A large, piping bowl of hot pho. Rice paper rolls called gỏi cuốn filled with meat and vegetables. Flaky bánh mì sandwiches loaded with cucumber and pickled carrots.
Vietnamese food has a rich culinary history, and there are professional home cooks who are trying to educate others about the cuisine and how they can make it.
Enter Andrea Nguyen, a leading voice on Vietnamese cooking, who says she wants to push Asian cuisines (and specifically Vietnamese food) from “the margins into the mainstream.”
She’s written multiple acclaimed cookbooks, including “Vietnamese Food Any Day” and the “Pho Cookbook,” which won the 2018 James Beard Cookbook award. She joined us to talk about the rising interest in Asian cuisine and how the selection at supermarkets has changed as a result.
Nowadays, I think, for a lot of Asian cookbook authors like myself, Asian food has this influence that it has never really enjoyed, across the board. So we’re living in a really great time for global cuisines and Asian flavors are part of that, and I’m so happy to be here, now.
I don’t think that I would have been as successful [in the past] as today, because nowadays you have color photography, you have social media, and I can keep pushing ideas and techniques and put it in front of people’s eyes more often.
In the mid ’70s, when we got here, the American supermarket was relatively limited. There were, say, 9,000 to 10,000 ingredients in supermarkets. The inventory seemed like it was vast to me, because I was a kid. But in the scheme of things, it turns out it wasn’t, because nowadays the American supermarket has roughly, like, 40,000 items — and they’re much larger imprints. You know, like, footprints.
And so when we go to the American supermarket today, we are looking at, really, the changing American interest in global foods and preparing them. Also, buying prepared foods that … you reheat, like Korean barbecue, for example. But to take a look at the international food section is just is so exciting to me, to see Asian food, South Asian food. Sometimes I’ve seen a section on Mexican-American food vs. authentic Mexican food. It just depends on where you’re shopping. And that’s really indicative of where we are, in terms of this country’s interests in a diversity of flavors at their table.”
Check out an excerpt from Andrea Nguyen’s cookbook “Vietnamese Food Any Day” below.
Chili garlic chicken wings (Serves 6 to 8 and takes 1 hour)
Nibbling on chicken wings with an ice-cold beer is a great way to nosh Vietnamese style, but I don’t get out the fryer to make the wings. Instead, I coat them in flour, spices and oil and roast them. Remarkably, they crisp up as if you’d deep-fried them. Rice flour yields slightly crisper results than wheat flour, but it’s a marginal difference, so use what you like. If you don’t have cooking spray or a hand-pump oil mister, oil the foil and then tumble the flour-coated wings in 2 to 3 tablespoons of neutral oil before roasting.
For a party, roast the wings in advance, cover loosely, and keep at a cool room temperature for up to 2 hours. When you’re ready to serve, reheat in a 350°F oven for 6 minutes, until hot, and then toss with the sauce. Sauced wings keep their texture well for about 1 hour.
Canola spray oil
2 pounds chicken drummettes and flats (“party wings”; 16 to 20 pieces)
1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour or rice flour (white or brown, such as Bob’s Red Mill)
1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1⁄2 teaspoon recently ground black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1⁄2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 to 3 tablespoons chili garlic sauce (see full cookbook for a recipe)
1⁄4 cup light corn syrup or brown rice syrup (such as Lundberg)
1 Persian or 1⁄2 English cucumber, thickly sliced (optional)
1 lime, cut into wedges (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray. Pat the wings dry with paper towels.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, pepper, and paprika. Add all the chicken and toss, using your hands to ensure a thorough coating. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Spray the chicken on both sides with oil, then spread out the wings on the pan for even cooking.
Roast the wings for 45 minutes, turning after 30 minutes, or when they hiss and are browned on the underside. The magic happens in the last 15 minutes, when they become richly browned and crispy. While the wings roast, in a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, fish sauce, chili garlic sauce, and corn syrup and bring to a boil.
Let bubble vigorously for 45 to 60 seconds, until thick (look for biggish bubbles on the surface). Set aside to cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a large bowl to finish cooling and thickening, about 15 minutes. When the wings are done, let them rest for about 5 minutes, then toss in the sauce and transfer to a platter. Serve the wings with the cucumber slices on the side, if desired, for a cooling crunch. Have diners add a squeeze of lime juice for bright contrast, if they like.
“Reprinted with permission from Vietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors by Andrea Nguyen, copyright © 2019. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.” Photography: Aubrie Pick © 2019