East Meets South
Asian cuisines and regional flavors are combing into one pho pot
Thai Beef With Mint Soup
The following recipe is adapted from Nina Simonds’ Asian Noodles (Hearst Books, 1997).
2 to 3 pounds beef marrow soup bones
6 slices fresh ginger (about the size of a quarter),
peeled and smashed lightly
6 scallions, trimmed and smashed lightly
1 cinnamon stick
2 stars anise
12 cups water
4 1/2 Tablespoons fish sauce
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced garlic
1/of a 16-ounce bag flat rice noodles
1/2 pound boneless beef sirloin, trimmed of fat and
gristle and cut into thin slices about 1 inch long
1 1/2 cups bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, finely shredded
1/2 cup fresh Thai basil leaves, finely shredded
Combine the beef bones, ginger, scallions, cinnamon stick, star anise, water, fish and soy sauces, sugar and black pepper in a large pot and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours. Strain broth into a bowl and refrigerate. When cool, remove any fat from surface. Meanwhile, remove meat from bones and slice thin. Save marrow, discard bones and seasonings.
When ready to serve, heat broth and add cooked meat and marrow. Keep warm.
Heat a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat until hot, about 30 seconds. Add garlic and stir-fry until lightly golden. Remove from heat and drain on paper towels.
Place noodles in a medium pot and cover with hot tap water for about 15 minutes. Place over high heat and cook until just tender, a few minutes of boiling. Rinse under warm water and drain. Divide noodles among 4 large to 6 medium soup bowls, depending on size of servings. Add the uncooked beef to the bowls.
Add bean sprouts and mint and Thai basil leaves to warm broth and bring almost to a boil. Ladle broth over noodles and beef. Sprinkle the fried garlic on top and serve immediately. Serves 4 if main course or 6 if appetizer
Come years back, a restaurant opened with the theme of Asian-Cajun. I think that either location or Katrina knocked it off its course, but I thought at the time, “What a great idea!” Two of the tastiest cuisines on the planet joining forces on a plate.
Even before that, pioneering chef Susan Spicer excited diners by tucking Asian and other ethnic accents into continental and Crescent City fare. Think combinations such as, spicy Thai salad with shrimp and rice noodles, guacamole with fresh ginger and wasabi paste, quick-fried rice with soy-glazed pork.
Now, Vietnamese has joined Cajun and Creole as reigning regional cuisines, and New Orleans is the place to go for all three.
One chef called his creations Casion, but the term was just a joke among the kitchen staff. On the plate, however, Cajuns eat everything as do Asians, according to Matt Guidry, born and raised in Abbeville. It is true that both eat not just the tenderloin on the pig but the head, feet and innards as well.
“To me, it is all one big world of French colonial cooking,” says Guidry, who worked in New York for many years and owned several restaurants including Meauxbar Bistro in New Orleans, now closed.
New Orleans and Vietnam were both colonized by the French, and many influences remain major staples of French cooking – French bread, for example. The pungent broth of the Vietnamese pho and the beautiful stock for the pot-au-feu had to be related. And both, like Cajun and Creole gumbos, are one-pot meals.
It is a fact that New Orleans has one of the largest Vietnamese populations in the United States, but the locals’ growing addictions to pho, nuoc nom and banh mi aren’t the only Asian taste changes finding their way to local cooking.
Chef Mike Stoltzfus, chef-owner of Coquette, tends to use Japanese ingredients when adding Asian touches to his Southern-style cooking.
He shops at Hong Kong Market once a month, buying tamarind paste, nori and sambal chili base. Though Hong Kong sounds Chinese, it’s located in a predominately Vietnamese shopping center in Gretna. Products in Asian markets, such as chili sauces and noodles, are common to various types of Asian cooking. Hong Kong’s array of fresh produce specializes in Vietnamese tastes, but many such as lemongrass, bean sprouts and mushrooms, are favored by multiple cuisines.
On Stoltzfus’ ever-changing menu you’ll occasionally find a smoked catfish dip with fish sauce and lime, served with kale and cilantro salad. A signature dish was tempura-fried shrimp with sambal vinaigrette.
“I added sambal to collard greens for depth of flavor,” he says. Sambal is a condiment with multiple variations. Sambal oelek combines chiles, brown sugar and salt, while sambal bajak adds garlic, kaffir lime leaves, tamarind, coconut milk and other ingredients. It is popular in Indonesia, Malaysia and southern India.
