Cookbook author Andrea Nguyen's site dedicated to Vietnamese recipes, Vietnamese food, Asian ingredients, Asian cooking tips, Little Saigon communities, and other Asian recipes and food cultures all over the world.
Summer is lemongrass season. It’s a hot weather plant so you may be seeing extra gorgeous stalks at farmers’ markets, Asian markets, regular supermarkets and maybe even your garden! (Mine got so bushy that I had to cut it back.) To help celebrate the bounty, I put together a primer called Lemongrass 101 with tips for buying, prepping, storing and growing the aromatic tropical grass.
Along with recipes in my cookbooks and elsewhere, here are fourteen recipes from Viet World Kitchen to further your lemongrass-y adventures.
I often save all the parts of the lemongrass stalk that I
can’t chew or chop for infusing liquids with sweet, citrusy flavor. You can use
all kinds of parts, including the leafy sharp-edge blades, which have plenty of
flavor but are not suitable for cooking. It doesn’t matter much because you
strain the liquid or don’t eat the lemongrass in the end. Three recipes on the
When lemongrass is added to marinades, its aroma dissipates a little, falling into the background behind other ingredients. That doesn’t mean that it is unimportant. The lemongrass is melding more with other ingredients to create synergistic flavors. For your summer grilling, here are two favorites:
You can eat lemongrass raw in Asian salads like nasi ulam, one of my go-to recipes every summer because it uses a lot of herbs growing in the garden. Or, stir-fry with lemongrass. The vegan dish starring mushrooms gets a boost from lemongrass.
Traditionally, there was a lot of chopping and pounding involved to prep for curry pastes and the like but modern cooks can reach for a food processor to zip along with the prep work! The curries are simmered dishes that are great for make ahead and reheating. They’ll get better with a little aging; the curry paste is a fabulous recipe from Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok.
Along with the lemongrass ice cream recipe in Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, I’ve added this granita to my lemongrass dessert repertoire. It’s easy and lovely. The recipe comes from the Masumoto family, legendary peach farmers in California’s Central Valley.
There you have it! If you’re unsure about using lemongrass, be sure to check the Lemongrass 101 article for tips. Also, if you want to share your favorite your favorite lemongrass recipes, add a comment below!
Okay, so autumn doesn’t officially arrive until September 23 but forgive me for labeling it with an earlier date. After being busy with book-related travel, I’ve been missing teaching on my own turf. I’m very excited about returning to it, and just opened registration for fall classes. People have been emailing to ask and I’ve been apologizing for having been too busy to teach. But here are three opportunities for us to tinker, cook and eat together. And, yup, people snap lots of proud food photos!
Note the following >> All these classes are held in Santa Cruz at a teaching kitchen space that I rent. I do all the grocery shopping to ensure we use terrific ingredients. The class size is small (a cap of 12 people) so you get to learn a lot. Plus, these are hands-on, 4-hour classes. A general overview of my cooking classes is here.
Onward to the classes themselves!
Saturday, Sept. 14, 11am-3pm, Dim Sum Party
Photo by Penny De Los Santos
Let’s have a dim sum party, then you can take all that you’ve learned in class and unleash it on family and friends. The menu includes easy as well as challenging dishes. It’s designed for lots of takeaways. As with all my classes, no one leaves hungry. Check out the dim sum class menu and register.
Saturday, Oct. 19, 11am-3pm, Viet Street Food Any Day
Yes, awesome Viet street food is within your reach. I designed a great, fun menu that spotlights regional cooking and goes from snacks to a sweet. You’ll hit Viet notes and we’ll talk about techniques old and new plus how to source ingredients with ease. Get the street food class details and register.
Saturday, Nov. 16, 11am-3pm, Asian Tofu Bootcamp
Photo by Maren Caruso
Warm and tender, fresh tofu is like fresh cheese: It’s simply delicious. If you’re entranced (or mystified) by tofu, join me for this class! We’ll go from beans to curds PLUS make a pan-Asian menu using different kinds of tofu sold at mainstream markets and Asian grocers. Grab the tofu class details and register.
There’s something about lemongrass
that’s incredibly appealing. A relative
of citronella, the fibrous stalks impart a delicate perfume similar to lemon
verbena, but it also has a refreshing citrusy, sweet quality too. In Vietnamese, lemongrass is called xả (say “sahh?”),
and it’s required for many southern and central Viet dishes. Lemongrass is also
common in other Southeast Asian cuisines so it is a super useful ingredient.
One major lemongrass problem
issue that people run into is how to tackle the batonlike fresh stalks. Most recipes
and many cookbooks don’t give you prep instructions or guidance, expecting you
to know how to deal with it. Well, you are not alone if you are lemongrass
challenged. Whenever I teach a cooking class and demonstrate how to break down
a lemongrass stalk, people tend to gather round and watch intensely.
Someone on Instragram recently asked for a tutorial, so I’m providing one here!
Where to find and how to select lemongrass
Whenever possible, try to get fresh lemongrass for recipes. You can get by with lemongrass paste in a tube (it comes from Gourmet Garden in Australia and is usually hanging on display with ginger and garlic pastes), though dried lemongrass is not recommended.
At a mainstream supermarket, Asian market, or farmers’ market, select firm, rigid stalks and check the cut bottoms for freshness. In the above photo are example of stalks that are (from left to right) homegrown, supermarket trimmed and solid, supermarket sad and soft (no bueno!).
Don’t be afraid to buy a bunch – say five or six stalks. Keep refrigerated in a plastic produce bag for up to a week, or trim and freeze (see below for tips).
Lemongrass prepping tips
My golden rule in dealing with lemongrass is this: you can’t chew what you can’t chop. If you’re new to lemongrass, the stalks look inedible. But once chopped up, they release their fragrance and flavors to embody the tropical splendors of Southeast Asia. Lemongrass is one of the most important Viet food aromatics.
To trim a stalk, chop off the tough bottom base with its hard v-shaped core and the green, woody top section. Peel away loose or dry outer layers to reveal a smooth, tight stalk. The trimmed, usable section will be 4 to 8 inches ong, depending on the size of the original stalk. Save inedible sections to brew my dad’s detox tea.
