Japanese Chicken Curry (From the Box)

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Back in college, I used to spend a lot of my time (and money) perusing the local Japanese supermarket in the Sawtelle / Little Osaka area. Some grocery shopping trips would yield a cornucopia of fresh ingredients like enoki mushrooms and sashimi grade salmon, and others would be geared toward restocking my pantry with staples like furikake and yakisoba. Among the latter would always be a box of Japanese curry mix. Heavily seasoned blocks of curry roux, these were essential to making a hearty meal in the dead of winter when I was too busy studying to truly make something from scratch. Nowadays, I still keep a box or two around for weeknight meals that appear impressive with minimal effort.

Japanese Chicken Curry over Spaghetti

Japanese Chicken Curry over Spaghetti

Japanese curry roux generally comes in three levels — mild, medium hot, and hot/spicy. There is also a variety of brands available depending on your area and grocery store. Even if you are not located near an Asian supermarket, you could probably find S&B Golden Curry at your local grocery chain in the “Asian food” aisle. I prefer buying the mild kind and spicing it up with La Yu chili oil to my preference. This enables you to taste the flavors of the curry mix without the spice level dominating your palate. Also, the first step (marinating the protein in mirin) is optional, but I think this sweet rice wine is ideal for bringing out that great umami flavor that sets this curry apart from your neighbor’s.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1/2 medium onion, diced

1 lb boneless chicken, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 lb potatoes (I used mini yukon golds and quartered them)

2 carrots, sliced

2 tablespoons mirin

salt & pepper

2-3 cups water

1 100g (3.5 oz) package of Japanese curry mix

few drops of La Yu chili oil (optional)

Side/grain: rice, noodles, spaghetti, or crusty bread

Marinate the Chicken

Marinate the Chicken

Cut up the chicken and place in a large bowl. Season with salt (or garlic salt as pictured) and black pepper and drizzle with mirin. Toss to combine and set aside.

Prepare your mise en place

Prepare your mise en place

Chop the onions, potatoes, and carrots. Set aside. If using mini/young potatoes, you do not have to peel them.

Saute the Onions

Saute the Onions

In a large pot (I used my 4.5 quart dutch oven), saute the onions in a light drizzle of oil, about 1 teaspoon, on medium heat. You want them softened and translucent but not too browned.

Add the Chicken

Add the Chicken

Add the chicken, mirin and all, and try to caramelize each side for added flavor. Saute for a few minutes.

Add the Veg and Water

Add the Veg and Water

Toss in the vegetables and pour in enough water to cover. The box instructions will likely say 500 mL (about 2 cups). I added extra, but not more than 3 cups total.

Testing the Potato

Testing the Potato

Bring the pot to a boil and then turn the heat down. Leave it at a steady simmer until the potatoes and carrots are fork-tender, about 15 minutes.

Adding the Curry Mix

Adding the Curry Mix

While still in the package, break up the curry roux into chunks. Tear open the package and add the chunks to the pot. Stir well to evenly distribute and let simmer for another 5 minutes for the sauce to thicken, stirring constantly.

Ready to Nom!

Ready to Nom!

Serve immediately over steamed rice or noodles or even pasta. If serving over rice, might I offer a suggestion…

Rice Well

Rice Well, Ready to Pile High

Using the paddle that you used to scoop the rice out of the rice cooker, press a small well into the center of the mound. This will hold in the “good stuff” while letting the sauce run over the sides to flavor all of the rice.

Voila! Japanese chicken curry over rice.

Voila! Japanese chicken curry over rice.

Personally, I prefer noodles over rice, so I will often cook up some boxed spaghetti or utilize leftover pasta as my starchy base for Japanese curry. I also like my curries spicy, so if you look really closely, you can see the glistening crimson drops of chili oil on my portion…

Japanese chicken curry over spaghetti

Japanese chicken curry over spaghetti

Itadakimasu~!

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PS: I know our posting schedule has fluctuated over the years. While I would love to continue with twice a week posts, I’ve made a (good) major life change lately that will no longer allow for me to feasibly keep up with that schedule. We appreciate your patience as we revert to our once-weekly schedule (ideally Mondays, but sometimes Tuesday or Wednesday). :) We love you, Nom Nom Cat readers!

