>> Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I was missing something in my life... a little bit more chaos perhaps, so I decided to join the Daring Cooks. For my first challenge I had to cook something Vietnamese and that I hadn't even tasted before: a pho from the delightful blog Steamy Kitchen by Jaden. Timely challenge for me, as so far I've never been especially fond of Far East food...
Before this event, I had only tasted Vietnamese food once in my life. When I was 25 and lived in The Netherlands, a Vietnamese girl joined my company. She had had the most peculiar life. She had fled Vietnam in a boat when she was 12 or 13... yes, she had been one of those "boat people" we used to hear about in the news. She had two older brothers approaching the military service age. At the time Vietnam was in a non-declared war with some neighboring country (I don't remember which, she told me this a loooooong time ago). That meant an almost certain death for the two boys. Therefore their parents collected all their savings, bought two boat tickets for the boys and another one for my friend. Yes, she was sent along to take care of the boys, that is to cook, wash, do the laundry and the like, those things a servant... excuse me, a woman usually does in a lot of countries in the world for no wages at all. The boat was rescued by a Dutch ship which took the refugees to The Netherlands, where they were well catered for. They were given refugee status and received acommodation and education. My friend studied Chemical Engineering and ended up working for my company. We didn't work together for a long time, just a few months I believe. When I decided to go back to Spain, I was leaving some furniture and household equipment behind that I gave to her. She then organised a Vietnamese dinner to thank me. I don't seem to have been too impressed by the cooking, because I hardly remember what we had. My memories of her and her husband are a lot more vivid. She was a tremendously happy person, nothing gave away all the misfortunes she had gone through. Her name was Nga. Here's looking at you, kid.
The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.
You can find the recipe here. As Jaden says, the most important thing is to obtain a very clear broth though packed with flavor. I chose to make pho with chicken, you could choose among some other varieties like vegetarian, beef or shellfish broth. I know how to make a Spanish chicken broth, but I tell you, the flavor of this broth has nothing to do with it. The spices and condiments are so very different, regardless of the chicken base. Some condiments are really peculiar for me, like the fish sauce and the star anise (in a savory soup? Are you nuts?).
The most important part of the challenge was to obtain a broth packed with aroma while keeping it clear. It seems I did all my skimming well, because the final broth came out quite transparent. The only change I made was to boil two additional carcasses with the whole chicken, to add even more flavor. Well, I'm not telling the truth, I made another change, a mistake in fact. I forgot to toast the spices, shame on me. But the ginger and onion were beautifully charred, don't you think? After the boiling I let the broth cool and left it overnight in the fridge, so that I could easily defat it the next day, it seems my chicken was rather fatty. You know how that's done, don't you? Just get rid of the solidified fat on the surface by spooning it out.
The broth was wonderfully aromatic and tasty. I found it difficult to adjust the seasoning though... how can you tune something when you have no idea of how it should taste? I did the best I could. Regarding the garnish, I couldn't find red onion at this time of the year and I hate bean sprouts, so I skipped them. I only used the noodles, cilantro leaves, shredded chicken and lima slices (the noodles are at the bottom of the bowl, that's why you can't see them). Instead of boiling the noodles in plain water, I boiled them in the broth itself for more flavor. Despite my initial reluctance, I found the soup delicious. The flavor is so different from what I'm used to in a soup, yet so good. I could clearly make out the ginger and the star anise flavors (even though my star anise dates from the 12th century...). This was a very interesting experience for me, as so far I've been a complete ignorant of the Far East cuisine. And it brings some colour to my dull life... Jaden, I hope you're proud of your disciple!