Prep the trimmed lemongrass as directed in the recipe. To chop lemongrass, cut it into thin rings, or split it lengthwise first before cutting half circles; then go at it with a sharp knife. (Alternatively, whack trimmed lemongrass pieces with a meat mallet or the bottom of a heavy saucepan to break the fibers and make cutting easier.) After chopping lemongrass, your knife blade may be slightly dull; use a steel to refresh the edge.
If a recipe calls for using a machine to make a marinade with lemongrass – and you don’t have a machine, use a Microplane type of rasper to grate the lemongrass stalk. Pieces that eventually splay open can be trimmed and when possible, chopped with a knife.
When substituting grated lemongrass or lemongrass paste, remember this: Grated lemongrass and the paste are finer than chopped lemongrass. For that reason, use 1 1/2 tablespoons of grated lemongrass for every 2 tablespoons of chopped lemongrass. This 3:4 ratio applies to converting store-bought lemongrass paste to fresh chopped lemongrass, too.
Advance lemongrass prep
When you see gorgeous, fresh lemongrass, buy five or six stalks and trim them. Freeze the trimmed sections in a zip-top bag for up to 3 months; it retains most of its flavor and is easier to chop than fresh.
Viet grocers sell frozen finely chopped lemongrass, which you can do yourself: blitz 1 cup chopped lemongrass (cut into 1/4-inch pieces or small, from 3 large stalks) in the processor to a fine texture, pausing to scrape down the sides. Add 1 tablespoon neutral oil and run the machine to chop further. Freeze in a storage container for up to 3 months.
Want to grow
I’m a lazy gardener and even for me, lemongrass is easy to grow. Select several super fresh stalks (my best sources are farmer’s markets). Trim a little off the ends, keep in a glass or jar of water on a windowsill until roots show up, then stick in a pot or the ground. (If you live in an area with harsh winters, grow lemongrass in a large pot and bring it indoors during cold months.)
I started this cluster about 5 years ago and it keeps coming back. I fertilize it twice a year and it’s in partial shade. It’s a monster this year.
When harvesting lemongrass,
use a paring knife to cut from the base of the stalk; wear long sleeves to
prevent the sharp-edged blades from cutting you. Freshly harvested lemongrass
is juicy, with an intoxicating aroma.
If I’m missing something
or you have a tip to add, please contribute via a comment!
Viet gateway foods include pho noodle soup, banh mi sandwiches, and goi cuon rice paper rolls. Now it’s time to add a fourth dish — banh cuon steamed rice sheets. It’s been on my mind for a while and this past week, the Los Angeles Times published my story on one of the Vietnamese favorite.
As a “Banh Cuon 101” it is a primer that gives people the low-down on a great Vietnamese dish, plus, it spotlights several spots to find it in the granddaddy of Little Saigons located in Southern California’s Orange County. I grew up there and grew up reading the Los Angeles Times “Food” section. It’s been a few years since I wrote for them so this banh cuon primer holds special meaning for me.
People then started asking where they can find banh cuon in
other places. A few referenced eating banh cuon in Vietnam.
Photo by: Karen Shinto
In Vietnam, there are vendors on the street (the lady above operated on a sidewalk in Saigon) or cooks in tiny shops that specialize in the traditional steamed version of the thin rice sheets. Banh cuon in Vietnam is perfect for a casual snack. That’s not the case in America.
As the title of the LA Times piece says, I covered a lot of banh cuon territory but for those of you who want to know how to apply the Little Saigon lessons to your own situation and location, these tips will help you.
Where to look for Banh Cuon
Banh cuon takes a certain level of craftsmanship so it’s not as easy as making a sandwich or rice paper roll. For that reason, it’s limited to areas where there is a sizeable Vietnamese-American population. As the list below indicates (obtained from Wikipedia), most of the big Vietnamese-American communities are in California. There are over 140,000 Vietnamese Americans in the Garden Grove, Westminster, Santa Ana, Anaheim, and Fountain Valley area. Those are neighboring cities, too!
Vietnamese people can be found practically anywhere there’s a nail salon but when it comes to banh cuon, you need a community or Little Saigon sort of place with enough demand and labor. I scoped out a few Little Saigon spots in the O.C. for the Los Angeles Times piece. Here’s how I start when I’m looking for banh cuon spots – Google the name of the city and then banh cuon, then filter them.
How to narrow your choices
Among the search results, prioritize places with “banh cuon” in the business name.For example, “Los Angeles banh cuon” led me to Banh Cuon Hainam Saigon in Alhambra (near Los Angeles).The fact that banh cuon is in the name means they specialize in it.
Doing a similar search in Falls Church, Virginia, I found Banh Cuon Saigon and Banh Cuon Thang Long, which are near each other so they must compete. Viet businesses love competition.
Note that misleading results may come up if a Viet restaurant menu includes banh mi and goi cuon. That was the case when I search for banh cuon in New York and New Jersey. To be sure, peruse the menu for banh cuon.
Banh Cuong Tay Ho will likely pop up among search results too. That’s because it is a franchise with locations in many Viet areas in America. For that reason, the menu is similar but the consistency wavers from location to location. Banh cuon is awkwardly translated as “flour sheet roll” by Tay Ho so you have to get over it.
“Lo Banh Cuon” should get an extra star because it signals a place that specializes in banh cuon on a quasi-industrial level. In Vietnamese, lo (say “law”) means oven and signals a place where a craft and/or trade is practiced. For example, “lo banh mi” should excel at making Viet-style bread!
At a lo banh cuon, you should be able to buy by the pound but also grab pre-packaged deals like the ones above.
“Banh Cuon Thanh Tri” promises good things. Any banh cuon business that offers Thanh Tri-style rice sheets (via their name or on the menu) should produce super thin, northern Vietnamese style rice sheets from the village of Thanh Tri near Hanoi. It’s the mark of banh cuon craftsmanship in the minds of Viet banh cuon aficionados.
Below is a Thanh Tri style rice sheet I purchased from Banh Cuon Luu Luyen in Southern California’s Little Saigon. Note its translucency.
