Few awards mean more to a chef than a James Beard Foundation Award. But it can be particularly meaningful for those chefs who have grown with a restaurant for more than 10 years — an accolade saved for the Outstanding Restaurant Award, presented by Acqua Panna Natural Spring Water.
This year’s nominees run the spectrum of location and cuisine: August in New Orleans; Blue Hill in New York City; Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Ala.; The Slanted Door in San Francisco; and Spiaggia in Chicago. We teamed up with Acqua Panna to go to each restaurant, share a meal, and discuss with each chef how their restaurants have maintained their quality and continually evolved over the years.
After sampling the fare and talking to the chefs at Blue Hill, Spiaggia, August, and Highlands Bar and Grill, our last stop was sunny San Francisco to check out Charles Phan's The Slanted Door. The iconic Vietnamese restaurant introduced the city to a more contemporary, chef-driven take on Asian cuisine and has been a staple of the city for more than 18 years. Phan is no stranger to the Beard Awards — he was recently inducted into the James Beard Foundation "Who's Who of Food & Beverage" and also won Best Chef California in 2004.
At my recent meal, I felt immersed in two cusines. Some of the dishes were light and all about the Bay Area's products, like one of my favorites, wild California uni with black tobiko, avocado, and cucumber. Others felt like a trip to Vietnam, most notably the shaking beef with cubed filet mignon, watercress, red onion, and lime sauce. The dishes at The Slanted Door are equally a celebration of California products and Vietnamese traditions.
We sat down with Phan to discuss the restaurant's evolution — from its original space to its current home in the sun-filled Ferry Building. Phan is still surprised by the resturant's success. "We opened in '95, [in a] little hole in the wall place in the Mission District," he said. "I was hoping we'd sell $200 a day. That was my goal and we've come a long way."
For more from Phan, watch the video above! And don't miss The Daily Meal's coverage of The James Beard Foundation Awards on May 6!
The Slanted Door’s Famous Pork-And-Shrimp Wontons With Spicy Chile Oil Recipe
Charles Phan, chef-owner of San Francisco’s pioneering the Slanted Door, was boiling up bowls of Vietnamese noodle soup long before most Americans had ever heard of pho — or knew how to pronounce it properly. That is to say, way before it was cool. In his second cookbook, a tribute to the chef’s modern restaurant in the Ferry Building, he details the stories behind his favorite dishes.
Wontons are ravioli-like meat dumplings that are traditionally boiled and served in soup or with a dipping sauce. Start with meat that is very cold — it will stick together better — and avoid the urge to overstuff the wontons. You should only use about half a teaspoon of filling per wonton. It’s easy to make a big batch and freeze for later use. Once you’ve formed the wontons, freeze them in a single layer to prevent them from sticking together. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag. The frozen wontons will keep for a month. Do not thaw before boiling.
Shortcuts to a Vietnamese Dinner
Slanted Door sauces from the chef Charles Phan are designed to amp up the flavor in stir-fries and slow simmers.
Premade simmer sauces have become a big thing for shortcutting Indian cooking at home. Now, Charles Phan, the founder and chef at the Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco, has taken the same approach to Vietnamese fare. He has introduced four braising sauces, two for quick stir-fries and two for slower simmers each comes with a simple recipe based on one of the restaurant’s dishes, usually using at least half the jar of sauce. For many seasoning purposes, I liked the nubbly, spicy-sweet chile caramel sauce, recommended for a shrimp stir-fry, but superb with eggplant, chicken or pork belly. The Claypot Chicken quick-braising sauce and Lo Soi Pork sauce for a slow braise were dark, fairly thin and spicy. The ruddy, viscous Vietnamese French braising sauce was quite sweet and to me, less appealing than the others.
Stir-Fried Green Beans and The Slanted Door
Green Beans are quite a staple in our household, especially during the summer months. This year we even had our frozen share to savor during these lean months. Tossing them with garlic and soy/tamari or fish sauce is pretty common in our house, however in this recipe that I am about to share with you, they get tossed with a touch of sugar along with the garlic and fish sauce, adding an amazing nuance and deep umami balance. What a difference a single ingredient makes! It is recipes like this, with simple and clever ingredients that wake up your taste buds. It is a collection of these thoughtful and accessible recipes, that make up a great cookbook.
Last October, I received Vietnamese Home Cooking as a gift from my son and I enjoyed it a lot, and was looking forward to trying out The Slanted Door. I was not sure about what “modern” mean and had some reservations in that context, however this book is everything that makes spending time in the kitchen fun. Added to the extraordinary collection of recipes are the amazing pictures. These pictures make the book, just the perfect kind of book to curl up in bed with on a stormy evening. The modern touches do make the recipes more accessible and I seem to have made more recipes from this book than from its older sibling. Speaking of pictures, that might be the only reservation that I might have about this amazing book.
I feel, that on occasion in certain books, there are extra pictures thrown in just to make the book visually stunning. This is somewhat the case in The Slanted Door, and I feel that this is not needed in a book of substance. This makes the book a little heavier and more voluminous than needed, making it a little harder to work with in the kitchen, when toting it around from place to place.
On the other hand, these pictures certainly offer a stunning presence and makes the book very eye catching. The kind of book, you want displayed on your coffee table. I have thus far tried, the steamed ribs which I had served with these beans. I have bookmarked the rice flour cakes, the caramel claypot chicken, speaking of which the caramel sauce is amazing just by its self is great served over some simple steamed fish just like I did the other evening.
The Slanted Door named after Phan’s award winning restaurant in San Francisco, makes a great advertisement for the restaurant and also breaks the myth for me that restaurant based cookbooks are not personal or accessible. Being a newbie to Vietnamese Cooking at home, this book offers me the perfect introduction.
I am so thrilled to have received the review copy of this book from Blogging for Books.
So, here is the green bean recipe that charmed my family enough for them to ask for it every time I make green beans.
Cookbook Review: The Slanted Door
When I lived in San Francisco, I was told by numerous friends to check out The Slanted Door which was located in the Ferry Building at the time. Admittedly, I had not had much experience with Vietnamese cuisine and really didn’t have a desire to seek it out. But every review I read and every recommendation for The Slanted Door got me more and more intrigued.