Vietnamese-Style Stuffed Tomatoes (Ca Chua Nhoi Thit)

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Stuffed tomatoes (cà chua nhồi thịt) is one of Martin’s favorite home-cooked dishes. His mom used to make for him when he was a kid, and it’s a dish that really takes him back to simpler times. So although I don’t particularly crave it, I was definitely motivated to learn how to make it. No Vietnamese mother writes down her recipes and every Vietnamese mother has her own recipe taught to her by her mother and so forth. But between Martin’s mom and my mom, we were able to pull together a hearty meal that’s easy enough to prepare on a weeknight but that also freezes well to keep for later.

Vietnamese Stuffed Tomatoes

Vietnamese Stuffed Tomatoes

At home when my mom prepares this for my dad (also a big fan), she includes bean thread noodles (bún tàu) and reconstituted dried wood-ear fungus (nấm mèo). Traditionally, the filling is made with ground pork, but we like the extra heartiness that a simple ground beef stuffing offers (and sadly, it is a bit difficult for us to acquire bun tau and nam meo here on the West Side). We also love our stuffed tomatoes extra saucy, hence the many tomatoes.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

4-5 ripe tomatoes (round ones, not roma)

1/2 lb ground beef (80-20 is a good fat ratio)

1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce or seasoning sauce x 2

1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlic salt x 2

1/2 teaspoon black pepper x 2

1 teaspoon sugar (see below)

1/2 sweet onion, diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 to 2 cloves of garlic, minced

Preparing the Tomatoes

Preparing the Tomatoes

Prep the tomatoes, starting with the pretty halves for stuffing first. For the prettiest stuffed tomatoes, I use only the “bottoms” of each of the 4 tomatoes. Cut across the tomato (not down through the stem) leaving a little more than half for the bottom side.

Re-purposing a One-Trick Pony (Grapefruit Spoons)

Re-purposing a One-Trick Pony (Grapefruit Spoons)

Use a spoon (or even better, a serrated grapefruit spoon) to hollow out the tomato middles; toss these into a small saucepan. Set the ready-to-stuff halves aside.

Chopped Tomatoes for the Sauce

Chopped Tomatoes for the Sauce

Dice the remaining parts of the tomato (and any additional whole ones you plan to use) into rough chunks – skins, seeds, and all – and add to the saucepan. Mix in 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper (adjust to taste). Cook down and simmer on medium to medium-high heat until the tomatoes fall apart. Taste; if too acidic, add about 1 teaspoon of white granulated sugar.

Seasoning the Ground Beef

Seasoning the Ground Beef

In a small bowl, season the ground beef with the other “set” of the seasonings above – 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlic salt, 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (this is a good opportunity to use the pre-ground, packaged pepper if you have it sitting around). Obviously it’s not recommended that you taste the raw beef (unless you ground the meat yourself) so try judging the flavor based on smell. Yes, I’m suggesting that you sniff the bowl. If you would like to use onions in your stuffing, mix them in now. We have made this both with and without and they are equally delicious.

Stuffing Time!

Stuffing Time!

Retrieve the pretty tomato halves and stuff away. The 4 tomatoes should use up most if not all of the mixture. Err on the side of over-stuffing, as the meat will shrink a bit as it cooks and you don’t want your lovely stuffing to fall right out of the tomato! If you have extra meat, just roll them into meatballs and let them join the party. (Sometimes we will prepare a full 1 lb package of ground beef for the same number of tomatoes just to have extra meatballs – be sure to double the amount of seasoning to accommodate!)

Sear the Stuffed Tomatoes, Meat Side Down

Sear the Stuffed Tomatoes, Meat Side Down

In a frying pan, heat the oil and saute the garlic until it just starts to brown. Add your stuffed tomatoes meat-side-down (and meatballs, if preparing) and get a nice sear going. Be sure to rotate the meatballs periodically to get an even sear on all sides.

Seared Tomatoes

Seared Tomatoes

You’ll want to let this go until the bottoms are browned and seared and the meat part feels like it’s firming up. At this point, you could flip them so the tomato side touches the pan.