A San Jose example is Banh Cuon Thanh Tri. Not as obvious in Houston is Thien Thanh – which popped up on Yelp for banh cuon and on closer inspection of their signage provided by Justin, it’s a Thanh Tri specialist.
There are restaurants that don’t scream banh cuon in their business names, but you may see banh cuon or banh uot on their menus. When you do, order it because it’s unusual and they may do a great job.
Examples include: Quan Hy on Bolsa in Little Saigon has great central-Viet style banh uot thit nuong (below) but know that on weekdays, they often run out by the end of the lunch rush. At Ba Bar in Seattle, they soak and grind rice for the batter, which is why their banh cuon program is only at certain locations on certain days.
You may want noodle soup at Pho Tau Bay LTT in Santa Ana, CA, but it advertises on the front window that there’s “banh cuon trang tay” (banh cuon made by hand). The couple below shared a big bowl of pho and an order of banh cuon!
Aside from restaurants and formal banh cuon shops, you may come across banh cuon at Vietnamese tofu shops, delis and bakeries where you’d get banh mi. In such situations, you’ll see grab-and-go banh cuon packaged in containers for a convenient meal. Inspect to see what the fillings are – pork and mushroom, shrimp, or plain rice sheets.
They’re not going to be super duper fresh like you’d get from a lo banh cuon or a banh cuon restaurant. But, they are fine to eat at room temperature if they are soft. Otherwise, transfer the banh cuon to a plate and microwave them for about 30 seconds until barely warm.
Homemade Banh Cuon
I grew up on and still gobble up my mom’s homemade banh cuon, which she bangs out in small (8-inch) nonstick skillets. She currently uses my recipe in Into the Vietnamese Kitchen on page 270, in case you have the book. When we first came to America, she didn’t have access to rice flour and used cake flour, as you may have read in Vietnamese Food Any Day.
Nowadays, her skillet banh cuon are gluten-free and delicious. We go out for banh cuon but we also adore her homemade ones, which are generously filled with pork, shrimp, and mushroom; in the photo above, the banh cuon toppings include homemade matchstick-cut gio lua silky sausage, chicken breast floss , cilantro and Trader Joe’s fried onion.
Homemade rice sheets are thicker and more rustic, but they taste good too. I’ve successfully made steamed ones but they’re super laborious so I’m fine with the skillet kind!
I don’t mind getting all the banh cuon I possibly can. Hopefully, this guide will help you source your own too.
If you have favorite banh cuon spots (or comments on the places mentioned above), please share your experiences.
It’s highly likely that you first befriended pho at a restaurant or pho joint, where the menu items may have seemed overwhelming. Welcome to the ultimate Viet have-it-your-way food experience, which has its pros and cons.
An extensive pho menu allows people to dial in their personal preferences but it can also confuse. At first glance, things may all look the same since menu items usually all start with phở, such as phở chin, phở chín bò viên, phở tái nạm. And, the wait person typically asks for your order soon after you sit down. What to do to order efficiently?
Pho ordering strategies
I cook a lot of pho at home but I still go out for it. My approach to ordering goes like this: Scan the menu, focusing on the word(s) that come after phở, which describe the topping. Then order by topping. For example, request phở chín bò viên (pho with cooked beef and meatballs) by nonchalantly saying, “Chín bò viên.” Or, point to the menu item and order by its number.
Use this primer to navigate a pho menu and master key terms. What I have here isn’t exhaustive but the collection of terms will get you far in the pho world!
Pronunciation guides aren’t perfect and mine below are done to help you deal with the many accent marks involved in Vietnamese language.
To polish your pho prowess to a shine, listen to my dad on this audio recording as you practice. He pronounces the terms in bold below in their order of are included in his pronunciation guide. He uses northern Vietnamese pronunciation because that is where he was born, as was pho!
Start surprising Viet people at pho restaurants! If you make pho at home too, weave some of these terms into your pho speak for a Viet-glish experience.
Pho Basic Pronunciations
Impress your friends and favorite pho shops by saying these simple pho terms like a pro:
pho = phở (“fuhh?”)
pho rice noodles = bánh phở (“bahn? fuhh?”)
beef pho = phở bò (“fuhh? bah”)
chicken pho = phở gà (“fuhh? gah”)
vegetarian pho = phở chay (“fuhh? chai”)
With chicken and vegetarian pho, toppings are easy to figure out. For example, you may get to choose bone-in or boneless chicken, thigh or breast, with or without offal. Vegetarian pho is often set in its toppings. Since most people order beef pho, the following is my streamlined, down and dirty interpretation and notes of a pho menu. As a bonus, I included pho condiments and garnishes!
From The Pho Cookbook. PHOTO BY JOHN LEE COPYRIGHT 2016 JOHN LEE PICTURES
Foundational Beef Pho Favorites
Foundational pho are ones that appeal to purists, kids, and those
who value simplicity. They’re fabulously doable for home cooks. They’re considered
old school, cozy and homey, what you’d get a small pho shops in Vietnam. They
are classics in many ways and easy to love:
Cooked beef = chín (“chinn?”) What: Slices of chewy-tender beef (lean brisket or other tough cuts) that simmered in the broth Why: The meat is flavorful and is one with the broth
Rare steak = tái (“tie?”) What: Thinly sliced beefsteak cooked by the hot broth, though it’s usually very lean, mild-tasting eye of round Why: You like rare-ish beef
Meatball = bò viên (“bah vee’en”) What: Springy meatballs (tendon bits may be in it) that are usually halved or quartered for easy retrieval Why: It’s fun for kids of all ages, friendly, not weird
Go Big and Wild with a Luxe Bowl
When you can’t decide or you want an extra thrilling beef pho experience, order:
Special bowl = đặc biệt (“dack bee-yet”) What: A circus of textures, everything available that day Why: To try various cuts or you can’t decide on topping
Train bowl = xe lửa (“se’uh luh’ah?”) What: A very big đặc biệt special combo bowl that borrows on a term from Saigon-based pho shops from long ago Why: For an epic experience
From The Pho Cookbook. PHOTO BY JOHN LEE COPYRIGHT 2016 JOHN LEE PICTURES
Adventurous Beef Pho with Textures
If you’re extra particular about your beef pho experience, order the toppings a la carte. Typical options include:
Fatty brisket = gầu (“gow”) What: Rich sliced brisket with a generous layer of fat though it can sometime be the same meat as chín Why: Good pho flavor requires fat
Tendon = gân (“gun”) What: Gelatinous, opaque pieces of tendon, cut from a gelled block or broth bones. Why: For soft, rich contrasts
Flank = nạm (“nahm!”) What: Chewy, ripply rough flank, may look loosey goosey, is not the same as flank steak Why: A balance of chewiness and beefiness
Tripe = sách (“sahk?”) What: Fringelike white book tripe should be thinly sliced for easy chewing Why: Adds slight crunch and sometimes, a gamey taste
Crunchy flank = vè dòn (“veh zawn”) What: Frilly strips of fat and lean with an unusually pleasant, slight crunch Why: It’s somewhat hard to find and fun to eat
Pho Bowl Size Matters
A pho shops, there’s usually two or three size options for the
bowls that you choose. Be ready since the wait staff can seem impatient.