I can’t remember who I dined with for my first Slanted Door experience, but I was ready for my life to be changed. I was ready to be taken. I really should have known better than to go into a restaurant with such high expectations, but that’s what happens when the hype is all-engulfing. A patron at the next table was having the restaurant’s signature Shaking Beef dish and it seduced me – chunks of beefy beef, all glazy and deep dark brown. I thought, maybe this will be my “born again” moment with Viet cuisine. The steaming pot of beef was lowered in front of me. I inhaled the sweet tangy aroma and I was taken. I took a bite and was waiting. I took another bite still waiting. And another. It was good, but not life-changing good. I felt taken….swindled. I was another victim of “the hype”. All of a sudden, the portions seemed too small, drinks too weak, and everything way overpriced. I was left hungry and wanting.
So when I saw this cookbook, I was intrigued. I wanted to give The Slanted Door another chance. The food was very good, but looking back I knew I didn’t go in with an open mind. I didn’t give it enough respect. I had to get this cookbook.
The book is not an introduction or a how-to cookbook on Vietnamese cuisine. There is no glossary of Vietnamese ingredients, staples or resources. It is the compilation of dishes that are served in the restaurant which were inspired by Chef Charles Phan’s Vietnamese heritage as well as the ingredients and food products of the Bay Area. It is an homage to Chef Phan and his restaurant.
The book is beautiful. The photographs of San Francisco made me feel wistful and brought back a rush of memories of my time there. The photos of the food are gorgeous as expected and I have to say that the dishes that I made looked pretty close to what they pictured. Each recipe is accompanied by a full-page photo so for someone who is cooking Vietnamese food for the first time, it is extremely helpful. All recipes, but one, are laid out on one page which I appreciate.
The recipes are straightforward and easy to follow. There are over 100 recipes. I loved the stories that were woven throughout giving more heft to the legacy of The Slanted Door. They also made me more eager to starting trying the recipes. I made their signature dish, Shaking Beef (of course), the Braised Oxtail Stew, and the Braised Ginger Chicken. The food is spot on. I am now convinced that fish sauce is liquid gold. Just a little amount of this pungent liquid transformed these seemingly simple dishes into something more tantalizing. Most of the dessert recipes seemed to have more French influences than Vietnamese or Asian, and they look and sound incredible. Even as a non-baker and a diner-who-never-orders-dessert, I’ve bookmarked several like the No-Bake Cheesecake with Walnut Cookie-Brown Butter Crust, the Chocolate Souffle Cake, and Lemon Meringue Tarts.
The Slanted Door restaurant is also known for their cocktails using fresh ingredients and premium liquors. They are painstakingly devoted to the cocktail-making technique. They were in the forefront of the whole “mixology” movement on the West Coast. The cookbook includes about 20 cocktail recipes.
I would recommend this cookbook to the avid and adventurous home cook who has some familiarity and affinity for Vietnamese cuisine. There are some ingredients that may be unfamiliar to the average cook (eg. rau ram), but a quick search on Google can help shed some light. After reading the story behind The Slanted Door and having a newfound respect for the restaurant, I definitely want to make another visit if I am ever in the Bay Area again. Until then, I will continue to cook through all the recipes in this wonderful cookbook.
For more information on The Slanted Door cookbook, please click here.
For more information on the author Charles Phan, please click here.
To purchase the cookbook, please click below:
Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
Slanted Door Charles Phan authors book
7 of 17 Chef Charles Phan adds shrimp to the pan for his Carmelized Lemongrass Shrimp as Michelle Magat William (in glasses), Shira Weissman and Jen Strasburg watch at a home in Mill Valley on Tuesday, September 11th, 2012. John Storey/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less
8 of 17 Chef Charles Phan cuts Mango for a salad for a Vietnamese dinner at a home in Mill Valley on Tuesday, September 11th, 2012. John Storey/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less
10 of 17 Chef Charles Phan watches Michelle Magat Williams cut lemongrass while making Vietnamese food from his cook book at a home in Mill Valley on Tuesday, September 11th, 2012. John Storey/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less
11 of 17 Chef Charles Phan cleans Shrimp heads for making Carmelized Lemongrass Shrimp from his cook book at a home in Mill Valley on Tuesday, September 11th, 2012. John Storey/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less
13 of 17 Chef Charles Phan talks about cooking with Michelle Magat William, (glasses), and Shira Weissman while cooking Vietnamese food from his cook book at a home in Mill Valley on Tuesday, September 11th, 2012. John Storey/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less
14 of 17 Chef Charles Phan stir fries chicken for his Lemongrass Chicken recipe from his cook book at a home in Mill Valley on Tuesday, September 11th, 2012. John Storey/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less
16 of 17 Chef Charles Phan adds oil to a wok as he helps Shira Weisman at her home in Mill Valley on Tuesday, September 11th, 2012. John Storey/Special to The Chronicle Show More Show Less
Within minutes of walking into Shira Weissman's kitchen in her Mill Valley home, Charles Phan grabs a stool at the center island, asks for a glass of red wine and unpacks far fewer ingredients than one would expect for the five-course meal he's about to prepare.
He surveys the spread before him and inhales deeply.
"It already smells like fish sauce in here," he says, chuckling.
This may not be his kitchen, but it's familiar territory. Phan has spent the bulk of his life around these very ingredients - fistfuls of lemongrass, Thai chiles, mixed herbs and the ubiquitous tea-colored fish sauce - what he calls the bedrock of Vietnamese cuisine.
Most know him as the chef-owner of the Slanted Door family of restaurants, but on this night, Phan wears different hats - home cook, teacher and, with the release of his first book, "Vietnamese Home Cooking," author.
Written 17 years after he opened the original Slanted Door in San Francisco's Mission District, the book is a catalyst for the evening's activity, a cooking lesson that stems from its pages. Phan's three students - Weissman, Michelle Magat Williams and Jen Strasburg - are all working moms and have only basic kitchen knowledge. But each is curious about Vietnamese food. They're just the sort of people Phan hopes to reach.
"My hope was - and is - that this book helps cooks understand the Vietnamese aesthetic, our way of cooking and eating," Phan writes in the book. It's different, he says, than simply coming into one of his restaurants for a quick meal.
"They don't get the story that way," he says. Much of the book details where he discovered each dish, or how the Vietnamese make or eat it. That's all crucial to understanding the food.
Phan, now 50, was 12 when he left his hometown of Da Lat in 1975, right before the fall of Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City. His family went to Guam before settling in the United States.
With his parents working, Phan took on the role of family cook, preparing his mother's traditional Vietnamese recipes with American ingredients. Though he's achieved much success in his restaurants, Phan writes that he still considers himself a "glorified home cook," and his book is a collection of recipes that have been perfected over the decades, meant for the home kitchen.