Stoltzfus grew up in Maryland but got his interest in Southern cooking from his Georgia-raised mother. He says he “cooks all over the map” but is now bringing out a Southern twist including plenty of Cajun, Creole and low-country favorites.
He recently served a Thai beef salad using local short rubs marinaded in fish sauce and wine, then grilled. He served it with broccoli, cauliflower and ground rice over a deboned hog’s head that was cooked for 48 hours.
Like Stoltzfus, chef Ian Schnoebelen loves Japanese and Thai flavors in his contemporary cooking at Iris, now closed, and Mariza. Though he describes himself as “a modern American chef,” he leans toward Asian-inspired cuisine.
“Asian flavors go with everything,” he says. “There’s nothing they don’t go with.”
Locals like highly flavored food and he gives them shrimp with coconut milk, baby bok choy and lemongrass. He serves Malaysian-spiced lamb chops and a lemongrass chicken soup.
Customers are familiar with Asian ingredients, and he thinks the growing number of Vietnamese restaurants has a lot to do with it.
Chefs say they love eating in Vietnamese restaurants, yet when it comes to their own cooking, most lean toward Thai or Japanese influences. And seafood is often the subject.
“People are more open to trying new seafood items,” says Tenney Flynn, chef-owner of GW Fins. Even raw fish is more appealing to locals than ever before, and Flynn successfully serves a scamp grouper raw with hot chilies, mint, preserved Meyer lemon and avocado oil. Sometimes he serves raw wahoo, big-eye tuna and scallops.
“The Chinese had 7,000 years of culinary history before we started burning meat,” he says. Using collars of large fish, a cut from the fish clavicle, is one interesting preparation he recently served from a 120-pound big-eye tuna. “Asians have long done collars, and we’re just beginning to do them. (Fish) belly meat is amazingly good; it’s like the filet mignon (of fish),” he says.
A New Orleans take on the Southeast Asian approach to food can be found at MoPho, a popular Mid-City eatery run by Mike Gulotta.
“It’s the food we like to eat,” he says of his business partners and himself. “We worked in a lot of restaurants and took what we learned and together we offer a new face for Vietnamese cuisine – Southeast Asia by way of South Louisiana.”
That includes not only the food but also the spirit and atmosphere. “We use their flavor profiles and our hospitality and show guests a good time,” he says.
As one who loves and uses the Vietnamese influences, he compares the similarities in locations – brackish water providing seafood, both former French colonies, great bread making skills and a love for the whole pig. Also the preference of whole fish, rather than the cut pieces or fillets served in most restaurants.
Gulotta grew up in New Orleans in a family that loved to cook. Their specialties were grits and grillades, fried shrimp, red beans and soft-shell crabs. He uses local specialties such as pepper jelly to braise clams in an Asian preparation. He offers pho any way you like it but tries to educate people on other preparations.
“The pho brings them it, but I want to show them there are other things,” he says.
Pho has been bringing them in since the immigration of Vietnamese to New Orleans in the mid-1970s.
Coming from a similar climate, Vietnamese began fishing and opening shops and restaurants in eastern New Orleans and on the West Bank. Seeds and vegetables brought from Vietnam germinated gardens along canals to supply native food. Outdoor markets opened up early on Saturday mornings and eventually attracted curious residents other than Vietnamese.
My first experience was in the early 1980s when I discovered Pho Tau Bay restaurant in Gretna. After doing stories on the market and the growing Vietnamese community in the eastern part of the city, my husband and I began driving regularly from River Ridge a good 10 to 15 miles for large bowls of hot pho and spring rolls. Vietnamese restaurants began springing up all over, and we hit them all. Now we have one about a mile from home.
Gulotta advises people to branch out and try the vermicellis, banh mis and Vietnamese flavors injected into Louisiana dishes in restaurants all over town.
One famous New Orleans chef, Emeril Lagasse, started his own Asian restaurant in Orlando. He hired an Asian chef and puts New Orleans touches to some of the dishes, such as sesame ginger crawfish. He named the restaurant Tchoup-Chop in a nod to his flagship restaurant Emeril’s on Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans. The Florida restaurant is located in the Loews Royal Pacific at Universal and obviously adapts to the Asian-Polynesian theme of the resort.