Small bowl = tô nhỏ (“toe n’yaw?”) What: When you’re looking for a snack, go small. It’s akin to what you’d get in Vietnam.
Medium bowl = tô vừa (“toe vuh’ah”) What: A satisfying serving of pho that will keep you happy till your next meal.
Large bowl = tô lớn (“toe luhn?”) What: For super hungry, big appetites. You could share it with a child, though a restaurant may have child portions on the menu.
From The Pho Cookbook. PHOTO BY JOHN LEE COPYRIGHT 2016 JOHN LEE PICTURES
Common pho condiments and garnishes
As a bonus for advance pho lovers, master these words for these ingredients usually associated with the pho experience:
Fish sauce = nước mắm (“nook mahm?”)
Hoisin for pho = tương ăn phở (“toong ahng fuhh?”)
Chile sauce = tương ớt (“toong uht?”)
Garnish plate = đĩa rau sống (“de-ah rao soong?”)
Chile = ớt (“uht?”)
Bean sprout = giá (“zah?”)
Lime = chanh (“chahn”)
Mint = húng (“hoong?”)
Spicy mint = húng cay (“hoong? kay”)
Thai basil = húng quế (“hoong? quay?”)
Culantro = ngò gai (“n’gaw guy”)
Rice paddy herb = ngò om (“n’gaw ohm”)
P.S. A few final pho notes:
The banh pho rice noodles served at most pho joints for noodle soup
are akin to the narrow ones sold in vacuum-sealed packages at Asian markets.
Think linguine size. If freshly-made noodles are available (they’re usually
fettucine size), get them! Large pappardelle size banh pho noodles are for
stir-fried and pan-fried pho dishes (think chow fun size).
And, pho is in English-language dictionaries so no diacritics (accent marks) are needed when you’re writing about pho in English!
It looks like an overgrown cauliflower, a head that has rogue, or somehow gotten electrocuted. When I first spotted flowering cauliflower at a Chinese market in the San Gabriel Valley, I took it for a one-off, an outlier. But it was being sold at a normal price, not a discount super special deal, despite the signage. Nevertheless, it seemed like a novelty.
Then I saw the flowering cauliflower again in San Francisco’s Chinatown at a greengrocer. My friend, Andrew Janjigian, senior editor at Cook’s Illustrated, mumbled about having seen it back East but he hadn’t tried it. We both thought it looked weird but interesting.
When I was in Boston, I spotted the flowering cauliflower again – this time at the Cambridge, Massachusetts Avenue, location of H Mart, a Korean market chain. Three sightings, on both coasts in March, April and May. Last Sunday, when I saw the cauliflower at Lion Market in San Jose, I decided it was time to get some to check it out. It was obviously trending.
What is Flowering Cauliflower?
When I cut apart the clusters, the flowering cauliflower looked like Dr. Seuss had created it. At the Asian markets, the flowering cauliflower was labeled “Chinese Cauliflower” but when I researched it, the vegetable is a combination of cauliflower and broccoli. It goes by many names: Karifuore cauliflower, fioretto cauliflower, sprouting cauliflower, flowering cauliflower, and Chinese cauliflower.
Karifuore (say the name fast and it sort of sounds like cauliflower) was developed and introduced in 2012 by Japanese breeder Tokita. It was introduced to grocery stores in Japan but has taken a while to come to the U.S. I didn’t see it until this year. What about you?
What’s interesting is how flowering
cauliflower has little white flower buds (think teeny tiny florets) that do not
grow tightly like regular cauliflower. The leaves are slender and tender soft,
rather than hard and thick like standard cauliflower. The stems, even raw, have
delicate green color that’s strikingly beautiful.
In raw form, flowering cauliflower
has a sweet flavor that’s not as pungent as the common heads. With all the
little flower buds that lay separate, I suppose you can easily turn flowering
cauliflower into cauliflower rice. I treated like broccoli and used it for a flowering
cauliflower stir-fry. Simple vegetable stir-fries are a fast way to gauge how a
fresh vegetable expresses its flavors and textures.
A Hot Pan and Lid Help
I used a cast iron wok on
my biggest burner, but if you have another kind of large pan that will heat up
hot (such as stainless steel, carbon steel, or cast iron), use it! Make sure
you have a lid because I splash some water in to coax cooking to a tender
The flowering cauliflower was seasoned simply with sea salt and a swirl of sesame oil at the end. I used a neutral oil to get things started.c
The stir-fried flowering cauliflower was shockingly beautiful, mild and sweet tasting. It also picked up a little bit of charred goodness, too. Thus far, it seems like a cool weather crop. I just got some in Northern California so you may see it elsewhere. When you spot this new vegetable, try it!
This is my basic vegetable stir-fry so when you can't find flowering cauliflower, feel free to try this recipe with green beans, gailan (Chinese broccoli), broccolini, or asparagus. If the vegetable is on the biggish side, parboil it briefly to move cooking along.