"These are the proven success stories, the ones that have been passed down through generations," Phan says. They are so familiar to him that he can probably make them in his sleep.
As such, asking Phan to follow his own written recipes is like asking a concert pianist to read sheet music. That's why during the lesson at Weissman's kitchen, it was fruitless to keep him on track. He uses different noodles than called for in one recipe, leaves chile paste out of dish that calls for it in another, starts with hard mangos in a salad that calls for ripe ones. But, it's a good reminder that specifics aren't as important as the basics.
"This type of cuisine is all about 'Macguyvering,' " he says, "making things work with what you have. I don't want to just tell you what to do with the chicken - what if you find yourself with a piece of pork? I'm trying to provide the tools."
The book's chapters are divided accordingly, into cooking methods like braising, steaming and stir-frying.
Each is illustrated with photos of street life, finished dishes and step-by-step close-ups, which provide help for novice cooks.
On this night, he begins with a spicy mango salad made from shards of the fruit with a traditional dressing of lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and a few other aromatics. The lesson in this dish is all about tasting. "It all depends on the fruit you start with," Phan says, explaining that you need to see how tart it is - in the case of the unripe mango, very- before adjusting the dressing.
The salad also demonstrates the importance of texture and aroma. The mango on its own would be just fine for snacking, but it's the dressing that gives it the complementary flavors.
"It's like putting cologne on after a shower," he says. "You're already clean, but it can't hurt."
Phan's caramelized lemongrass shrimp touches on several key components of Vietnamese cooking - in effect the dish becomes a primer on the cuisine.
The shrimp is cooked in a clay pot, a vessel that holds and distributes heat more slowly and evenly than other pans. It's used often for Vietnamese dishes, especially those that are braised, as it allows more liquid to evaporate. That means a more concentrated, reduced sauce.
In addition, the dish is flavored with lemongrass, which the Vietnamese use for both scent and texture. Phan demonstrates how to slice it paper-thin before mincing, stepping in to give Williams a quick lesson in knife skills so she doesn't cut the tip of her finger.
The other flavoring agent? Another bowl of dark, viscous liquid that has been sitting on the kitchen's center island.
"That's caramel sauce," Phan says, as each student takes a taste. "Wow, that's really salty," Strasburg says.
"Yeah, you're not really supposed to eat it that way," he replies, smiling impishly.
The caramel sauce is made of brown palm sugar and fish sauce cooked down to a syrup. It's strong stuff. But when combined with the other ingredients, it helps achieve a sweet-salty balance in the dish.
Phan explains all of this as he trims the sharp whiskers off of the shrimp heads, urging his students to use the whole shellfish in the dish.
"You can make it with just the bodies," he says, "but it won't be as good."
Despite initially being dubious about the heads, everyone sucks them down like candy by the time the dish is finished, which takes only about 15 minutes from start to finish.
"I can't believe how easy that was," says Weissman, now confident enough to stir-fry the next dish, a slightly spicy lemongrass chicken. This one comes together quickly as well.
The final two dishes are done simultaneously, one in the wok, the other in a bamboo steamer basket.
The latter - a steamed whole fish - is almost too simple to require a recipe.
Setting up the cooking device is the trickiest part - it requires a plate large enough to hold the fish yet still fit inside a steamer basket.
It turns out the fish is too big for the plate at hand, but Phan doesn't flinch. With one swift smack of a cleaver, he chops the whole thing right in two and nestles the pieces side by side.
"It'll still taste the same," he says. "And if you want to get rid of the head" - especially for those who aren't keen about staring dinner in the face - "you can cut it off. That will make it fit, too."
The fish steams for less than 20 minutes, seasoned just with salt, pepper and fresh ginger. Green onions, cilantro and more ginger are piled on top of the fish and "cooked" by pouring on oil that's warmed on the stove. A little drizzle of soy completes the dish.
On the other burner, the lesson is about noodles and how easily they can make a mess by clumping together. The solution? Smearing an egg on the surface of the wok or pan to create a layer that prevents the noodles from sticking to each other.
Into this mix-and-match noodle dish goes everything else on the counter - sliced bavette steak, bok choy and bean sprouts. But Phan says you could use chicken or shrimp, and the type of noodles can change, too.
"Whatever you have around is fine," he says.
A multicourse meal later, it's been a busy night, but as Phan recaps, he recommends starting small if you're a novice with Vietnamese cooking.
"Pick one thing that appeals to you, and build on that," he advises.
His students marvel at how simple it all seems, noting in particular the short ingredient lists.
"I love Vietnamese food, but have never tried to make it," Williams says, "mostly because the food seemed so complex. Now I can't wait to get started."
And if tonight's lesson is any indication, that shouldn't be too hard. All one really needs, Phan says, is a little flexibility and the desire to eat as the Vietnamese do.
That, and a bottle of good fish sauce.
"Vietnamese Home Cooking," by Charles Phan (Ten Speed Press, 2012 226 pages $35).
Spicy Mango Salad
Serves 6 as a side dish
Adapted from "Vietnamese Home Cooking," by Charles Phan. Look for mangoes that are firm yet ripe, and taste the mango on its own before adding the dressing, so you know whether to adjust the amount of sugar or acid.
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 small clove garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon minced Thai chile
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 4 firm yet ripe mangos
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Instructions: Combine the sugar, garlic, chile and salt in a mortar pound with a pestle until finely mashed. If you don't have a mortar and pestle, use the bottom of a heavy knife (like a cleaver) in a bowl to mash the ingredients together. Transfer the paste to a large bowl, add the lime juice and fish sauce, and stir well to combine.
Stand 1 mango, stem end down, on a cutting board. Using a large, sharp knife, cut straight down along one side of the flat oval pit. Cut down along the opposite side of the pit. Put half the mango, skin side down, on a cutting board and cut it into slices about 1/8 -inch thick, cutting to, but not through, the peel. Using a small paring knife, cut the slices away from the peel. Repeat with the remaining mango half and then with the remaining 3 mangos.
Add the mango slices to the dressing and toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle with cayenne and serve.
Per serving: 114 calories, 3 g protein, 27 g carbohydrates, 1 g fat (0 g saturated), 7 mg cholesterol, 801 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.
Wine pairing: This sweet, salty, spicy dressing needs a wine with a little sweetness. Try a Muscat such as the 2010 Barnard Griffin Yakima Valley Orange Muscat ($17 12.1).