The Cooked-Down Tomato Sauce

The Cooked-Down Tomato Sauce

Back to your sauce – are the tomatoes all lovely and cooked down? Good. If my tomatoes are a bit bland or acidic, I might mix in a bit of tomato paste to help it along at this point.

Handy-Dandy Immersion Blender

Handy-Dandy Immersion Blender

The easiest route to make this sauce more “saucy” is to take an immersion blender and let it whir through the sauce until it’s smooth and thick. Alternatively you could smash the tomatoes with the back of a spoon and fish out any stray skins that float around.

The Sauce

The Sauce

Pour the sauce into the pan with the tomatoes. Continue to cook for another 10 minutes or so to let the flavors meld and to ensure that the beef stuffing has cooked through. Serve over a steaming bowl of white jasmine rice.

Simmer Simmer

Simmer Simmer

Serves 4 (we like to make this for a weeknight meal so we’ll each have a portion for dinner and leftovers for next day’s lunch!)

For anyone wondering, this is my mom’s more traditional version with ground pork, ground shrimp, bean thread noodles, and wood-ear fungus in the stuffing:

More Traditional Style of Ca Chua Nhoi Thit

More Traditional Style of Ca Chua Nhoi Thit

How ever you decide to prepare stuffed tomatoes, we know it will be a delicious and comforting bowl to warm your heart on a cold winter’s night. The blended sauce was the brainchild of Martin and his mom, established through a phone conversation one evening when I was working late and Martin wanted to surprise me with dinner. He’s quite proud of it and as he should be — it’s velvety and packed with flavor, perfect for mixing into white rice and shoveling down by the spoonful. Enjoy!

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Vietnamese Caramelized Braised Pork (Thit Kho / Suon Kho)

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Vietnamese caramelized pork, also known as thịt kho or sườn kho (pronounced like kaw) depending on the cut of pork used, is one of the most common household recipes I can think of… truly comfort food. Just about every Vietnamese mother has her own recipe with its own little twists — some are sweeter, some are saltier, and some, like my mom’s, are very garlicky. What they all have in common is the time (and love) that goes into cooking the sugar long enough to caramelize it and then reducing the sauce ingredients to a viscous, flavor-packed glaze over the succulent braised meat.

The finished product

The finished product – sườn kho

NomCat Tip for the Ingredients:

1. The Meat: In this recipe, we use baby back ribs, but you could also purchase pork short ribs / riblets, boneless back fat or belly, or even pork shoulder. When using a rib cut, this dish is known as sườn kho. Use of a leaner, boneless cut of pork, or  thịt nạc, would then be known as thịt kho.

Baby Back Ribs!

Baby Back Ribs!

2. Coconut Soda: Back in the 70’s when my parents came to America, coconut water was hard to come by. VitaCoco, ONE, Zico, and all those other now-common brands had not yet made it big by marketing coconut water as nature’s Gatorade. So my mom turned to available alternatives, most notably the Coco Rico soda in a green can. I’ve tasted it on its own (you know, the way soda was meant to be consumed) but I just can’t stomach the overly sweet, awkwardly fragrant flavor. Martin grew up on the stuff so when we stock up to make thịt kho, we sometimes get extra for him to drink too. I haven’t noticed it in the American grocery stores so you may have to trek out to your local 99 Ranch for this ingredient.

Ingredients:

2 lbs pork ribs, bone-in

5-6 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons of oil (olive or vegetable)

1 tablespoon thick soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce (nước mắm)

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon soy sauce or seasoning sauce (we like Golden Mountain)

1-2 teaspoons ground or fresh cracked black pepper

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1 can of coconut soda

Prep time!

Prep time!

First, pop open the can of coconut soda to let it go a bit flat while you’re preparing your other ingredients. Separate the side of pork into individual ribs. Set aside. Mince up the garlic, the more the better!

Mmm garlic...

Mmm garlic…

In a large shallow pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat and saute the garlic for a few minutes, until it starts to get browned and toasty.

Perfect fit!

Perfect fit!

Arrange the pork ribs in the pan and start browning on all sides. Try to get a sear on them if you can.

