The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.
I confess that I’ve been strangely uninspired by the Daring Cooks, ever since the first two challenges of ricotta gnocchi and jiao zi. Was it the actual challenges or the recipes that failed to ignite the same spark as the Daring Bakers did? Or maybe it’s just been a sluggy few months? Whatever it was, this missing spark came roaring back when I found out what the latest Daring Cooks challenge was. And to top it off, there was a bonus ‘dessert’ challenge, which explains the extra long post today (but more on that later).
Can you guess the dessert challenge?
This month, the challenge was hosted by uber-blogger Jaden of Steamy Kitchen and she just gave me a kick up the arse in finally learning how to cook Vietnam’s ‘national dish’ Pho noodle soup. Us peeps in Sydney are spoilt with a myriad of Vietnamese enclaves where we could go and indulge in a pretty authentic bowl of pho but I’ve been itching to learn the art myself because as much as I’d like to go out and eat it frequently, my money ain’t growin’ on any tree.
Clockwise from top-left: Pho spices, flavoursome marrow in a leg, Vietnamese herbs and cilantro, pot of liquid gold
Unlike my Daring Bakers challenge, I was gung-ho and ready to do it early (and not, er, the night before!). In Sydney, sourcing the ingredients is as easy as picking up a carton of milk as we’re surrounded by Asian grocery stores and cheap Asian butchers and greengrocers. Where else but Cabramatta (the Sydney Vietnamese mecca) could I score a supersized bag of beautiful marrowy beef bones for only one dollar?!
The basic DC challenge was a Chicken Pho (Pho Ga), which uses ready-made stock but we had the choice of making the whole thing from scratch or go with the beef noodle. I’ll leave you with the basic Chicken Pho recipe below, but if you’d like to make the beef version or the chicken pho from scratch then head over to Steamy Kitchen. In case you were wondering about the photos… no, those aren’t mutant, giant bean sprouts and herbs. I just have a strange love of eating noodle soup out of pretty little bowls :P
My favourite little soup bowl!
A few issues to note about the soup:
At 3 hours of boiling time on the lowest heat possible, quite a lot of soup had evaporated, which didn’t leave me enough to feed the family. I had to add more water with beef stock cubes, which was a shame as it diluted and altered the flavour a bit. I’m sure the pure, unadulterated stock would’ve had the strong, punchy flavour that I love in my pho but shamefully I had to sully the soup with water! Next time I’ll use good quality beef stock from the supermarkets instead of stinky stock cubes if I needed to top the soup up. My family, bless them, didn’t complain however and they commented that they loved the ‘clean’ flavour of the stock. My father even went as far as saying that it was better than some restaurants.
Be aware also that the soup in the end is incredibly oily. Just wait until it has cooled down completely in the pot or whack it in the fridge and wait for the thick layer of oil to solidify then skim all the fat off the soup. Next time I make this, I’ll add more bones and cut the boiling time down so I won’t lose as much precious soup. A small increase in spices surely wouldn’t hurt as well.
Other than that, the taste was authentic enough and the spices were beautifully aromatic. A big healthy serving of raw beef, beef balls and hoisin sauce made this better than sex.
And because you should always finish a meal on a sweet note, we had a bonus challenge of making dessert wontons in any flavour, shape or form. Since most things are always better deep fried, the possibilities were endless. My only criticism was that eggy wonton skins aren’t the most ideal thing to us in this manner. With the texture, the bubbly boil-like appearance and the taste, you’re better off leaving the wonton skins to be boiled (as in dumplings) and reaching for spring roll skins instead, which yields a far better crunch and flavour when fried. In any case I’ll also leave you with Jaden’s original chocolate wontons to play with as you please.
Deep fried wonton batons served with a Chocolate Sabayon
Because of my dislike of fried wonton skins, I stuck with simple batons of wonton to serve with a warm chocolate sabayon (recipe will be posted soon). It’s such a fundamental pleasure to dip things – anything! – into warm chocolate.
Wonton triangles filled with grounded peanuts and an orange semolina custard
I also decided to do wonton triangles with two fillings. Ground peanuts and sugar and an orange semolina custard in the style of the Greek sweet Bougatsa, which traditionally are made with filo pastry.
Big thanks to Daring Cooks and Steamy Kitchen for a great month. Here’s to many more inspiring challenges!
Forget the wonton skins, use spring roll skins instead for a better taste, texture and appearance!
Challenge #1: Vietnamese Chicken Pho (basic version)
(from the The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook)
Ingredients (serves 4)
For the Chicken Pho Broth
2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 quarts (2 liters/8 cups/64 fluid ounces) store-bought or homemade chicken stock
1 whole chicken breast (bone in or boneless)
1 3-inch (7.5 cm) chunk of ginger, sliced and smashed with side of knife
1 to 2 tbsps. sugar
1 to 2 tbsps. fish sauce
1 lb. (500 grams/16 ounces) dried rice noodles (about ¼ inch/6 mm wide)
2 cups (200 grams/7 ounces) bean sprouts, washed and tails pinched off
Fresh cilantro (coriander) tops (leaves and tender stems)
½ cup (50 grams/approx. 2 ounces) shaved red onions
½ lime, cut into 4 wedges
Sriracha chili sauce
Sliced fresh chili peppers of your choice
To make the Chicken Pho Broth
Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves and star anise and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately spoon out the spices to avoid burning.
In a large pot, add all the ingredients (including the toasted spices) and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface frequently.
Use tongs to remove the chicken breasts and shred the meat with your fingers, discarding the bone if you have used bone-in breasts.
Taste the broth and add more fish sauce or sugar, if needed. Strain the broth and discard the solids.
Prepare the noodles as per directions on the package.
Ladle the broth into bowls. Then divide the shredded chicken breast and the soft noodles evenly into each bowl.
Have the accompaniments spread out on the table. Each person can customize their own bowl with these ingredients.
Challenge #2: Chocolate Wontons
Servings: Makes 12 wontons.
1 large egg
1 Tbl water
12 wonton wrappers, defrosted (keep wrappers covered with damp towel) – Spring Roll wrappers will also work
12 pieces or nuggets of chocolate (use any type of chocolate you like) – dahlings, for ultimate indulgence think Valhrona and couverture
High-heat oil for frying (i.e., vegetable oil, corn oil)
Confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar) for sprinkling
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water to make an egg wash. On a clean, dry surface lay 1 wonton wrapper down with a point toward you, like a diamond.
Place 1 piece of chocolate near the top end of the wrapper. Brush a very thin layer of the egg wash on the edges of the wrapper.
Fold the bottom corner of the wrapper up to create a triangle and gently press to remove all air from the middle. Press the edges to adhere the sides. Make sure the wrapper is sealed completely.
Repeat with the remaining wrappers and chocolate pieces.
Keep the folded chocolate wontons covered under plastic wrap or a damp paper towel to prevent them from drying.
In a wok or medium pot, pour in 2 inches (5 cm.) of high-heat oil.
Heat the oil to 350º F (180º C) and gently slide a few of the chocolate wontons into the hot oil. Make sure you don’t crowd the chocolate wontons.
Fry the wontons for 1 ½ minutes, then flip over and fry another minute until both sides are golden brown and crisp.