Course Side Dish
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Servings 4 people
1 1/3 pounds flowering cauliflower
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons neutral oil such as canola
Fine sea salt or kosher salt
1/3 cup water or lightly salted chicken broth plus more as needed
1 teaspoon sesame or unrefined peanut oil
Slice off a bit from the dry stem ends, then separate the cauliflower into slender, chopstickable pieces. If some are too long to be bite size, cut some of the stem but keep them to stir-fry! If there are tough seeming stem parts (bite one to see), cut off the tough outer skin. You should net about 1 1/4 pounds, or roughly 4 cups.
Heat a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat. When shimmering and hot, add the flowering cauliflower and sprinkle in salt to season. Stir and flip with enthusiasm for 1 to 2 minutes, until glossy and glowing.
Pour in the water, stir, then cover. Lower the heat slightly and cook for about 3 minutes, uncovering and stirring occasionally. When the cauliflower is just tender crisp, uncover. If there is water left in the pan, allow it to vigorously boil off. If there’s no water left and the cauliflower is firm, add a splash of water and replace the lid.
When you’re satisfied with the cauliflower’s doneness, pour in the sesame oil and stir to combine. Turn off the heat. Taste and add extra salt as needed. Transfer to a plate and serve.
Being stuck in airports makes you do unusual things. Not wanting to sit for long, I wander the terminal with my carry-on in tow, perusing kiosks, cafes, bars, and bookshops. Recently, when I was at SFO waiting to board a flight to Mexico City, I began paging through Snoop Dogg’s debut cookbook, From Crook to Cook: Platinum Recipes from Tha Boss Dogg’s Kitchen (Chronicle Books, 2018).
It’s not the kind of cookbook that I usually come across or automatically think about, but Snoop Dogg’s orange chicken recipe gave me a lot to consider. After I made it, it gave me a lot to chew on too.
If you’re unfamiliar with Snoop Dogg (born Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr.), he’s a renowned rapper and music producer, plus a lifestyle tastemaker who has done shows with Martha Stewart. His cookbook is full of swagger but it’s also funny, charming, and smart. Snoop Dogg’s orange chicken recipe carries this introduction:
You know, here in L.A., there’s always the hood Chinese places. We grew up with it. They got fried chicken and Chinese food all in the same spot. Like Louisiana chicken on the left side and Chinese food on the right side. Now I just love orange chicken from different Chinese food spots around the world. I always be asking them about the ingredients so I can put my own spin on it at home.
Snoop is spot on. He describes Los Angeles strip malls and race relations in a short paragraph. When I went to school at the University of Southern California, I worked for Michael Preston, a black political scientist. He regularly sent me to buy him a Chinese takeout two-combo plate lunch. He appreciated Chinese food and southern cooking (he was raised in Tyler, Texas). I was reminded of Dr. Preston when I read Snoop’s commentary.
From Crook to Cook has fancy recipes like lobster Thermidor but most recipes are homey and very doable. With the orange chicken recipe, the orange sauce used easy-to-find ingredients, so I was curious how it would turn out. For the sauce, I used freshly squeeze orange juice, but figure his juice was likely not fresh squeezed since in the front part of the book, Snoop discussed healthy eating and keeping a jug of O.J. in his fridge.
Not knowing the source of the juice used to develop the recipe, I tasted the sauce after simmering and added a little extra honey to balance things out. I also steeped a couple strips of orange peel to introduce a slightly bitter edge to the sauce, to mimic the dried tangerine peel that I like in old school tangerine chicken or beef.
The sauce should only slightly thicken during simmering because it will later reduce and be absorbed by the chicken. After the sauce sat to cool, the flavors coalesced into something quite good and complex, despite its humble beginnings.
Snoop Dogg’s orange chicken recipe is written for people who are new to cooking, so there are nice little details that help cooking newbies be organized. For example, there are details on how to dredge the chicken to facilitate quick prep work.
He suggests using a spider for lifting the wet chicken from the egg with minimal mess. The recipe also says to serve the chicken with rice, in case it’s a new dish at your table. Good pointers.
Shallow Fried Chicken
The original recipe called
for 2 pounds of chicken thighs to serve 4 people. Once I cut up a pound of the
chicken, it yielded a lot, and we’re not big meat eaters. Given that, I fried a
generous half batch of chicken but kept the sauce quantity the same, to hedge
The smaller amount of chicken was easier to shallow-fry in a large (12-inch) skillet. If you fry 2 pounds of chicken, you may want to fry in 2 batches.
At first bite, the chicken was a little edgy tasting. But once I let it sit for a few minutes, the flavors melded nicely. (Resting time is a cooking technique.)
The cornstarch coating is delicate on this chicken, not thick and rock hard. The sauce is not goopy and thick because it gently cloaks the chicken pieces. Snoop Dogg’s orange chicken recipe turns out a rather refined version of the fast-casual Chinese favorite.
If you like lots of big flavor, use all the sauce on the chicken. But to savor the Snoop’s flavor profile, start out with a little less sauce in step 5 of the recipe, as I suggest below. You can always add more for extra bite.
There are many interesting ideas in From Crook to Cook, including adding potato chips to batter for fried chicken, making corn muffins with a touch of sour cream, roasting salmon coated in honey mustard for a sheet pan dinner, whipping up banana pudding with rum whipped cream, and stirring together a mess of bow wow brownies (his best recipe, he says, especially with some special herbs involved). The Doggfather’s commentary is endearing as he coaches, jokes, shames, and pushes people into their kitchens to cook. That’s music to my ears.
If you’re using fresh squeezed juice, consider adding a 2 strips of orange peel to the sauce. After simmering, take the pan off the heat then drop in the peel and let sit for 10 minutes then remove and discard the peel. A vegetable peeler is great for removing the peel from the orange; scrub the orange first to remove wax! If you want to follow the original recipe, use 2 pounds of chicken, 2 eggs, and 1 1/2 cups of cornstarch. Keep everything else the same. See the Note for serving over broccoli. The recipe below was adapted from From Crook to Cook by Snoop Dogg (Chronicle Books, 2018).