Caramelized Lemongrass Shrimp
Serves 6 as part of a multicourse meal
Adapted from "Vietnamese Home Cooking," by Charles Phan. This recipe will work without shrimp heads, but Phan says the heads add richness to the sauce. The recipe also calls for homemade roasted chile paste (there's a recipe in the book), but if you buy it look for jars labeled chile-bean or saté paste, preferably without preservatives. Phan adds that in a pinch you can make the recipe without the chile paste.
- 2 pounds medium head-on shrimp in their shells, preferably from the Gulf of Mexico
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced into rings
- 2 Thai chiles, stemmed and halved on the diagonal
- 1/4 cup finely minced lemongrass
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 2- by 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely julienned
- 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons roasted chile paste
- 1/2 cup caramel sauce (see recipe)
- 1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth or water
- -- Steamed white rice
Instructions: Use scissors to remove the sharp spike at the tail of each shrimp and the spike in the center of the head. Cut off the eyes and discard, then separate the head from the body. Set the heads aside. Peel each shrimp body, removing the tail segments, then devein. Sprinkle bodies with the pepper set aside.
Pour the oil into a 2-quart clay pot or high-sided skillet, and heat over medium heat. Add the shallots, chiles and reserved shrimp heads and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the lemongrass, garlic, ginger, and chile paste cook, stirring, about 1 minute more. Add the caramel sauce and stock stir to combine.
Add the shrimp bodies, and toss to coat with the aromatic ingredients. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes, until the shrimp are bright pink.
Serve directly from the clay pot, accompanied by steamed white rice.
Per serving: 211 calories, 31 g protein, 5 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat (1 g saturated), 201 mg cholesterol, 981 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.
Wine pairing: The caramel sauce and chile paste takes this dish to the realm of German Spatlese Riesling, which has the acidity and sweetness to handle it.
Mix & Match Wok-Fried Noodles
Adapted from "Vietnamese Home Cooking," by Charles Phan. Vegetables and meat or seafood in this dish can vary depending on what you have. We used beef and bok choy in our version, but Phan says the important thing is to cut everything into bite-size pieces for quick cooking.
- 16 ounces rice vermicelli or dried thin flat rice noodles (about 1/8 -inch)
- 2 teaspoons + 3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
- 8 ounces chicken breast, bavette or flank steak, or boneless pork shoulder, cut into 3- by 1/2 - by 1/4-inch slices
- 3 teaspoons fish sauce
- 3 teaspoons light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup fresh mung bean sprouts
- 2 ribs celery, thinly sliced on the diagonal
Instructions: Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. If using vermicelli, add them to the pot and boil until just cooked but still firm, about 3 minutes. If using dried flat rice noodles, add them to the pot and boil until just cooked but still firm, 5-6 minutes. Do not overcook, because the noodles will finish cooking in the pan. If you have fresh-dried rice noodles, simply soak them in warm water until slightly softened.
Drain the noodles, rinse with cold water if you've boiled them, and spread them on a rimmed baking sheet toss with 1 teaspoon of canola oil.
Combine the meat, 1 teaspoon fish sauce, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, cornstarch, salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon canola or vegetable oil in a bowl. Mix well let stand 10 minutes. You can also toss the meat with just the oil, salt and pepper, if desired.
Heat a wok over high heat the metal will have a matte appearance and a drop or two of water flicked onto its surface should evaporate on contact. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil when hot, add the meat mixture stir-fry until just cooked through, 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a plate, rinse the wok, wipe clean and return it to high heat.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the wok. Add the beaten eggs, smearing them all over the bottom of the wok to coat it this helps prevent the noodles from sticking. When the egg is no longer wet, but has not yet begun to brown, add the noodles, bean sprouts, celery, any other desired vegetable and remaining fish and soy sauces. Stir-fry for 2 minutes, lifting and tossing the ingredients so they are well incorporated.
Add the meat and continue stir-frying, tossing with the noodles, until all ingredients are well combined. Transfer to a warm platter and serve.
Per serving: 676 calories, 21 g protein, 98 g carbohydrates, 21 g fat (3 g saturated), 145 mg cholesterol, 1,124 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.
Wine pairing: Let your choice of protein help guide you. Beef can take a slightly heartier wine than chicken, but a dry rosé should do the trick for either.
Vietnamese Caramel Sauce
Makes about 4 cups
Adapted from "Vietnamese Home Cooking," by Charles Phan. This sauce is an integral part of Vietnamese cooking, and will keep in the pantry for a few months.
Instructions: In a heavy-bottom 4-quart pot, gently melt the sugar over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. This will take 10 to 12 minutes. Do not be tempted to rush the process or you may scorch the sugar.
When the sugar is lump free, completely melted and just beginning to boil, remove the pan from the heat and very slowly pour in the fish sauce while stirring constantly. Be careful, as it will bubble furiously.
Use the sauce right away or let cool completely, transfer to an airtight container, and store in a cool cupboard for up to 3 months.
Per tablespoon: 13 calories, 2 g protein, 1 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 6 mg cholesterol, 850 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.
Steamed Whole Fish With Ginger
Serves 2-4 as part of a multicourse meal
Adapted from "Vietnamese Home Cooking," by Charles Phan.
- 1 1/2-pound whole white fish (such as sea bass, branzino, or flounder), cleaned with head and tail intact
- -- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 2- by 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely julienned
- 1/4 cup light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice wine
- 1 green onion, white and light green parts only, julienned
- 4 cilantro sprigs
- 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
Instructions: Rinse the fish in cold water pat dry with paper towels. Season inside and out with salt and pepper. Place the fish on a heatproof plate that is large enough to accommodate it (a glass pie plate works well) and will also fit inside your steamer, bending the fish slightly if it is too long. You can also cut the fish to make it fit. Stuff half of the ginger inside the cavity of the fish and spread the remaining ginger on top of the fish.
Pour water into a wok or stockpot and set a steamer in the wok or on the rim of the stockpot. Make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the steamer. Bring the water to a boil over high heat.
Place the plate holding the fish in the steamer, cover, and steam for about 8-10 minutes, until the fish flakes easily when tested with the tip of a knife.
While the fish is steaming, stir together the soy sauce, wine and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl set aside.
When the fish is ready, carefully remove the plate from the steamer and pour off any accumulated liquid. Scatter the green onion and cilantro along the top of the fish.
Heat the oil in a small pan over high heat until the oil is hot but not smoking. Remove from the heat and pour the oil directly over the green onion and cilantro to "cook" them. Drizzle the soy mixture over the fish and serve immediately.
Per serving: 134 calories, 20 g protein, 1 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat (1 g saturated), 51 mg cholesterol, 754 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.
