Mekong school Parawins Stir-fried With Pork Belly
When I cooked this dish on a little pontoon along the Mekong River, it was rough to the point that my cutting board and blades nearly folded into the water. I don’t have the foggiest idea how I figured out how to finish this formula on such a rough vessel, that appeared to be just minutes from sinking, yet I did. A significant encounter that I wouldn’t have any desire to encounter once more. School prawns are abundantly adored by Vietnamese, because of their sweetness and crunch, so kindly never strip school prawns. You can trim their heads and legs, yet leave the shell on, as the magnificence of these little prawns lies in their firm surface
200 g (7 oz) boneless raw pork belly, thinly cut into 2 mm ( 1/16 inch) slices 200 g (7 oz) raw school prawns (shrimp), tip of heads, legs and tails trimmed 2 tablespoons fish sauce 1 tablespoon sugar 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons finely diced garlic 4 tablespoons finely diced lemongrass, white part only 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 red Asian shallots, finely diced 3 spring onions (scallions), sliced into 4 cm (1½ inch) lengths coriander (cilantro) sprigs, to garnish
Place the pork and prawns in two separate mixing bowls. To each bowl add 1 tablespoon fish sauce, ½ tablespoon sugar, ½ teaspoon pepper, 1 tablespoon garlic and 1 tablespoon lemongrass. Combine the ingredients in each bowl well. Cover and marinate for 15 minutes. Add the oil to a hot frying pan. Fry the shallot and the remaining 2 tablespoons lemongrass for 5–10 seconds, or until fragrant. Now add the pork and cook over high heat for 2 minutes, or until browned. Add the prawns and stir-fry for 2 minutes, until the prawns change color, then add the spring onion and toss for another minute. Transfer to a plate or bowls and garnish with coriander. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.
Pork Spare Ribs Slow-Baised in Medicinal Broth
When my great uncle introduced me to this dish, he called it a ‘medicinal broth’. Straight away, this brought back old memories of my father brewing a potent Chinese herbal remedy, which I was made to drink when I was ill. It was horribly bitter, and the only way I could drink it was by covering up my nose. Luckily, my great uncle’s medicinal broth was nothing like my father’s. It is aromatic, fragrant, clean and well worth the time and effort.
300 g (10½ oz) short spare ribs, chopped into bite-sized pieces ½ teaspoon sea salt 1 teaspoon dried raisins 5 g (⅛ oz) dried ginseng 5 g (⅛ oz) dried lotus seeds 5 g (⅛ oz) dried goji berries 5 g (⅛ oz) dried black prune 5 g (⅛ oz) dried lilly petals 5 g (⅛ oz) pearl barley 5 g (⅛ oz) dried longon 5 g (⅛ oz) dried white vegetable root
In a mixing bowl, rub the pork ribs with the salt. Bring 2 litres (68 fl oz/8 cups) water to the boil in a very large saucepan. Add all the remaining ingredients to a medium-sized clay pot, then sit the pork on top. Pour in enough water to cover the pork by 5 cm (2 inches) — about 400–500 ml (13½–17 fl oz). Put the lid on the clay pot, then carefully place the clay pot into the simmering water, making sure the hot water is level with the top of the clay pot. Put the lid on the saucepan and simmer for 3 hours. Serve the hot soup with steamed jasmine rice.
Crispy Fried Elephant Fish with Ginger Fish Sauce
I was introduced to this dish by my cousins who live on the banks of the Mekong. They use a species known as elephant fish, found only in the Mekong River. Elephant fish is prized for its delicate scales, which puff and crisp up when flash-fried — the crunch is amazing. Back in Sydney I tried to recreate this dish with every local fish available, but failed because the scales were too thick and tough — impossible to chew. But recently I asked my fishmonger to deliver some small silver bream and it worked perfectly. Be sure to tell your fishmonger not to scale the fish, and to be gentle with it, as you want as many scales intact as possible.
1 litre (34 fl oz/4 cups) vegetable oil 1 whole elephant fish or silver bream, about 600–700 g (1 lb 5 oz–1 lb 9 oz), cleaned and gutted, but not scaled red chilli strips, to garnish coriander (cilantro) or spring onion (scallion), to garnish
GINGER FISH SAUCE
3 tablespoons fish sauce 3 tablespoons sugar 3 tablespoons white vinegar 1 tablespoon diced garlic 1 tablespoon diced red chilli 20 cm (8 inch) knob of fresh ginger, pounded to a paste using a mortar and pestle (about 4 tablespoons) 1 tablespoon lime juice
To make the ginger fish sauce, combine the fish sauce, sugar, vinegar and 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) water in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool. Once cooled, stir in the garlic, chilli, ginger and lime juice. Set aside. Add the oil to a large wok and heat to 180°C (350°F), or until a cube of bread dropped into the oil turns brown in 15 seconds. Carefully slide the whole fish into the oil and cook over high heat for 5 minutes. Remove the fish to a platter. Drizzle with 4 tablespoons of the ginger fish sauce and garnish with the red chili strips and coriander or spring onion. Serve with steamed jasmine rice and the remaining ginger fish sauce.