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
FOR THE ORANGE SAUCE:
3/4 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoons sriracha
1 tablespoon honey plus more as needed
1 teaspoon sesame oil
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
FOR THE CHICKEN:
1 large egg
3/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup canola or other neutral oil
2 tsp sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
1 green onion green parts only, sliced, for garnish
Cooked white rice for serving
TO MAKE THE ORANGE SAUCE:
In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk the orange juice, soy sauce, Sriracha, honey, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a sim¬mer and cook for 6 to 7 min¬utes until slightly thickened (it should lightly coat the back of a spoon). Remove from the heat and set aside, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Taste and if needed to balance flavors, stir in up to 1 1/2 teaspoons honey. You should have about 2/3 cup.
TO MAKE THE CHICKEN:
In a large bowl, whisk the egg until blended. Place a large bowl next to the egg and put the cornstarch into it.
Add the chicken to the bowl with the beaten egg and toss to coat. Using a spider or large slotted spoon, lift the chicken from the egg and let any excess drip back into the bowl. Toss the chicken in the cornstarch to coat, shake off any excess cornstarch, and set aside.
Line a plate or baking sheet with two layers of paper towels and set aside. In a large (12-incskillet over medium-high heat, heat the canola oil. There should be plenty to cover the bottom completely.
When the skillet is hot, carefully add the chicken to the hot oil. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until golden and crispy. Transfer the chicken to the prepared plate and lightly season with salt. Drain any excess oil and wipe the pan with a paper towel.
Reheat the skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken, gently cook to reheat. Increase the heat to high, then pour 1/2 cup of orange sauce over the chicken. Stir to coat. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes to heat the sauce through, reduce it and let it adhere to the chicken. If you want more sauce for bigger flavor, add the rest. (If there’s leftover sauce, use it to season a broccoli stir-fry. See the Note.)
Transfer the chicken to a plate and garnish with sesame seeds and green onion. Serve with cooked white rice.
To serve the chicken over broccoli, cook about 3 cups of broccoli florets (cut into bite-size pieces). Use a pot of boiling water and let the broccoli cook for about 30 seconds, until tender crisp. Let drain well. Before reheat the chicken, heat the skillet over high heat and add the broccoli. Stir-fry it until hot, 1 minute, then add 2 tablespoons of the orange sauce. Let it sizzle and season the broccoli as it finishes cooking. There should be little liquid remaining. Arrange flat on a plate. Reheat the skillet and finish the chicken (step 5) with the sauce. Pile the chicken on top of the broccoli, garnish with the green onion and sesame seeds then serve.
There are certain recipes that I return to over the years to
tweak, and hopefully improve. Salt and pepper shrimp is one of those dishes. Not
long ago, I air-fried the shrimp for a low-calorie version. The other day,
wanting a midweek fried morsel, I deep-fried head-on, shell-on shrimp purchased
from a Chinese market. They were roughly $5 per pound and I couldn’t resist.
Plus, over the weekend, a friend asked me what it is that Viet cooks do to tom
rang muoi to make the shrimp unusually crusty. Cornstarch was my answer and she
Anyway, I had a crusty version of salt and pepper shrimp on
my mind as I wandered Lion Foods, my go-to Chinese-Vietnamese market in San
Jose. Then I went home and experimented to see if I could achieve crustiness.
Buy the right shrimp and trim them
I bought jumbo shrimp for the air-fried
version of salt and pepper shrimp, but for this more traditional rendition,
you want to shop at an Asian or Latin market. The shrimp may be labeled as “white
shrimp”, with thin shells and their heads attached. Their antennae, feet and pointy
bits will remain too. At Asian markets, they’re often sold on ice for shoppers
to pick their own. I select large ones that feel firm.
To prep the shrimp, use scissors to snip off any bits that may
tickle or poke you as you eat all the shells. That includes the feet and pointy
rostrum that make the shrimp look punk rocker-like. Then rinse and pat the shrimp
dry with paper towel. (You can refrigerate the trimmed shrimp overnight, if you
Enriched the cornstarch coating
I typically just coat the shrimp with dry seasonings and starch before frying but this time around, as the oil heated up, I had a change of mind. For air-fried shrimp, I tossed the coated shrimp in a little oil to mimic frying. The lesson from that technique was this: the oil helps to set the cornstarch. Otherwise, the starch may fall off once the shrimp hit the oil. The photo below is not pretty but you get the point!
Given that, I drizzled a little oil over the coated shrimp
and stirred them around to slightly moisten. Then I fried. The shrimp developed
a delicate crispness that I’d not experienced before. They were not super
crusty, but they had an extremely thin crust. Despite having their heads and
eyes attached, the fried shrimp were elegant.
Keep things dryish
The other revelation I had was about the moisture in the aromatics
that get stir-fried at the end. I typically do it quickly to bloom their fragrance
but they’re often on the wet side – which means once they hit the shrimp, they
diminish the crustiness that I’d worked so hard to create.
To reduce the natural moisture of the ginger, garlic, chile,
and green onion, I stir-fried them on medium or medium-high heat until they
were slightly sweet smelling and dryish. After that point was reached, I added
the shrimp to finish the dish.
These salt and pepper shrimp are delicate and divine. Yes, you can air-fry the shrimp or even wok-sear the shrimp, but once in a while, go old school and find yourself some head-on, shell-on shrimp and pour the oil into the pan. Fry on!
This is old school, and involves deep-frying. However, you'll get a lovely delicate crust on the shrimp. See the main post for tips on the shrimp! If you scale up, fry the shrimp in more batches to maintain a decent oil temperature.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
8 ounces shell-on head-on white shrimp (about 12 total)
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon sugar
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt plus more as needed
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
1 clove garlic finely chopped
3 or 4 Thai chiles chopped
1 medium green onion green and white parts, chopped
Neutral oil for deep-frying and stir-frying
Trim the shrimp of their feet, pointy tip and razor shape rostrum on top of their heads. Aim to get rid of parts that may poke or scrape you while eating. Put the shrimp in a bowl and toss to coat with the pepper, sugar, salt, and cornstarch.
Heat about 1 inch of oil in a wok or deep skillet to about 350F, a wooden chopstick inserted will sizzle nicely. Have a dish with paper towel nearby for draining the shrimp.