Beginnings

Beginnings

Pour in the coconut soda. Add the seasonings and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and let braise for about 2 hours.

Braising

Braising

Work in progress… now may be a good time to start cooking up a pot of fragrant jasmine rice and any sides you wish to accompany the dish (perhaps some stir-fried vegetables or a clear-broth soup?).

Worth the wait!

Worth the wait!

You will want to check in on it periodically, giving it a gentle stir to make sure nothing’s stuck or burning on the bottom of the pan.

Voila!

Voila!

Before you know it, two hours will have passed and your previously soupy-looking sauce will have reduced down to a beautiful, concentrated glaze. Serve over white rice, accounting for approximately 3-4 ribs per person.

Don’t wash the pot just yet — after transferring the braised pork to your serving dish, add a scoop of the cooked rice to the pot and mix well, soaking up every bit of sauce. Known as cơm trộn (or mixed rice), this is always my favorite part!

We hope you enjoy this recipe for a truly comforting dish that both of us grew up eating. If you try it, please let us know how it goes! Vietnamese food is so much more than phở and iced coffee (although we love those too!), and there’s nothing quite like the aroma of thịt kho wafting through the kitchen to really make us think of home.

Many thanks to my mom for letting me reveal the secret family recipe. ;)

[Editor's note: this entry was updated on 03.06.2013 at 6:30pm to include fish sauce in the list of ingredients. How could we forget such a critical ingredient in Vietnamese cuisine?! Our apologies.]

Com Do – Vietnamese Tomato Red Rice

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One of our favorite sides in French-Vietnamese cuisine is com do — a beautifully bright red stir-fried tomato rice often served with rotisserie or roasted meats. It’s quick and easy to make, and it’s a great way to use up leftover white rice!

NomCat tip for the ingredients:

1) The Rice: You definitely need the long grain Vietnamese jasmine rice to get the proper texture. The Japanese botan rice (and its equivalents) will be too sticky and sweet. Whichever rice you would use to make fried rice will be perfect. Either cook it in a rice cooker with a bit less water than you would normally use, or use leftover rice from a day or two before so that it will be dry enough to not clump when sitrfrying.

2) The Seasoning: Maggi is maggi-cal! It’s darker in color than soy sauce and has a deeper flavor than just plain saltiness. It’s a critical flavoring agent for making and eating com do. You should be able to find it in any Asian grocery store and even in the “Asian” goods section of chain grocery stores as well. If given the option, spring for the higher priced (and higher quality) variety imported from Germany. It’s worth the extra few dollars. :) For additional info, hop over to our follow-up post!

We mentioned com do in our post about herb roasted rack of lamb.

Maybe they should rename it to com cam (orange rice). By any name, it’s a delicious side dish!

Ingredients:

3 cups of cooked white jasmine rice

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 clove garlic, minced

Olive oil (about 1-2 tablespoons)

Maggi Seasoning Sauce (for flavor and color – a few good shakes will suffice)

Salt (or garlic salt) and pepper to taste

If cooking the rice shortly before making com do, be sure to leave the rice cooker lid open after it “clicks” finished so that the steam will escape and allow the rice to dry out a bit. In a deep pot (you’ll want room to toss the rice without losing any), heat the olive oil and minced garlic over medium-high heat. Just as the garlic is starting to brown, add all of the rice. Toss to evenly distribute the oil-garlic mixture. If you are using leftover rice, you will need to increase the time for this stage to allow the rice to warm up. Add the tomato paste and stir vigorously to coat the rice. You should not have any white or dark red splotches; all of the rice should take on an even orange-red color. Season with salt, pepper, and Maggi. Let it sizzle on high heat for a few minutes if you like your com do a little crispy. Enjoy!

Our Thanksgiving dinner, prepared by the NomCats

NomCat tip:

If you have leftover tomato paste, scrap the contents of the can onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Fold the plastic wrap to create a little bundle. Place in a plastic bag and stick it in the freezer. The next time you need to use it, just break off a piece, wrap up the rest, and put it back in the freezer. This preserves the shelf life of the opened tomato paste much better than leaving it in the can (which can make the tomato turn rancid in just a few days).