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Bold and bright: at last--after 10 years of customer pleas--Charles Phan has written his first cookbook. In this exclusive preview, the man behind San Francisco's Slanted Door shows how to cook at home Vietnamese-style, using California ingredients, to make food that bursts with flavor.

In Charles's own words

"Although I was born in Vietnam, I grew up in Northern California just as the farmers'-market revolution was beginning, around the time that the legendary Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse was really hitting its stride. When I began to think about opening a restaurant, I knew that I wanted to serve Vietnamese food, but made with the same great ingredients that the other top restaurants were using."

"Technique is the best way to learn Vietnamese cooking. Each requires a unique skill set and equipment, and once you've mastered the fundamentals, making the dishes will become second nature."

"The biggest roadblock for a Western cook attempting to stir-fry at home is lack of patience. You can't just dump everything into it at once. Ingredients have to be carefully cut and prepared, added in a particular order, and attentively tended to during the (brief) cooking time. Because most home stoves don't get as hot as restaurant stoves, it's best to cook in batches. Otherwise, you'll end up with a soggy mess."

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Simple fish soup

MAKES ABOUT 4 QTS. | 1 3/4 HOURS

When Charles was growing up in Vietnam's Central Highlands, every meal included a light, brothy soup like this one. Its purpose, he says, "is to stimulate the appetite, much the way ... a crystal-clear consomme begins a classic French dinner." Even on a hot summer day, it's a great way to start a meal.
1 whole branzino or black bass (1 lb.), filleted, skeleton
and head saved
in one piece *
About 1 tbsp. Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
1 tsp. cornstarch
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup thinly sliced shallots (from about 3 large)
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 cups diced fresh or canned tomatoes, with juice
1 piece fresh ginger (1 in. by 2 in.), cut into 1/4-in.-thick coins
1 Thai or serrano chile, stemmed and sliced on the diagonal
2 tsp. lime juice
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tbsp. Toasted Garlic (recipe at right)

1. Slice fish fillets into 1-in.-wide strips and place in a bowl.
Add 1 tbsp. fish sauce and the cornstarch and toss to coat evenly.

2. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add shallots and cook,
stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 5 minutes. Add
garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, ginger, chile,
fish skeleton and head, and 2 qts. water; increase heat to high
and bring to a simmer. Lower heat to a low simmer and cook,
uncovered, 1 hour. Remove fish skeleton and head and discard.

3. Add fish strips and lime juice just before serving, then simmer
3 to 5 minutes, until fish is opaque throughout. Taste broth and
add more fish sauce if you like.

4. Ladle into warmed soup bowls and top with cilantro and toasted
garlic. Serve immediately.

* A fishmonger can fillet the fish for you, but be sure to ask for
the bones and head--they give rich flavor to the soup.


PER CUP 305 CAL., Sl% (54 CAL.) FROM FAT; G PROTEIN; 6.3 G FAT (0.8 G SAT.); 7.2 G CARBO (0.4 G FIBER); 261 MG SODIUM; 14 MG CHOt .

Toasted garlic

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

MAKES 2 TBSP. | 15 MINUTES

Toasting garlic makes it crunchy and sweet.

In a small saucepan, heat 1/3 cup vegetable oil over medium-low heat. Add 2 tbsp. finely chopped garlic and cook, stirring often, until garlic is golden brown and crunchy, 5 to 7 minutes. If it is darkening too fast, lower the heat. Be careful not to overcook or it will become acrid. Pour garlic into a fine-mesh sieve, reserving oil, and drain on paper towels. Oil keeps, chilled airtight, up to 1 week, and is great on rice or in salad dressing.

PER TBSP. 43 CAL., 70% (30 CAL.) FROM FAT; 0.5 G PROTEIN; 3.5 G FAT (0.4 G SAT.); 2.8 G CARBO (0.2 G FIBER); LS MG SODIUM; 0 MG CHOL.

Salt and pepper chicken wings

SERVES 4 TO 6 | 50 MINUTES

Fried chicken wings aren't particularly Asian; in fact, the technique Charles uses here was borrowed from Matt and Ted Lee, the South Carolina--born brothers and cookbook writers. But the lime-chile sauce is a traditional Vietnamese condiment. "Nothing pairs better with these wings than a cold beer," Charles adds.
9 chicken wings, separated at joints, tips trimmed or saved for
stock About 1/2 tbsp. coarse sea salt Canola oil for deep frying
1/4 cup cornstarch Pepper 1 1/2 tsp. Toasted Garlic
(recipe above) Spicy Lime Dipping Sauce (recipe on page 86)

1. Put wings in a shallow bowl, sprinkle evenly with 1/2 tbsp.
salt, cover, and chill overnight. Drain wings, then dry with
paper towels. Bring to room temperature.

2. Pour oil to a depth of 2 in. into a wok or high-sided pot
and heat over high heat to 375[degrees] on a deep-fry thermometer.

3. Put cornstarch in a bowl and season with a pinch each of salt
and pepper. Add wings and toss to coat, shaking off excess.

4. Add wings to hot oil and fry 6 to 10 minutes, until deep golden
brown and cooked through. Using a slotted spoon, transfer wings to
paper towels to drain briefly. Transfer to a bowl and toss with
toasted garlic and more salt and pepper. Serve with Spicy
Lime Dipping Sauce.


PER SERVING, WITHOUT DIPPING SAUCE 214 CAL., 65% (14o CAL.) FROM FAT; 13 G PROTEIN, 16 G FAT (3.3 G SAT.); 5.1 G CARGO (0.1 G FIBER); 187 MG SODIUM; 39 MG CHOL.