When the oil is nearly ready, drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons oil on the shrimp, stir to coat and moisten (you don’t have to be super careful with distributing the oil). In 2 or 3 batches, fry the shrimp until crisp and orange-pink. Drain on the paper towel-lined dish.
When done with frying, let the oil cool for about 5 minutes, then pour into a heat-proof bowl or measuring cup to cool completely before straining and reusing, or before pouring into a container and discarding.
Clean the wok and return it to medium-high heat. When hot, swirl in 1 tablespoon oil. Lower the heat to medium and add the ginger, garlic, chiles and green onion. Cook, stirring constantly for a good 1 minute, to aromatize and dry a bit.
Increase the heat to medium-high, then add the fried shrimp, stir to coat with the seasonings and heat through, about 1 minute. Transfer to a plate with all the bits of seasoning. Sprinkle on a tiny bit more salt for a savory edge, if you like. Serve immediately.
The French introduced canned asparagus to Vietnam and resourceful cooks turned it into an elegant soup, using both the spears and their canning liquid for maximum flavor. They added fresh crab and other seafood, and sometimes swirled in egg to create a Viet-Chinese-Franco favorite. The go-to version of asparagus and crab is wonderful but the crab can be time consuming to prep, which is why I prefer to make this asparagus, shrimp, and egg drop soup.
While you can cook old school and use canned asparagus for this soup, try fresh springtime asparagus (măng tây literally means “French bamboo”) for knockout flavors. Right now, it’s spring asparagus season so load up at local grocers, farmers’ markets, and even Costco.
A classic in the Vietnamese repertoire, súp măng tây is typically served for special meals but I love to treat myself to a bowl on a weeknight and/or leftovers lunch. You should too.
Purposefully over-cooking the asparagus extracts the savory flavor from the spears and yields a soft, luxe texture. Yes, it’s weird to cook asparagus till it’s drab olive, but the approach works. The aim is to have a brilliant version of canned asparagus.
For the shrimp, splurge for jumbo ones, which are plump and flavorful almost like mini lobster chunks. Homemade stock is best (I made a fast batch in my Instant Pot using the easy recipe in Vietnamese Food Any Day), but store-bought broth, such as Swanson and Whole Foods brands works well, too.
Asparagus and other Tips
When trimming asparagus of their woody ends, don’t toss them away. Freeze them for soup. Asparagus is loaded with natural umami (I once bought a Chinese natural flavor enhancer that featured asparagus!) so I often throw a handful or two into a pot of stock.
With regard to making this asparagus, shrimp, and egg drop soup, if you have time and want extra depth, gently simmer the chicken stock (or broth) with the woody asparagus ends and shrimp shells for about 20 minutes; strain and add water to get the 4 cups needed.
Combining egg with fish sauce and black pepper lends the soup a briny richness much like that of crab butter. Now you know my little cheat.
What’s up with the potato starch? Use potato starch to create a silky, plush texture. Cornstarch is great but the soup is not as elegant. Potato starch, such as Bob’s Red Mill, brand is what I use. It is not the same as sweet potato starch. Tapioca starch is viscous, by comparison.
To cook in advance, partially cover the pot after simmering the asparagus, let things cool, then keep at room temperature up to several hours, or refrigerate up to 2 days (return the soup to room temperature before proceeding). Then reheat to add the shrimp and finish the soup.
Course Side Dish
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4 people
1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil
1/3 cup thinly sliced shallot or yellow onion
4 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
3 slices unpeeled ginger each as thick as a bean sprout, lightly smacked with the broad side of a knife
12-14 ounces asparagus woody ends discarded, and cut on the diagonal into 1 1/4-inch-long pieces
6 ounces jumbo or extra-larger shell-on shrimp peeled, deveined, and cut into thumbnail-size nuggets
Fine sea salt to taste
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1/4 teaspoon recently ground black pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons potato starch or cornstarch dissolved in 2 1/2 tablespoons stock or water
In a 3 to 4-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot (or onioand cook, stirring, 2 to 3 minutes, until soft. Add the stock, water, and ginger. Bring to a boil over high heat.
Add the asparagus, then adjust the heat to simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. For the most flavor, deliberately overcook the asparagus to a very tender texture and olive-green color; it won’t look cheery but will taste good. Discard the ginger.
To finish, return the soup to a simmer over medium heat. Add the shrimp and let cook until pink, about 1 minute. Lightly season with salt. Beat the egg and yolk with the fish sauce and black pepper; set aside.
Give the starch mixture a stir and slowly pour it into the soup with one hand as you stir the soup with the other. You may not need the entire amount to thicken and create a thick silky texture. Continue stirring for about 30 seconds, or until the soup is thickened. Turn off the heat.
Pour the beaten egg onto the soup in a wide circle, then stir gently to break it up into chiffonlike pieces. Taste and season with extra salt as needed. Partially cover and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes to further develop good flavor. Ladle into individual bowls and serve immediately.
Hello, my name is Andrea and I’ve got a thing for soy sauce. Yesterday, I dove into my pantry (a hall closet) to look for dried chickpeas but realized that I had none. What I did come across was a wealth of soy sauce. I keep half a dozen bottles in the kitchen and over the years, out of curiosity and working on recipes for different cuisines, I amassed nearly 30 different bottles. My husband suggested that I cull my collection. I’m not sure about that, but instead, I wrote this soy sauce buying guide.
It’s hard to buy soy sauce at an Asian market because there are so many. At regular supermarkets, the brands are limited but you may be confused by shoyu, tamari, light soy sauce, and low-sodium soy sauce. Then there are gluten-free and soy sauce-like condiments.
Soy sauce is used in East and Southeast Asian cuisines. There are variations and while this article isn’t exhaustive, I hope it covers a lot of territory for your needs. Here we go!
Regular Soy Sauce
When a Chinese or Southeast
Asian recipe calls for soy sauce, it means a regular, Chinese-style light soy
sauce (called sheng chou in Mandarin; xi dau/nuoc tuong in Vietnamese). This is
the most common type of soy sauce, what is stocked most at Asian markets and
Light soy sauce is not low in sodium but rather light in color.
It’s saltier and thinner in consistency than dark soy sauce (see below).