Wine pairing: Serve a wine such as Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris or unoaked Italian white wine, which won't overpower the delicate flavor of the fish.
‘The Slanted Door,’ a new cookbook from the great Vietnamese restaurant (recipe)
My copy of the new cookbook “The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Food” is already thumbed and sauce-splattered. Charles Phan’s first book, “Vietnamese Home Cooking” (2012), is terrific, but this is the book we’ve been waiting for, the one that collects the recipes from the various iterations of the beloved San Francisco restaurant.
The Slanted Door started out in a modest location in the Mission District in 1995 and moved a couple of times before landing at its current glam site at the Ferry Plaza Market Building with views of the San Francisco Bay in 2004. It’s always busy, with astonishingly consistent cooking and an innovative wine list. Even after 20 years, the Slanted Door is California’s top-grossing, independently owned restaurant.
In its design, “The Slanted Door” (Ten Speed Press, 2014, $40), the new cookbook from that restaurant kitchen, organizes the recipes chronologically. The food photography by Ed Anderson is suitably gorgeous, but other shots of the restaurant and staff sometimes look as if they were lifted from a corporate brochure.
Why does every chef feel he needs a weighty coffee table tome? This one is dwarfed by some others I could name, but please, chefs, give us a book we can cook from, not just look at.
Fortunately, “The Slanted Door” is both, packed with thrilling, clearly written recipes for such famed Slanted Door dishes as chive cakes, vegetarian Imperial rolls, Vietnamese chicken salad, and spicy squid salad with Chinese celery. I’ve made Hainan chicken from Phan’s grandmother’s hometown of Hainan, China. I know I’ll be making the poached chicken and its pungent dipping sauce all my life.
I’ve tried Phan’s Shaking Beef recipe. But to really duplicate the dish, you need to find some organic, grass-fed beef from Uruguay. I keep going back to another classic from Phan’s kitchen, grilled rack of lamb with tamarind sauce. Here’s the recipe.
GRILLED RACK OF LAMB WITH TAMARIND SAUCE
Adapted from “The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Food” by Charles Phan. Note: This recipe has not been tested by our Test Kitchen. Serves 4.
Author’s note: In Vietnam, rack of lamb is a very unusual cut. More often you’re served the entire loin, without the bones. Still, serving an elegant rack of lamb seemed fitting when we moved to the Ferry Building. Following the British tradition of serving lamb with mint jelly, we created a sweet tamarind sauce to counter the gaminess of the meat.
4 shallots, coarsely chopped
2 Thai chiles, coarsely chopped
1 rack of lamb, frenched and cut into 2-bone chops (about 2 pounds total)
1/2 pound peeled tamarind pods or 1/4 pound tamarind paste
2 tablespoons fish sauce, or to taste
1 teaspoon lime juice, or to taste (optional)
1. To make the marinade, trim the lemongrass, leaving only the bottom 5 to 6 inches of the stalks, and peel away the outer layers, leaving only the tender stalks. Slice thinly into rings and finely mince. Combine the lemongrass, shallots, chiles, sugar, fish sauce, and oil in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture is finely minced. Alternatively, use a knife to mince the shallots and chiles together. Combine the sugar, fish sauce, and oil in a bowl and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the lemongrass and the shallot and chile mixture to the liquid and mix well.
2. Place the chops in a bowl and pour the marinade over. Cover and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
3. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Soak the tamarind pods or paste in the boiling water, stirring and mashing until soft, about 10 minutes. If you use pods, press the pulp through a medium-mesh strainer, removing the seeds. Stir in the sugar and fish sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more sugar or fish sauce if necessary. The sauce can be made a day or two ahead of time and kept refrigerated. Just before serving, add a little water or lime juice if necessary to thin it out, and reheat.
4. An hour before you are ready to cook, set up a charcoal grill for grilling over high heat on one
side and low heat on the other side. Grill the lamb, starting over the hot part of the grill, until the chops are caramelized, about 8 minutes on each side, then move to the cooler side of the grill. Continue grilling until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat reads 125 degrees F to 130 degrees F for rare, about 10 to 15 minutes total, or 130 degrees F to 135 degrees F for medium-rare. Let the meat rest for 5 to 8 minutes and serve with the warm tamarind sauce alongside.
The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Food
I&aposve checked this book out about five times, and have plowed through 1/3 of the recipes. drinks included!
Not threatening and very doable. Ingredients will be easy to find as long as one can get to an Asian market. Too bad he axed his decision to open a second SD inside Century City&aposs mall. I can walk there from a relative&aposs! I've checked this book out about five times, and have plowed through 1/3 of the recipes. drinks included!
Not threatening and very doable. Ingredients will be easy to find as long as one can get to an Asian market. Too bad he axed his decision to open a second SD inside Century City's mall. I can walk there from a relative's! . more
Let me begin by saying that The Slanted Door is a big, heavy, absolutely gorgeous cookbook! This is one that you would not hesitate to give as a gift either to someone extra special or to yourself. It’s that nice. It has everything you could want in a cookbook: beautiful photos, unbelievable recipes and a story to tell. Perhaps the story part is not what you look for in a cookbook, but for some I do. These are the cookbooks that I read like a novel, from cover to cover.
It is basically the story Let me begin by saying that The Slanted Door is a big, heavy, absolutely gorgeous cookbook! This is one that you would not hesitate to give as a gift either to someone extra special or to yourself. It’s that nice. It has everything you could want in a cookbook: beautiful photos, unbelievable recipes and a story to tell. Perhaps the story part is not what you look for in a cookbook, but for some I do. These are the cookbooks that I read like a novel, from cover to cover.
It is basically the story of The Slanted Door restaurant and how it came to be at it’s current location in San Francisco. The book is divided into sections based on the years and the location of the restaurant. Act One is from 1995-2002 and is on 584 Valencia Street. Act Two is 2002-2004 and is one 100 Brannan Street. Act Three is 2004-present and is on 1 Ferry Building. The recipes are divided up into sections: starters, cocktails, raw bar, salads, soups, mains, desserts, and basics.
The restaurant titles itself as modern Vietnamese cooking and these recipes do not disappoint. I have marked recipes to try in every section. Every recipe is accompanied by a large gorgeous photo.
Here are just a few of the recipes that I’ve marked to try:
Starters: Spring Rolls, Chive Cakes, and Nem Nuong (Vietnamese Meatballs).
Cocktails: I have actually made several from this section. The Mai Tai, Indian Summer, Bumble Bee, and The Dorchester were all delicious!