Spicy lime dipping sauce

MAKES 1/4 CUP | 5 MINUTES

Make this for Shaking Beef (recipe below) too, but skip the chiles and double the pepper.

In a mortar, grind 2 minced stemmed Thai or serrano chiles with 1 tsp. salt to a paste with a pestle. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in 1 tsp. salt and heaping 1/2 tsp. pepper. Stir in 1/4 cup fresh lime juice.

Shaking beef

SERVES 4 TO 6 | 45 MINUTES, PLUS 2 HOURS TO MARINATE

In Vietnam, this classic--named for how the meat is tossed in the pan--is usually made with tough, overcooked beef cuts. For his version, which has been on the Slanted Door's menu since 1995, Charles uses grass-fed filet mignon. On an electric stove, use a flat-bottomed wok or pan so the cooking surface gets as hot as possible. On gas, use a wok ring to nestle the wok down into the flames.
1 1/2 lbs. filet mignon, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-in. cubes
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. sugar, divided
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. pepper
7 tbsp. canola oil, divided
2 tbsp. each rice vinegar and mirin
1 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. dark soy sauce*
1/2 tsp. Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
3 green onions, ends trimmed, onions cut into 1-in. lengths
1 tbsp. finely chopped garlic
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 bunch watercress, tough stems removed Spicy Lime Dipping Sauce
(see recipe at left)

1. Mix beef with 1 tsp. sugar, the salt, pepper, and 1 tbsp.
oil in a bowl. Let marinate at room temperature 2 hours.

2. Whisk together remaining 1 tbsp. sugar, the vinegar, mirin,
soy sauces, and fish sauce until sugar has dissolved.

3. Divide meat into 2 equal portions. Heat a large wok or a large
(not nonstick) frying pan over high heat until very hot but not
smoking. The metal will have a matte look and a drop of water
flicked onto its surface should evaporate on contact.

4. Add 3 tbsp. oil to wok and heat until shimmering but not smoking.
Add half the beef in a single layer and sear until a brown crust
forms underneath, about 30 seconds. Flip cubes and cook 30 seconds
on second side.

5. Add half each of red and green onions and cook, stirring, about
30 seconds. Add half the soy sauce mixture and shake wok to coat beef.
Add half each of garlic and butter and shake wok to distribute evenly.
Transfer to a bowl and keep warm.

6. Wipe wok clean and return to high heat. Repeat steps 4 and 5
with remaining 3 tbsp. oil, beef, red and green onions, sauce
mixture, garlic, and butter.

7. Arrange watercress on a platter; top with beef and vegetables.
Serve with sauce.

* Dark soy sauce is thicker, darker, and less salty than regular
soy; find it at Asian markets and well-stocked grocery stores.


PER SERVING 489 CAL., 72% (350 CAL.) FROM FAT; 23 G PROTEIN; 39 G FAT (11 G SAT.); 8.7 G CARBO (0.8 G FIBER); 652 MG SODIUM; 80 MG CHOL.

Spinach with fried shallots

SERVES 4 TO 6 | 10 MINUTES

You can, says Charles, substitute an equal amount of Swiss chard, kale, or young pea or fava shoots in place of the spinach.
2 tbsp. canola oil
2 tbsp. Fried Shallots (recipe at right), divided 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 lb. baby spinach, rinsed
1 tbsp. Shaoxing rice wine* or dry sherry
1 1/2 tsp. Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
1 tbsp. chicken stock or water

1. Heat a wok over high heat until very hot; the metal will
have a matte appearance and a drop of water flicked onto its
surface should evaporate on contact. Add oil and heat until
shimmering but not smoking.

2. Add 1 tbsp. fried shallots and garlic, cook 10 seconds, then
add spinach and rice wine and toss to combine. Add fish sauce
and chicken stock and continue stir-frying, tossing ingredients
together, until spinach wilts, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer
to a bowl. Sprinkle with rest of fried shallots.

* Find nutty, slightly sweet Shaoxing rice wine at Asian markets
and some liquor stores.


PER SERVING 88 CAL., 53% (47 CAL.) FROM FAT; 2.1 G PROTEIN; 5.3 G FAT (0.4 G SAT.); 9.4 G CARBO (3.6 G FIBER); 241 MG SODIUM; 0 MG CHOL.

Fried shallots

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MAKES 1 CUP | 30 MINUTES

Crispy fried shallots are an essential condiment in Vietnam. They turn up in soups and on salads, sprinkled onto dumplings as a garnish, and minced and added to meatballs. Use them the same day they are fried.

In a small saucepan, combine 2 cups thinly sliced shallots (about 4 large) and 2 cups canola oil over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, 15 to 20 minutes, until shallots are golden brown and crisp. Don't increase the heat--the sugars in the shallots will caramelize too quickly and burn. Transfer shallots to paper towels to drain, spreading slices in a single layer. Strain oil and save to fry more shallots if you like; it keeps, chilled airtight, several weeks.

PER TBSP. 30 CAL., 53% (16 CAL.) FROM FAT; 0.5 G PROTEIN; 1.8 G FAT (0.1 G SAT.); 3.4 G CARBO (0 G FIBER); 2.4 MG SODIUM; 0 MG CHOL.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY IAIN BAGWALL | FOOD STYLING BY KAREN SHINTO | PROP STYLING BY SARA SLAVIN
COPYRIGHT 2012 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:FOOD & WINE
Publication:Sunset
Geographic Code:9VIET
Date:Aug 1, 2012
Words:1858
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