 hours. If necessary, add hot water during the first 2 hours to keep ingredients covered.

Discard bones and save meat for another use. Strain broth through a cheesecloth-lined colander or a chinois sieve , discarding vegetables and seasonings. Alow broth to cool to room temperature. Pour in jars or bowl.

In Morocco, it’s possible to see the Atlantic and the Mediterranean at the same time.
~Tahar Ben Jelloun

A tajine (طاجين), is a cooking vessel—a partially glazed earthenware dish with a pointed, conical lid. But, tajine also refers to the traditional North African method of slowly braising succulent meat (often lamb and chicken) with sweet & savory fruit woven in a prolific complexity of aromatic spices.

Couscous is a coarsely ground semolina pasta which has been a staple in North Africa since the 12th century. It is often steamed in a device the French call a couscoussier. which resembles a double boiler with the upper part having a perforated bottom which is set over a pot of boiling water or over the tajine served with the couscous. The recipes below are created using more conventional cookware.

Couscous scents are unmistakable—intricate, ambrosial with thoughts drifting to Paul Bowles’ contemplative Moroccan sojourn in The Sheltering Sky and the doleful blue magic of Ali Farka Touré’s guitar and plaintive voice.

CHICKEN MAROCAIN

1 1/2 T coriander seeds
1 1/2 T cumin seeds
6 cardamom pods

1 T paprika
1 T turmeric
1/2 T ground cinnamon
1/2 T cayenne pepper
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper

4 local, free range, organic chicken leg-thigh quarters or one whole chicken cut into 8 pieces, room temperature
Extra virgin olive oil
3 peeled, slightly crushed fresh garlic cloves

3/4 C medium yellow onion, diced
1+ T fresh ginger, minced
2 T garlic, minced
1 T red pepper flakes
2 cinnamon sticks
2 jalapeno or other chile peppers, diced

1 C dry white wine
1 T tomato paste

1 28 oz can of san marzano tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 C chicken broth
1 C canned chickpeas, drained and well rinsed
3/4 C kalamata olives, pitted and halved
2 T honey
2 preserved lemons,* cut into wedges
2 bay leaves
1/2 C chopped dried figs
3/4 C currants, plumped in warm water, then drained

Toast cumin seeds, coriander seeds and cardamom pods in a medium saucepan over low heat until fragrant. In a spice or coffee grinder since devoted to spices, blend until fine. Combine with remainder of rub spices, then rub over chicken liberally. Let stand for at least 1/2 hour or refrigerate longer. Keep unused spice rub in pantry for later use in other dishes.

Heat 3 TB oil a high-sided, heavy bottomed pan or dutch oven over medium high heat with smashed garlics. Remove garlic, then add chicken skin side down, sauté chicken until browned on both sides, 5 minutes each side. Remove and loosely tent. Pour off all but 1-2 TB drippings.

Add onions and sauté 2 minutes. Stir in peppers and saute another minute. Then, stir in the ginger, garlic, pepper flakes, cinnamon stick. Cook until fragrant, for another 1 minute.

Deglaze with wine and tomato paste, stirring. Simmer gently until liquid almost evaporates.

Add tomatoes, broth, chickpeas, olives, honey, lemons, bay leaves, figs, currants and stir to combine. Arrange chicken in pan, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer until chicken is cooked through and sauce is somewhat reduced, about 20 minutes.

Finish with:

Fresh mint & cilantro, chopped
Grated lemon rind
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

*Preserved lemons are among the most widely used ingredients in Moroccan cuisine.

4 large lemons (preferably thin skinned), scrubbed
2/3 cup coarse sea salt
1 cup fresh lemon juice
4 caradamom pods
olive oil

Dry lemons well and cut each into 8 wedges. In a bowl, toss wedges with salt and transfer to a glass jar (about 6-cup capacity). Add lemon juice and cardamom pods; cover jar with a tight fitting glass lid. Let lemons stand at room temperature 7 days, shaking jar each day to redistribute salt and juice. Add thin layer of olive oil to cover lemons and store, covered and chilled, up to 6 months.

COUSCOUS WITH APRICOTS

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 small or medium yellow onion, peeled and minced

1 T turmeric
1 t coriander (toasted & ground)

1 cup couscous
1 1/2 C chicken stock, slightly simmering
1/2 t lemon zest

2 T green onions, sliced
1/4 C dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1/4 C whole almonds, toasted & coarsely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a heavy medium saucepan add olive oil. Sauté onion in oil until soft and translucent. Add the turmeric and ground coriander and sauté gently over low heat until slightly fragrant. Add the couscous then the warm chicken broth. Stir with a fork to combine, add lemon zest and cover. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes, then uncover and add the green onions, almonds and apricots. Fluff again with a fork. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine.