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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bo tai chanh, steamboat, and salt and pepper calamari

salt and pepper calamari
Salt-and-pepper calamari

I adore a homemade family feast. Large communal eating gatherings are a strong part of "ethnic" cultures, and I relish that familiar bustle of cooks in the kitchen, raucous laughter amongst the stress of preparation, many hands making light work, and the cacophony of shrieking children as they create havoc underfoot.

Celebratory feasts with the family of Veruca Salt are all this and more, so I required little convincing when I was recently extended an invitation to join them recently.


When I arrived there were fry pans hissing, cleavers pounding and the dining room had, by all appearances, been converted to a mini Vietnamese restaurant. There was a separate room for the kids (and yes, I was one of them) and after a torturous period of imagined consumption by tantalising inhalation, we were soon feasting on a series of tasty Vietnamese dishes.

Steamboat with prawns, fish balls, calamari and quail eggs

Salt and pepper calamari was a tasty starter. Calamari had been dusted with flour, deep-fried to a golden brown and then seasoned with salt, pepper, chilli and scallions. We moved onto bowls of piping hot steamboat, ladled straight from the pot on a portable burner. A clear sweet homemade chicken stock washed down mouthfuls of fish balls, tofu, calamari, fresh prawns and slippery creamy orbs of delicate quail egg.

steamed fish
Steamed perch

Steamed perch, an intensely fatty fish much prized by the Vietnamese, took pride of place at the centre of the table. I delighted in the clean fresh zing of bo tai chanh, a traditional salad made from beef cured in lemon juice. This dish emobided all the elements of Vietnamese cuisine that I love so much: sweet, salty, sour, chilli, low in fat and refreshing with a riot of herbs and a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Fresh roasted peanuts add extra crunch and this was divine eaten on banh trang me, a Vietnamese rice cracker studded with black sesame seeds.

The recipe below isn't the one used from our feast above (does any Auntie or Mother ever use quantifiable recipes?) but it should make something fairly similar. Herbs can be substituted as to whatever is available. Some variation of basil, mint or coriander should ideally make an appearance.

lemon beef salad
Bo tai chanh (lemon-cured beef salad)

Bo tai chanh
Lemon-cured beef salad

125ml lemon juice (lime juice also works well)
2 tsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp pepper
500g beef sirloin, sliced into thin shavings

1 garlic clove, pounded in a mortar and pestle
1 small red onion, finely sliced
1/2 bunch holy basil leaves, shredded
1/2 bunch ngo gai sawleaf coriander, shredded
1/2 bunch ngo om rice paddy herb, shredded
1-2 birds eye chillies, sliced
1/4 cup roasted peanuts (1/2 chopped, 1/2 whole) to garnish

Combine the lemon juice, fish sauce, sugar and pepper and add beef, marinating for about ten minutes or until "cooked" to personal preference.

Lift the beef from the lemon juice and squeeze gently to remove excess liquid. Combine with the remaining ingredients, garnishing with generous handfuls of the roasted peanuts.

This dish is often served with banh trang me, a Vietnamese sesame rice cracker. These can be purchased from Asian grocers in the same section as the banh trang used for goi cuon summer rolls. Banh trang me are a thicker disc and are recognisable by the presence of an proliferation of black sesame seeds. These puff up similarly to Chinese prawn crackers and can be cooked over flames, under the grill, in the oven on high, or even in a microwave. They retail at about AU$2.00 for a packet of five.

steamboat ladle

Related GrabYourFork posts:
Eating at Veruca's: Chinese New Year Eve feast
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posted by Anonymous on 7/22/2006 07:02:00 pm


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