Huong’s Vietnamese Restaurant – New Eats

I generally stick to Thanh Thanh 2 on Forest Ave. in Portland when I need a pho fix, but I recently discovered there’s another Vietnamese restaurant on St. John’s St. The place is called Huong’s Vietnamese Restaurant and it certainly did not disappoint. It’s nothing super fancy, but the service is super friendly and they do serve a great pho. I had a large classic pho ($8.95) that was full of braised brisket, super thin beef slices, beef meatballs and tripe. Tons of noodles. It was huge and super filling. I didn’t need to add anything to it to amp up the flavor. The broth might be a tad on the sweeter side, but still super satisfying. I also tried their fried squid. Super tender squid and a huge portion for $13.95.

Thanh Thanh 2 still holds a special place in my belly especially for their lemongrass pork, but it’s nice to have another option. So if you’re ever want a pho fix in Portland head to Huong’s right on St. John’s St. right off Congress St. just down the road from the Greyhound Station and Maine Medical Center. Also, it’s between 2 pretty awesome Asian markets – Hong Kong Market on Congress St. and Makot Pech on St. John St. Hong Kong Market is run by a nice Chinese family that always play classical music. They have a good variety of Asian foods, but are concentrated more on Chinese items. Once a week they get a shipment of Chinese pastries from Boston Chinatown which is a nice treat. Makot Pech is run by a super sweet Cambodian family. It’s a super small market, but they have a lot of Southeast Asian food supplies. They also carry some great Southeast Asian fruits like jackfruit and rambutan when in season. You can kill 2 birds with 1 stone when eating at Huong’s – great lunch and a great market trip.

Super Easy Taro Chips

No mandolin, no problem. You can get super thin and crispy chips with a simple vegetable peeler. I used a slightly serrated peeler from William and Sonoma. I am also partial to Kuhn peelers as well. Such a simple design, but it’s perfect. Super sharp, lasts forever and a great price. By using a peeler though versus a mandolin, the cuts aren’t as uniform. You’ll get more irregular shapes, but I like the more rustic look for chips.

Taro is a starchy root vegetable that is enjoyed savory and sweet in Asian cuisine. In Thailand, it’s often used for dessert. I love fried taro that is sold along the street in Thailand most often with fried bananas. I’ve had a hard time finding it in Thailand my last few visits. It’s a pretty old school treat that’s quickly disappearing unfortunately. I didn’t have time to try to attempt Thai style fried taro that needs a batter so I thought these fried chips would satisfy my craving for taro. Taro can be found in most Asian markets. I bought this tuber at Veranda Asian Market on Forest Ave. in Portland. It’s super clean, organized and has such an extensive array of Asian foods I no longer need to drive to Boston.

All you need is:

1.) Taro, sliced with a veggie peeler

2.) veggie oil heated to 350 degrees (I’m lucky I have a deep-fryer, but if you use a pot use enough oil to cover the taro when frying)

3.) salt and sugar in equal parts to taste (I used coarse sea salt)

Fry until golden around the edges. The chips fry pretty quickly as the peeler does give you fairly thin slices. Toss the crispy taro chips with salt and sugar.

I love the combination of salty and sweet just little kettle popcorn. Super addictive. Next time I make these I bet they would taste great with toasted shredded coconut.

It’s such a super easy way to enjoy taro, you must try.

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Farm to Mouth Duck Laab – Thai Minced Duck Salad

It was Maple Sunday, and after nearly 20 years of living in Maine I’ve never experienced it. Found out there was a farm in Skowhegan called Tessiers Farm, so I decided to take my son. Oh boy! I should have known better, he hates livestock. Always had since he was a baby. He never like petting zoos, any kind of farm animal. He just hates the smell. He pinched hi nose the whole time while I was trying to convince him how cute the cows were. Needless to say, that was a short lived visit. I managed to sneak into the little shop they had (my son waited outside the whole time because he couldn’t stand the smell — yeesh! I have a city boy on my hands I think). I bought a nice duck and a nice chicken. I love locally raised poultry. It’s just so fresh and tastes so much better. I love that the chickens don’t look like they’re super mutated beasts. Commercially raised chickens look like giants and have so much fat. We bid a quick adieu to the cows and then he told me never to bring him again. So that was a Maple Sunday fail. Next time I’ll bring my daughter. At least I left with some wonderful meat.