Raw Bar: Halibut and Scallop Ceviche.
Salads: Vietnamese Chicken Salad and Papaya Salad.
Soups: Spicy Lemongrass Soup.
Mains: Hainan Chicken, Braised Ginger Chicken, and Shaking Beef.
Desserts: Coconut Tapioca with Coconut-Lime Sorbet and Roasted Apricot Tarts
Basics: Flavored Fish Sauce, Peanut Sauce, and Pickled Carrots
A truly beautiful cookbook with approachable recipes.
One Sunday morning I got a call from our hostess.
You better come in, she said, the president is here.
I was confused. The president? Of what?
The president of the United States, she said.
Cookbooks like The Slanted Door are picture books for grown ups. Lush, gorgeous, joyous.
Since I discovered my library&aposs amazing collection of ethnic cuisine, it is my practice to always have one checked out. Comfort reading for hard and easy times. I released myself from feeling I was a fraud if I reviewed coo One Sunday morning I got a call from our hostess.
You better come in, she said, the president is here.
I was confused. The president? Of what?
The president of the United States, she said.
Cookbooks like The Slanted Door are picture books for grown ups. Lush, gorgeous, joyous.
Since I discovered my library's amazing collection of ethnic cuisine, it is my practice to always have one checked out. Comfort reading for hard and easy times. I released myself from feeling I was a fraud if I reviewed cookbooks when I haven't made the recipes. This is plain and simple comfort food for the brain. I always copy at least one recipe and promise myself, 'someday.'
I love immigrant/emigrant stories, and Charles Phan has a remarkable one. Worth reading for the narrative.
On a side note, I asked my San Francisco brother if he'd eaten at The Slanted Door. Oh, yes, several times!
While I have not yet been to The Slanted Door restaurant, I have heard many sing its praises. Having grown up eating traditional Vietnamese food made by my mother, I am always a little wary of Vietnamese restaurants that claim to be “modern.” I think it’s just my inner prejudice that always wants to eat food that tastes like mom’s home cooking. However, I knew that this book as going to be different and I went into it with an open mind.
The presentation of this book is fantastic. It’s an oversiz While I have not yet been to The Slanted Door restaurant, I have heard many sing its praises. Having grown up eating traditional Vietnamese food made by my mother, I am always a little wary of Vietnamese restaurants that claim to be “modern.” I think it’s just my inner prejudice that always wants to eat food that tastes like mom’s home cooking. However, I knew that this book as going to be different and I went into it with an open mind.
The presentation of this book is fantastic. It’s an oversize book filled with lovely photos of delicious looking dishes and views of San Francisco. The recipes are easy to read and follow. The book is laid out in a pretty traditional format and goes from appetizers through desserts with a section for cocktails and drinks in the middle.The recipes are laid out clearly with concise directions. For those not familiar with Vietnamese cooking, some of the ingredient lists and recipes may seem a little involved but most of the items should be easily found at your local Asian market and aren’t very difficult in technique.
While I was a little apprehensive about what “modern” recipes would translate to, I was happy to see that there was a nice mix of traditional dishes as well as more modern dishes. Some of the classic dishes that I am looking forward to trying are the shrimp on sugarcane, spring rolls, shaking beef, Vietnamese quiche, chive cakes and chicken turnovers (pate chaud). Others like the crispy green beans, BBQ pork ribs, cabbage rolls with tomato garlic sauce and sticky rice with sweet potato are a less traditional but incorporate elements familiar in Vietnamese cooking.My least favorite sections were Drinks and Desserts. I don’t drink much alcohol so I cannot fairly judge the drink recipes. As for the desserts, I was slightly disappointed because most of the desserts in the book are French or French influenced. Phan explains that he grew up eating French desserts (due to France’s previous colonization of Vietnam). So the recipes makes sense but I happen to be a fan of Vietnamese desserts and was a little disappointed that they were not represented in the book. Like I said though, that is my own personal bias and I fully plan on trying the roasted apricot tarts and spiced beignets in the near future.
Woven throughout the book are stories from Phan’s life and the evolution of The Slanted Door. From his humble beginnings helping out a friend’s mom with her food truck to opening the first location of The Slanted Door in The Mission, it’s Phan’s passion for food and drive that have brought the restaurant where it is today.
I definitely recommend this book for anyone who enjoys Vietnamese cuisine and would like to make it at home. Phan’s enthusiasm and love of food is evident on every page and I can’t wait to try some of these recipes!
*I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my review or opinion of the book. . more
This book is gorgeous. And it knows it.
Can I get my money back and just go there for dinner? (Or buy an actually useful cookbook?)
Save this for those who are looking for a pretty and self-congratulatory coffee table book. Zzz Zzz
Being a lover and reader of cookbooks, I have many more tomes than can fit in my small kitchen cupboard. The solution, for me, has been to try out e-cookbooks! I recently picked up Phan&aposs latest offering, The Slanted Door, when it was a part of the publisher&aposs specially priced offering that passed through my email one day. If you love cookbooks and enjoy adventuresome eating/cooking, you will want to pick up a copy as well!
I love that The Slanted Door offers readers a bit of history of the resta Being a lover and reader of cookbooks, I have many more tomes than can fit in my small kitchen cupboard. The solution, for me, has been to try out e-cookbooks! I recently picked up Phan's latest offering, The Slanted Door, when it was a part of the publisher's specially priced offering that passed through my email one day. If you love cookbooks and enjoy adventuresome eating/cooking, you will want to pick up a copy as well!
I love that The Slanted Door offers readers a bit of history of the restaurant after which the cookbook is named. As you read, you get a sense of San Francisco and the food scene therein. A travel guide within a cookbook is a "win win" to me! Phan also includes other stories and anecdotes about what it takes to run a food business, what the food he presents means to him, and glimpses into family life and history that connect readers and would-be at-home chefs to the dishes presented. This is what makes me devour a cookbook!
I like that dishes from all parts of the menu are included in the cookbook. If you are intimidated to try a full-blown entre (and you really shouldn't be with Phan's step-by-step instructions and careful coaching in each recipe), you can always start with an appetizer! Abundant explanations and gorgeous photographs accompany each recipe and provide encouragement. What a delight!
In this modern era with global connections, it's hard to imagine that anyone would find the ingredients in Phan's dishes to be too exotic. I live in the middle of America, in the "fly-over" zone where grocery stores have limited shelf space. However, I feel confident that I could procure most of the ingredients to make any dish in the book readily and locally.