Katrina had its way with ethnic restaurants. Some Vietnamese restaurants bowed out entirely, as did many Chinese restaurants.
Yet others, such as Japanese, seem to flourish.
“After Katrina, there was a plethora of sushi restaurants,” says Wendy Waren, vice president of communications for the Louisiana Restaurant Association. Yet many Chinese restaurants closed and never came back in both Orleans and Jefferson parishes. Eventually Vietnamese restaurants began popping up and “the trend for Vietnamese has really taken off in the last year.” There also are many new Japanese and some new Thai restaurants, she says.
With more fine-dining chefs adding Asian-spired items to their menus, it’s not hard to find ethnic touches everywhere. And, for home cooks, a trip to the massive Hong Kong Market or other Asian groceries (see sidebar) makes it possible to experiment at home.
I tried the following Beef Thai Soup that’s similar to the Vietnamese pho and found it to be easy to shop for and delicious. My husband and I also make pho, sometimes using the powdered pho seasoning and broth sold in Vietnamese markets, instead of taking on the lengthy process of making the stock myself. You can make this Thai stock ahead of time and put the soup together in short order for dinner.
Another inspiration of mine was planting Thai basil last year to grow beside my sweet basil and other herbs. And sometimes I plant cilantro in the spring, knowing that the summer sun will kill it, but it’s great while it lasts. And if you don’t like cilantro, keep trying it. You may become addicted. It is the first step on the road to loving Asian flavors.
MoPho’s Pepper Jelly Braised Cedar Key Clams With Crispy Bacon & Mint.
MoPho’s Pepper Jelly Braised Cedar Key Clams* With Crispy Bacon & Mint 84 clams, rinsed well under cold running water to remove grit
2 Tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 Tablespoons garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons shallots, minced
2 teaspoons Thai chili paste
1/2 cup coconut oil or neutral oil
2 cups sweet cooking mirin (Japanese rice wine)
1/2 stalk lemongrass, crushed
2 cups coconut milk
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups pepper jelly
Juice and zest of 1 lime
10 leaves mint, picked and torn
Salt to taste
To garnish: mint leaves, 12 strips cooked crispy bacon, 1 cup fried shallot rings (see recipe or may be purchased in many Asian markets) and fresh mint leaves
In a large braising pan set over medium-high heat, lightly toast the ginger, garlic, shallots and Thai chili paste in the coconut oil. When the aromatics become golden brown, add the clams followed by mirin and lemongrass stalk. Cover the pan and simmer until clams open, about 7 minutes.
Once the clams have opened, remove the lid and add coconut milk, butter and one cup of pepper jelly. Simmer the clams for 1 additional minute and then add lime juice, zest and torn mint leaves. Season with salt to taste.
To serve, remove the lemongrass stalk and portion the clams and broth into 6 warm bowls. Garnish with fresh mint leaves, crumbled crispy bacon, crispy shallots and a few dollops of the remaining pepper jelly.
*Cedar Key clams are littleneck clams from Cedar Kay aquaculture farms in Riverview, Fla. Look for littleneck clams in seafood markets.
Note: At MoPho, chef Gulotta uses shaved lardo instead of crispy bacon but also recommends the use of crispy bacon. He serves the clams with annatto beignets for dipping but says that warm crusty bread is just as satisfying.
Crispy Fried Shallots
3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
Canola oil for cooking
Salt to taste
Prepare shallots. Heat about 1 inch of oil to hot. Add shallot rings and fry until golden brown. Take up on paper towels and salt.
Iris’ Gulf Shrimp in Coconut Broth.
Iris’ Gulf Shrimp in Coconut Broth
1 onion, sliced
1 celery stalk, sliced
1 ounce (about 1-2 inches) fresh ginger,
peeled and sliced
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 13.5-ounce can coconut milk
1 lemongrass stalk, crushed with a mallet
1 lime, juice and zest
2 kaffir lime leaves, bruised with a mortar
Salt and pepper
1 head baby bok choy
3 dozen raw jumbo Gulf shrimp, peeled and
3 ounces shimeji mushrooms
4 Tablespoons Thai basil, cut in chiffonade
In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, sauté the onion, celery and ginger in 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add can of coconut milk, lemongrass, lime juice and zest, kaffir leaves, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. Strain and reserve.