Sometimes regular light soy sauce is called thin soy sauce.
A well-stocked Chinese market will have many kinds of special light soy sauces, including one for steaming fish! You’ll go far with a regular bottle of light soy sauce. Most soy sauce contain wheat for good flavor so read the label carefully if you have a wheat allergy. See the gluten-free discussion below for more.
Selection tips: Kikkoman is a good all-around soy sauce. Pearl River Bridge is very good, especially its Gold Label or Premium Label which as been aged longer. Amoy and Lee Kum Kee are terrific too. Some soy sauce, particular ones from Taiwan, have a sweetness due to sugar being in the formulation. Soy sauce from China and Hong Kong have a saltier finish because they’re usually no sugar involved.
Gluten-free La Choy soy sauce is readily available at many supermarkets and its flavor is like a cross between regular soy sauce and Maggi seasoning sauce (see below).
Once that you’ve chosen a favorite brand of soy sauce, check out their premium versions. The price difference is relatively small and the flavor is likely to be deeper and more complex. I regularly use the Pearl River Bridge Premium Light Soy Sauce in my cooking.
The Koon Chun is intensely darker. Lee Kum Lee is elegant with a touch of sugar; it’s sometimes sold at regular mainstream supermarkets. Made in Taiwan to fit the island nation’s cuisine, the one on the far right is sweeter than others.
Gluten-Free Soy Sauce
If you cannot eat wheat, then opt for a gluten-free soy sauce. They are not created equal. Jump to this blog post for a gluten-free soy sauce and tamari tasting. The bottle on the far left is a thick, salty-sweet, elegant Taiwanese soy sauce by Wuan Chuang that’s called “One Soy Bean Sauce”; the same company makes Maruso soy sauce sold in the States.
Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
American magazine recipes often call for low-sodium soy sauce. Unless the publication is a health oriented one, I’m not sure why the condiment is called for.
The flavor of low-sodium is different than that of regular (light/thin) soy sauce. In my recipes, simply cut the regular soy sauce used by one-third (33%) or one-quarter (25%); add water to make up the difference. If you’re used to the flavor of low-sodium soy sauce, use it!
Dark Soy Sauce
Compared to everyday regular (light/thin) soy sauce, dark (thick/black) soy sauce is less salty and inky. It has been aged and contains molasses to give it a distinctive slightly sweet taste and thick consistency.
Dark soy sauce (lao chou in Mandarin;
hac xi dau in Vietnamese) is mostly used to impart a rich mahogany color to
foods. It is typically added during cooking. If you don’t have it, subsitute a
3:1 ratio of regular soy sauce plus molasses.
Special types of dark soy
sauce include mushroom soy sauce that is flavored by straw mushroom. Black and
double black soy sauce are extra dark and thick but slightly saltier than
regular dark soy sauce. Thick soy sauce is super thick and may be jarred.
If you use any of these other
dark soy sauces, tinker with your seasonings to get a balanced flavor. Most
recipes employ regular dark soy sauce. Experiment and then pick one to use over
time to ensure consistent results.
If you don’t have dark soy
sauce, combine regular soy sauce and molasses in a 3:1 ratio.
Selection tips: Whatever brand of regular (light) soy sauce that you
use, try that brand’s dark soy sauce as they are likely to be copacetic. Pearl
River Bridge and Koon Chun are reliably good. Thai cooks favor Golden Boy and
This thick, sweet slightly
savory soy sauce is the stealth ingredient in many Indonesian dishes; it is
used in Malaysian and Singaporean foods too but not as much. Thai sweet soy
sauce is not as thick and complex in flavor as the Indonesian variety. In any
event, once you’ve tasted sweet soy sauce, you may wonder how you’ve lived so
long without it!
Called kecap manis,
Indonesian sweet soy sauce is used in marinades and stews but it’s mostly
employed at the table and for dipping sauces. Try mixing it with fresh lime
juice and chiles. Drizzle it over a plate of fried rice or fried eggs.
With a texture that’s between
molasses and honey, the condiment is made from soy sauce and dark palm sugar
(gula jawa). In a pinch you can simmer soy sauce with palm sugar or dark brown
sugar until it is syrupy.
Finally, kecap comes from
Cantonese koechiap (sauce) which is where we get the term ketchup. Extensive
trade between China and Indonesia brought the Chinese term to the spice islands
At Chinese and Southeast
Asian markets in soy sauce, vinegar, and oil aisle; and other Asian foods
Selection tips: Look for the tall dark bottles and brands such as ABC
and Cap Bango (pictured above, find the pelican!). Indonesian sweet soy sauce
that has no preservatives or additives have better, more complex flavors.
Maggi Seasoning Sauce and Other Similar Condiments
Maggi is popular with many Asian cooks and the bottle in the center is made in China. The one in the tall plastic squeeze bottle is made in Vietnam. It’s so ubiquitous that some people in the country consider it as soy sauce; the flavor is lighter than the Chinese variety.
The Golden Mountain condiment is a Thai version of Maggi. Maggi is so popular in Southeast Asia that there are knockoffs (get the lowdown via this post).
Coconut aminos is similar to Maggi but has a slightly tart finish on the palate. Bragg Liquid Aminos is a better gluten-free Maggi substitute that’s available at mainstream grocers. Bragg is gluten-free and non-GMO, if those things matter to you.
Choosing soy sauce
The most important thing for you is to choose a brand or brands that you like. There are differences in soy sauce flavors and uses. You do not have to be a fanatic like me. A regular soy sauce made in China, Hong Kong, Japan or Korea will be fine. Kikkoman is made in the States. The important thing is to know their differences so you may use them wisely.
Soy sauce prices can be affordably low or luxuriously high. If you shop at a well stocked Chinese, Japanese or Korean market, you may see a wide price range. Buy up in price and see if the condiment boosts your cooking!
Storing soy sauce
I keep them in my pantry, where it’s cool, dark, and dry. If you’re concerned, refrigerate the bottle. Some of the ones I’ve written about here have been aged through my negligence and they still taste great!
If you have questions, feel free to ask! Or, do you have a favorite brand or style to contribute? Don’t hold back.