I like that I have this book on my e-reader because I can set it on the kitchen counter and follow along with the recipe as I cook, thus saving paper. (Do note it helps to increase the length of time before your screen times out before you start cooking if you don't want to have to swipe the screen with messy fingers!) While it will take a bit of getting used to (also, set it out of splatter range!), it makes me feel even more technologically savvy as well. I will certainly be indulging in more e-cookbooks in the future!
Okay I &aposm a trite Phan Fan
The magic in here is overwhelming and behind the curtain is simply Chef Phan. His sophisticated, delicate palate dictates the finest in fusion food. Fusion of what? French, French colonial, American, Thai? I think more a fusion and fission of Charles Phan: his life, family, experience, and most of all, vision. The results and straightforwardness of his cookbook recipes are easy to see and love. I dare you to find otherwise! Bravo, chef! (And I hate exclamation points an Okay I 'm a trite Phan Fan
The magic in here is overwhelming and behind the curtain is simply Chef Phan. His sophisticated, delicate palate dictates the finest in fusion food. Fusion of what? French, French colonial, American, Thai? I think more a fusion and fission of Charles Phan: his life, family, experience, and most of all, vision. The results and straightforwardness of his cookbook recipes are easy to see and love. I dare you to find otherwise! Bravo, chef! (And I hate exclamation points and people who overuse them, yet here they are. Forgive me or sue me, but enjoy this experience/journey/cooking with Chef Phan.) . more
What is it like to read a book of recipes as any other kind of book? In this case, it’s fun to try! I deviated from this approach, however, reading the first few essays, then the ingredients, then the other essays, and only skimming the numbered instructions. The succinct descriptions at the top of each page provide very helpful tips, and give a good sense of the amount of effort required. The author tells bits of Vietnamese and San Franciscan histories that reveal some of the personal and culin What is it like to read a book of recipes as any other kind of book? In this case, it’s fun to try! I deviated from this approach, however, reading the first few essays, then the ingredients, then the other essays, and only skimming the numbered instructions. The succinct descriptions at the top of each page provide very helpful tips, and give a good sense of the amount of effort required. The author tells bits of Vietnamese and San Franciscan histories that reveal some of the personal and culinary heritage in both places. The book tracks the development of the restaurant as a whole, through its three locations since 1995.
As I made a glossary for the novel set in India “Three Bargains”, so I made my own list of the ingredients from these pages. Most are easy enough to find, but there is usually at least one key ingredient to make the dish special (e.g. Thai chiles, banana leaves for wrapping, fish sauce, jicama, lemongrass, shallot oil, various mushrooms, etc. – but even those shouldn’t be too hard to find) so you might want to stock up ahead of time. You want to make sure you have the necessary kitchenware, too, or usable substitutes. The cocktail section, for example, has a suggested list of “tools of the trade.” I personally have little interest in cocktails, but I can appreciate their dedication to quality, the same attention they pay to their wine, tea, and of course food, and it is nice to see these colorful photos.
The pictures are on one page (I feel hungry every time I see them), and the complementing backgrounds behind the plates are really nice, too: well-worn but clean and appealing surfaces. The full recipe is on the other side that is, everything you need is visible at once. For any of the compound ingredients included in the preparation, the page number is right there for reference. The section on basics (sauces, etc.) that you can prepare in advance and store until needed is a great, helpful feature.
One recipe I want to try making is the sticky rice with sweet potato, a breakfast dish that sounds like it could also make a nice dessert, and seems relatively easy for someone like me with little cooking experience. The desserts, more colonial French-inspired than Asian, are especially involved – I don’t think I’ll try making any of those, except maybe the cheesecake. The methods are explained well enough that with patience and the right materials, these can be made as by following any other kind of protocol. If you really want to make one of these dishes, and are new to cooking, you will need lots of patience but if it comes out looking like the pictures in this book, it will be worth it.
I visited San Francisco in May, and though I didn’t make it to the Slanted Door (next time, I hope!), I did at least have a very nice lunch from Out the Door, one of their express locations, also in the Ferry Building. I was interested in this book not so much because I wanted to try cooking Vietnamese food, but because I wanted to keep a part of the city with me somehow. The photography of the neighborhoods and familiar scenes adds another special touch.
Phan does give a fair warning about dishes that might not be for everyone, but almost everything in here looks delicious. He gives credit to everyone else involved – where he got ideas, who came up with the recipe if not him – and he is a generous person in other ways as well. I recently watched “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” and Phan’s story is even more interesting, and his food innovations are more appetizing.
Slanted Door’s Hue Rice Dumplings Recipe (Banh Xep Chay)
I know you’ll think me crazy, but to mark the release of Asian Dumplings this week , I made a new dumpling. It’s one that I can’t get out of my mind. Every time I’ve ordered the Hue rice dumplings at Charles Phan’s Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco, I’m tickled by their dainty appearance and rich mung bean and caramelized shallot flavor. The garnish of rich scallion oil and spicy soy sauce imparts extra plush and savory qualities. The dumplings are slightly chewy and soft and a bit translucent, a result of the wrapper being made from rice flour and tapioca starch. Slanted Door names these morsels Hue rice dumplings as they are similar to a tapioca-based Hue dumpling called banh bot loc, a classic dumpling from the central region of Vietnam, which many associate with the former imperial city of Hue. (For a banh bot loc recipe, see Asian Dumplings, page 147).
But the restaurant’s dumpling is actually more akin to a rice and tapioca starch dumpling called banh xep (“baan sehp”), which literally means “folded dumpling,” or turnover. Semantics aside, the Slanted Door’s rice dumpling is a delicious Vietnamese and vegan snack. Meat lovers won’t feel shorted whatsoever.
The Chef's Take: Vegetarian Spring Rolls from Charles Phan
In 1995, Charles Phan opened The Slanted Door in San Francisco's Mission District and introduced the dining public to the relatively unexplored cuisine of his native Vietnam. The restaurant became an overnight sensation. Since then, Phan has moved his restaurant to the historic Ferry Building, earned a James Beard Foundation Best Chef of California Award, and been inducted to the James Beard Foundation’s list of "Who's Who of Food in America."
In his second cookbook, The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Food (Ten Speed Press, 2014), Phan intersperses iconic recipes such as Seared Scallops with Vietnamese Beurrre Blanc, Wok-Seared Eggplant with Satay Sauce, and Rack of Lamb with Tamarind Sauce, with stories of his life, his restaurant, and of course, its food.
An admitted carnivore, Phan has long believed meat should be treated as a kind of a condiment. "I think meat should be the accent on a dish and not the main carrier," he said. "No one eats a rib eye steak in China or Vietnam."