While broth is simmering, steam the baby bok choy for about 5 minutes or until cooked through. In a large skillet, heat 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil to hot and sear shrimp. Add mushrooms, flip the shrimp over and add the coconut broth to the pan. Simmer shrimp for a couple of minutes until just cooked through. Divide the steamed baby bok chop evenly into 6 bowls. Spoon 6 shrimp into each bowl with equal amounts of mushrooms. Spoon the broth over and top with the Thai basil.
Coquette’s Smoked Catfish Dip.
Coquette’s Smoked Catfish Dip
1 pound catfish fillets
8 ounces crème fraiche
3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2 Tablespoons Red Boat (or similar) fish sauce
3 Tablespoons malt vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Catfish can be cooked in several ways. At Coquette, chef Stoltzfus hot smokes the catfish at 225 degrees with pecan wood for 2 hours until they’re just cooked through. Or, you can cook them on a charcoal grill if smoking isn’t an option. The catfish can also be baked in the oven on a sheet pan at 250 degrees until cooked through.
Before cooking, season catfish liberally with salt and pepper. Smoke, grill or bake until cooked through. Cool completely in the refrigerator. Once cool, place catfish in a food processor and purée for 30 seconds. It should still be chunky. Add remaining ingredients and buzz until smooth, about 30 more seconds. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate if not using immediately. Once you’re ready to serve, let dip sit at room temperature for 15 minutes or so to soften slightly. Serve with sliced baguettes or crackers, or with salad and the following dressing and garnishes.
Lime Dressing and Salad
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon sriracha (hot chili sauce)
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
Small bunch leafy greens such as Tuscan kale
or tat soi (dark green leaves also called
Thinly sliced red onion
Slices of 2 peeled oranges
To make dressing, mix lime juice, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar and sriracha.
Tear cilantro and parsley off stems. Rinse and mix with greens and red onion to taste. Dress salad with lime dressing.
Place salad in serving bowls with a large scoop of catfish dip. Garnish with orange and fresh grated horseradish. Serve with sliced baguettes or crackers. Serves 8 to 10 as dip only or 4 to 6 as lunch salad
GW Fins’ Charcoal Grilled Louisiana Pompano With Vietnamese-Style Mirliton Slaw and Spicy Blue Crab Fritters.
GW Fins’ Charcoal Grilled Louisiana Lemonfish With Vietnamese-Style Mirliton Slaw and Spicy Blue Crab Fritters
2 Tablespoons raw sugar
Juice of 4 limes
4 Tablespoons fish sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon diced hot pepper (jalapeno,
Anaheim or cayenne) with seeds
1 red bell pepper, finely julienned
1 yellow bell pepper, finely julienned
2 medium carrots, julienned
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
2 Tablespoons finely diced green onions
2 mirlitons, finely julienned
In a medium bowl, dissolve the sugar in the lime juice and fish sauce. Add other ingredients, stir thoroughly, cover and refrigerate until chilled.
Blue Crab Fritters
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Shrimp
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 Tablespoon finely diced jalapeño or poblano
pepper, seeds in tact
1/2 cup milk
1/2 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked for
shell and cartilage
6 teaspoons pepper jelly
Sift together dry ingredients. Mix in the egg and diced pepper until incorporated and thin with milk. Add picked crabmeat and gently fold it into the batter. Shortly before you’re ready to serve, scoop the batter 1 teaspoon at a time and fry in 350-degree oil until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Check for doneness and toss in warm pepper jelly if serving immediately.
Alternatively, you may keep the fritters warm in a 200-degree oven.
Gently melt the pepper jelly in a small saucepan or coffee mug in a microwave oven. Just before serving, toss the fritters with the warm pepper jelly.
4 6-ounce skin-on fillets of pompano
(or other firm-fleshed fish)
Salt, black pepper and Chef Paul Prudhomme’s
Shrimp Magic seasoning blend to taste
Cilantro sprigs for garnish
Thai basil sprigs for garnish
Spray a cold grill with nonstick cooking spray. Spread 1 layer of coals in the pit. Light charcoal. When charcoal is coated in a white ash, you’re ready to cook.
Rub fish with seasonings and spray with nonstick spray. Grill the fish, skin side down for 2 minutes. Rotate fish a quarter turn to make the crosshatch grill marks. Cook for another 2 minutes. Close top of grill and cook for about 3 more minutes.
