Yesterday I indulged my American side and had hamburgers and hot dogs. This morning I had Vietnamese pho.
Lil' sis came back from breakfast at Pho 79 Restaurant - Alhambra with a to-go container for me.
"I brought you pho," she said before hopping into the shower.
I opened the container and dumped out the noodles only to find Pho Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup). To borrow one of her phrases, doesn't she know me at all? I don't like pho ga. :( I mean, I'll eat it, but I'd rather have Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup).
Lil' sis came out of the shower and wondered why I was so quiet.
"How come you got me pho ga?" I asked mournfully, while staring at my bowl of half-eaten noodles and debating whether to finish it.
"I didn't," she said. "I got you pho dac biet." (Vietnamese special beef noodle soup.)
Oh. Lil' sis does know me after all.
It was Pho 79 who screwed up. Hmph! The pho ga had small strips of white breast meat and two quail eggs, but overall it was rather bland. Lil' sis ate some, and I tossed the rest.
In "Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom: Excursions into Eating, Power, and the Past," anthropologist Sidney Mintz argues that there is no such thing as an American cuisine. We either mention regional specialties such as Cajun or Creole dishes, or hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizzas. Mintz does credit the African influence on American cuisine in the creation of Southern dishes like gumbo. But a national cuisine, one in which everyone cooks, eats, and talks about doesn't, or has yet to, exist. He claims this is one of our country's strengths, a reflection of our democracy and ethnic diversity.
I find his expectation that everyone needs to cook, eat, and discuss the dish in order for it to be considered a "national" cuisine very limiting. Afterall, regional dishes occur in every cuisine, some become more widespread than others. For example, with Vietnamese cuisine, even though it was created in the north, pho bo can be found all over Vietnam and now America. But Cha Ca Thang Long (Vietnamese Hanoi-Style Turmeric Fish with Dill) has yet to achieve the same level of popularity. While more people are likely to cook, eat, and talk about pho bo, that doesn't mean cha ca Thang Long isn't considered an equally important part of Vietnamese cuisine.
And so it is that just because every American might not cook, eat, or talk about a particular dish, doesn't mean it doesn't make up a vital part of American cuisine. To me, American cuisine is partly made up of ethnic absorption and mass popularization. Southern Fried Chicken, New England Clam Chowder, Turkey on Thanksgiving, Cobb Salad, Coke Float, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Waldorf Salad to name just a few. These dishes reflect their regional roots, or were invented out of necessity, or became popularized.
American cuisine is a reflection of America. Our strength lies in our ability to absorb other cuisines and their culture. We aren't all WASPs (That's white Anglo-Saxon Protestant to my non-American readers.) and neither is our cuisine. That sounded a lot more patriotic than I expected. Then again, it is Independence Day weekend and if I can't be patriotic on America's birthday, then when can I?
Since I consider myself a hyphenated American, this dish is also hyphenated. I took the basic premise of a Cajun shrimp boil (It was supposed to be a crawfish boil but no mudbugs at the store the day I went shopping for lil' sis's 21st birthday bash.) and added a Vietnamese touch. Since Huy Fong's Sriracha chili sauce worked so well on my Sriracha Buffalo Wings I decided to add that instead of the usual cayenne. The result is a smoother level of spiciness.
I only used shrimp, but you can certainly make this a seafood boil by adding crab and crawfish. Just make sure you steam the shellfish first and add them in at the same time you add the shrimp so they'll all be cooked at the same time. If you don't know how, then read my primer on how to Prepare Crab first.
Cajun Vietnamese Shrimp Boil
To feed about 10 people, you'll need:
3 lbs shrimp, heads on preferably
1 lb smoked sausage or Polska Kielbasa, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
6 red potatoes, quartered
6 ears of corn, cut into thirds
4 tomatoes, cut into big chunks
2 lemons, juice and halves
1 large onion, cut into big chunks
1 head of garlic, chopped
1 stick of butter, about 1/2 cup
3 tblsp Old Bay seasoning, or any other Southern seasoning of your choice
1 tblsp Huy Fong Foods, Inc.'s Sriracha chili hot sauce, or more if you can take the heat
1 tblsp salt
Set a 7-quart stock pot to boil, with water filled about half full. You may need a second stock pot. If so, just distribute the ingredients among the two pots. I just start chopping the ingredients that will take the longest to cook first so that by the time you add the shrimp, it'll only be a few minutes until done.
You don't have to wait for the water to boil before adding the ingredients. Start first with the corn, shuck them and cut into thirds. I had 6 ears of corn and that was plenty. Toss those into the pot.
Then quarter the potatoes and add them to the pot.
Cut a 1-lb. link of smoked sausage into 1/2-thick slices and toss that in.
Cut 1 large onion into big chunks. Add that too.
Quickly peel and roughly chop 1 head of garlic. All in the pot.
Cut 4 tomatoes into big chunks. All in as well.
Then wash 2 large lemons, slice them in half and squeeze the juices into the pot. Toss in the lemon halves, rind and all, too. I used 2 large Meyer lemons that I got from Susan of Open Mouth, Insert Fork.
Toss in 1 stick of butter, 3 tblsp Old Bay seasoning, 1 tblsp Sriracha, and 1 tblsp salt. Taste and adjust if necessary.
By now the pot should be boiling. If not, wait until it is, then check and see if the potatoes have softened to your liking. If they have, then add the shrimp. If you want to make this a seafood boil, then add the cooked crab and crayfish at this point too. The shrimp should turn pink in just a few minutes.
If you don't like to waste perfectly good stock, then don't dump out the liquid. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out everything into a bowl, minus the liquid. Save that and you can use it in lieu of shrimp stock for gumbo or jambalaya. Yes, I'll have those recipes for you.
Or if you're not so thrifty, pour everything into a colander for quick drainage.
Or spread newspapers on the table and pour it all out on top of the newspaper.
Use your hands and dig in! Serve with a Vietnamese dipping sauce of salt, ground black pepper, and lime juice if you wish.
What types of cuisine do you eat each day? Would you consider this a Vietnamese-American dish? What dishes do you think make up American cuisine? Or what dishes are your national cuisine and do you think it reflects your country's heritage?
1 year ago today, a fruit tart that looks like a geometric design at Le Croissant Dore - Westminster (Little Saigon).