He often transforms meaty dishes into their more simple vegetarian cousins. Spring rolls, for instance, a popular street food in Vietnam, are usually made with shrimp and pork. But Phan's vegetarian version, on the menu since the restaurant opened in 1995, contains tofu, shiitake mushrooms, and cabbage. "You need the tofu and the cabbage to mimic the flavor profile and texture of the shrimp and pork," he explained. Bundles of cellophane noodles and fistfuls of mint and shredded lettuce fill up the rice paper wrapper. For dipping, traditional fish sauce is a no no, so his peanut sauce gets amped up with added miso.
"The key to every meal is balance," said Phan. "You want to have some vegetables and rice and then just a little meat." Or in this case, none at all.
Cook's Note: When making the spring rolls at home, use a plastic cutting board instead of a wooden one. The rice paper noodles stick to wood and slide off the plastic easily.
Makes 10 rolls serves 10 to 12
If you love our spring rolls made with pork and shrimp, give this vegetarian version a try. The filling, a mixture of tofu and vegetables with cellophane noodles, is similar to what you'd find in egg rolls. Served with our signature peanut sauce, these are just as good as our original spring rolls.
1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes, drained and thinly sliced
1/4 cup dried sliced tree ear mushrooms, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes and drained
Soak the cellophane noodles in warm water for 20 minutes. Drain the noodles and cut into pieces about 3 inches long.
To make the filling, in a large skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil until shimmering. Add the garlic and cook until light brown. Add the carrots and celery and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 3 minutes. Add the shiitake and tree ear mushrooms and cabbage and cook, stirring, until the cabbage is wilted, about 5 minutes.
Add the salt, pepper, and sugar, and stir until combine. Add the bean sprouts and stir for about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the cellophane noodles, stir for another minute. Add the fried tofu, stirring gently to combine. Transfer the filling to a colander and set aside until the mixture is well drained.
Fill a large bowl with very warm water. Dip one sheet of rice paper halfway into the water and quickly rotate to moisten the entire sheet. Lay the wet rice paper on a flat work surface. Spread about 1/3 cup of the filling over the bottom third of the rice paper. Spread about 1/4 cup of the vermicelli over the filling, and top with a few mint leaves. Fold in the left and right sides of the rice paper, then fold the bottom edge up and over the filling tightly and roll toward the top end to form a tight cylinder. Repeat with the remaining rice paper and filling.
The rolls can be made up to 2 hours in advance. Cover the rolls with a damp towel until ready to serve. Just before serving, cut each roll crosswise into three or four pieces and serve with the peanut sauce.
Andrea Strong is a freelance writer whose work often appears in Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She's probably best known as the creator of The Strong Buzz, her food blog about New York City restaurants. She lives in Brooklyn with her two kids, her husband and her big appetite.
Vietnamese Caramel Chicken and Mushrooms: Review of The Slanted Door
Vietnamese Caramel Chicken and Mushrooms is unbelievably easy and oh-so delicious. I was sent a copy of The Slanted Door by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review, and all opinions are my own. Affiliate links have been used to link to items I am discussing.
Guys! This is a run don’t walk dish. You must make this! So, SO good. And SO easy–that was the most amazing part about it! But first I need to tell you about the awesome cookbook where I found it.
The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Food is Charles Phan’s second cookbook. His first, Vietnamese Home Cooking, also highly recommended, is focused on exactly what it says. The Vietnamese food you cook at home. The Slanted Door is instead a restaurant cookbook–recipes from and inspired by the dishes at his San Francisco restaurant, The Slanted Door. As such, it has sections more suited to a restaurant cookbook, such as “Cocktails” and “Raw Bar.” It is big and gorgeously photographed, much like most restaurant cookbooks. And the personal anecdotes and headnotes are about building the restaurant.
The Slanted Door is a modern Vietnamese cuisine restaurant, and as such this is not really the book for teaching yourself the most authentic and most obscure Vietnamese dishes. But surprisingly (in the most delightful way) this isa great cookbook for the home cook. Truly. I worried that I would love the book in a coffee table kind of way but find nothing I wanted to spend my time and energy on making. Turned out to be a laughable concern because not only did I find multiple dishes I want to and would make (Ginger Beef Vermicelli Braised Ginger Chicken Seared Scallops in Vietnamese Beurre Blanc Spicy Lemongrass Soup Braised Oxtail Stew Vietnamese Chicken Salad) but the dish I chose? Unbelievably easy!
I have tried to make Vietnamese caramel sauce once previously. Always in the past, it has been presented as a true caramel, made by boiling granulated sugar until it reaches bitter but has not approached burnt. Obviously this is tricky, albeit not horribly complicated. It should not be sweet, or rather it is a little sweet, but nothing you would mistake for dessert.
Charles Phan’s caramel sauce takes a radically different approach. If I have any criticism of his book it is that I wish he had addressed this difference. It is made with palm sugar–which made me wonder. Does the more well known method take the more complicated route because it assumes you do not have access to palm sugar (here in the West)? Or did Phan somehow discover that simply melting palm sugar would create a delightful and very dark reddish brown sauce, much as though you had spent long moments carefully caramelizing granulated sugar?
Whatever the case, you will not catch me ever bothering with a candy thermometer for Vietnamese caramel sauce again. Trust me–this process works, and is quick and easy and addictive. If I had used bite sized pieces of chicken (which Phan does list as an option) I would have had dinner on the table in about 35 minutes.
Because all things coconut have become trendy in the health conscious world, I do want to pause here and emphasize to use Asian palm sugar. This is not the same thing as coconut palm sugar.
So you guys know that I loved the method for making the sauce, but how about the dish? Phan describes how a more complex sauce is created with bone in chicken, but says that at the restaurant they make it with cut up chicken pieces because it sold better. Well me being me, that meant I had to try it with bone in chicken thighs and some whole breasts–if you want to make it with pieces, just skip the browning and extra water and simmer for a much shorter time. Second, once again me being me, I chose to add mushrooms. Just because. I have yet to find the dish that is not improved with mushrooms.
And how did it go over? Well we ate so much that there was not enough for a second night. And when Alex discovered this, she rather melodramatically announced (as only a pre-teen <holy wow I cannot believe I just wrote that> can) “WHAT. I can’t believe you did not make enough for leftovers when that is only my SECOND FAVORITE DISH EVER. ”
Which she had never eaten previous to the night before!
Sammy expressed some outrage too. Which means we have a big time family-wide winner.