To serve, squeeze most of the liquid out of the slaw and place about 1/2-cup in the center of warmed plates. Drizzle 1 Tablespoon or so of the cilantro purée around the mirliton slaw and 1 teaspoon of the chili oil in a circle closer to the rim of the plate. Place the fritters, coated with pepper jelly (3 per plate) close to the slaw and put the fish fillet on top, skin up. Garnish with cilantro and Thai basil.
Citrus Chili Oil
1 cup canola oil
2 Tablespoons whole annatto seeds
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
1 jalapeno pepper, quartered and seeded
Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and let rest for 2 hours. Strain the chili oil into a small container and discard the solids. Cover until ready to use.
1 bunch cilantro, leaves picked, stems discarded
4 large outside leaves from romaine or iceberg lettuce
1 jalapeno pepper, split and seeded
1/2 cup canola oil
Place all ingredients in blender and purée until smooth. Pour into a squeeze bottle and refrigerate
Toups Meatery’s Umami Pickles and Cucumber Salad and Dressing.
Toups Meatery’s Umami Pickles
6 cups shredded carrots
1 1/2 cups dark balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup good soy sauce
1 cup water
1/8 cup dashi (Japanese broth)*
1 teaspoon black pepper
Place carrots in a bowl.
Bring all liquid and pepper to a boil and pour over carrots. Chill in refrigerator and use when cold. Will last up to a month. Makes 6 cups
*Dashi is a soup stock made with dried bonito tuna flakes (katsuobushi), kombu (a seaweed also called kelp and sold in dried sheets) and water. Dashi-no-moto is this stock in instant form; it comes granulated, powdered and in a concentrate.
Toups Meatery’s Cucumber Salad
6 ounces sherry vinegar
6 ounces good soy sauce
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
6 ounces canola oil
Mix all ingredients except oil in a blender. Blend and slowly drizzle in canola oil.
For salad, peel cucumbers, as many as you like, leaving strips of skin. Slice into 1/8-inch thick rounds with seeds in. Use 1 Tablespoon of dressing per sliced cucumber. Salt and pepper to taste. Dressing will hold in refrigerator for up to a week.
Although Toups uses only cucumbers in his salad, tomatoes or other ingredients that you like can also be used. Makes 3 cups dressing
Matthew Guidry’s Moules Indochine (Mussels in Red Chile, Coriander & Basil).
Matthew Guidry’s Moules Indochine (Mussels in Red Chile, Coriander & Basil)
Mussels, about 15 to 20 per person
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons garlic, minced
1/2 cup coriander root, minced (or stems and leaves of cilantro to substitute)
2 1/2 Tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 bottle dry white wine
2 1/2 cups fresh chicken stock
2 1/2 teaspoons red curry paste
1 cup basil, chopped
Garnish: chopped cilantro and lime segments
Rinse mussels well in cold water, removing beards with a sharp knife.
To make broth, combine all ingredients, except basil, in a sauce pan and bring to a rolling boil. Turn fire off. Add fresh basil.
To make 1 serving at a time, add about 15 to 20 mussels to a sauté pan, about 1/2 cup of mussel broth and 1 Tablespoon of butter. Heat over medium-high heat, covered for 5 minutes or until the mussels are just opening. (You can do more than 1 serving at a time in a larger pot, doubling or tripling the amount of sauce.) Just don’t overcook!
Serve hot in bowls, as the broth is the real attraction, with garnish on top.
Serve with fresh baguettes. Serves 8 to 10
Where to buy Asian Ingredients
Grocery stores and markets throughout greater New Orleans sell Asian ingredients, including many of the large chain grocers. Following are several, large and small, that specialize in Asian foods.
Hong Kong Market | 925 Berhman Highway | Gretna | 394-7075 | HongKongMarketNola.com
International Market | 2901 Richland Ave. | Metairie | 888-8832
Asian Gourmet Market | 3239 Williams Blvd. | Kenner | 466-0077
Dong Yang Market | 3324 Transcontinental Drive | Metairie | 457-4567
Viet My Market | 4656 Alcee Fortier Blvd. | eastern New Orleans | 254-0682
Minh Cahn | 4661 Alcee Fortier Blvd. | eastern New Orleans | 253-9840
A new Asian market is expected to open at 2712 N. Arnoult Road, Metairie, where Okinago Seafood Buffet was formerly located, and another in the 2700 block of Veterans Memorial Boulevard.