The duck was beautiful. I decided I was going to confit the thighs and wings. I’ve never done that so it’ll be interesting. As for the breasts, my first thought was “laab.” Laab is a dish from Northeastern Thailand heavily influenced by Thailand’s northern neighbor Laos. It’s often made with pork or chicken, but duck’s a nice treat. Laab always has minced meat, shallots, lots of herbs like mint, culantro and cilantro, lots of spice, fish sauce, lime juice and “khao khur” which is essential. Khao khur is a fragrant rice powder. Raw rice is toasted with generally lemongrass, kafir lime leaves, galangal and dried chili pepper. It is then pounded into a powder (not too fine) using a mortar and pestle. This powder brings a well rounded flavor to the dish as well as texture. You can’t make laab without it.

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I broke down the duck and reserved everything but the breasts for confit. I carefully removed the skin from the duck breast which was very little. I rendered the duck skin so I could use the duck fat to later cook the duck meat. IMG_6825.JPG

I minced the duck breast with an awesome cleaver from Thailand. You want a pretty fine mince. I prefer mincing meat for laab by hand and not use a meat grinder. I think the texture is much better, a little rougher providing more texture to the dish.

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Beautifully colored duck breast being minced.
I then heated the rendered duck fat with some dried chili peppers, and added the minced duck breast. I cooked it completely through, about 6-7  minutes. Usually, the meat for laab is just cooked in a pot with minimal water, but I thought the duck fat would provide an awesome flavor.

I prepped the other ingredients – shallots, shredded kafir lime leaves, mint leaves, khao khur, fresh chili, chili powder and added it to the cooked duck. I used thin soy sauce and lots of lime juice to flavor.

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I mixed everything gently with my hands. The flavors should be bursting with spice and tartness from the lime juice. This tasted amazing. The duck breast is so lean. Wonderful clean flavor with no gaminess at all. I will definitely be making this more often. It tasted even better knowing the duck was locally raised. Eat local and buy local whenever possible. I appreciate it so much more now.

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Always enjoy laab with lettuce or cabbage for wrapping.

Phosure I Need This in My Life

The closest Vietnamese restaurant is an hour away. Thanh Thanh 2 on Forest Ave. is by far my favorite. It’s nothing fancy, but their pho hits the spot. I never leave this place unsatisfied.

Sometimes, I just really crave pho – a Vietnamese soup noodle bowl. It’s such a comfort food. So simple yet complex at the same time. Recently, my family decided to get a side of cow from a local farmer. Well, it was our first time getting beef this way, I never realized how much beef we were getting for a side and quickly had to change it to a 1/4 because we really had no room to store a whole side. Now we know and will plan better next time. Well, one of the cuts we got was brisket. Light bulb went off — brisket, I need to make pho. Lots of googling happened. I kind of had an idea, but not really. Lucky for me there was a show on the Food Network that had a Vietnamese lady talking about making pho. I had all the ingredients at restaurant. The key to the ultimate bowl of pho is the broth. There’s really nothing in a bowl of pho – so simple, noodles and beef and herbs, but the broth is so complex.

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Picked up some beef bones at the supermarket. I boiled water in a giant pot and added the bones. I let that cook for an 1hr.

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While that was going on I roasted some ginger and onions to bring out some more flavor at 400 degrees for 1hr as well. Gave a nice char to the ginger and garlic.

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I then toasted the aromatics — cinnamon, star anise, cloves, cardamom, coriander, fennel until fragrant. The kitchen had such a wonderful aroma so comforting. I place the toasted aromatics into a cheesecloth bag.

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After the hour I added the bag with toasted aromatics and the charred ginger and onions into the stock pot. I also added a handful of rock sugar. The rock sugar gives any stock a more subtle beef flavor than regular granulated sugar. I also added some thin soy sauce. ( I don’t own a bottle of fish sauce, I swear. Sacrilege!!! Yes, I’m Thai and I don’t use fish sauce. That’ll take another long post to explain. Next time.)

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I then added the brisket and forgot about the whole thing for 5 hours. It was such a long wait, and the whole kitchen smelled so sublime. I couldn’t wait to slurp down some noodles.

I cooked some rice noodles. Sliced some onions super thin. Took the brisket out and sliced it super thin. Strained some broth. Added cilantro, scallions and Thai basil. I spritz some lime and I slurped away. It was pretty darn good especially after 6 hours of waiting. The brisket was amazing and super tender. You could totally tell it was a locally raised steer. All the flavors were so subtle you would have no idea so many ingredients went into making the pho broth. It’s worth the tackle if you have time.

Though it turned out great. I’m still no expert in pho. Phosure I’m pretty far from it, but if I get another order of beef with some locally raised brisket I’ll definitely tackle pho again, but I think I’ll keep visiting the experts at Thanh Thanh 2 – so much quicker to drive that hour.