You can’t cook well without advice from someone who’s been around the
block several times. I’m talking grandparents, parents, aunties
and uncles. So here are some tips to cook Vietnamese food.
Freezing cha gio (fried imperial rolls)
Make a double or triple batch of the Vietnamese classic, cha gio, and freeze them for another day. fry them until
they’re set but not fully or deeply browned. Drain the rolls and let them
cool. They’ll soften up and that’s fine. Then put the rolls in small plastic
zip top bags (I’ve fit 4 in a quart-size bag) and then freeze them.
you’re in the mood, or when guests are coming, thaw the rolls and let
them come to room temperature. Blot them with paper towel to remove excess
moisture and then put into a small pot, wok, or high-sided skillet. Pour
in oil to cover and then heat over medium heat. After the oil gets boiling,
watch the rolls, rotating them as necessary to crisp and brown evenly.
The total frying time depends on how brown your rolls were to begin with.
Drain and let the rolls cool for about 5 minutes before cutting them up
and serving with the usual lettuces, herbs, and dipping sauce. You’ll
notice that defrosted and refried rolls actually keep their crunch for
a long time – a bonus to the time-saving method.
Toast roasted peanuts for a flavor boost
Old-fashioned Vietnamese cooks dry roast raw peanuts. Instead, you can conveniently buy roasted, unsalted peanuts from a health food store or specialty market and keep them in the freezer, where they stay fresh. Sometimes, the peanuts can have a flat taste.
To add depth, toast them in a skillet over medium heat for a few minutes until they are slightly glistening and a few brown spots appear. Then immediately transfer the peanuts to a bowl to cool completely. Otherwise, they may continue toasting and end up burnt.
Freeze chiles and galangal
If you grow or buy chiles, you know you’ll have to have a fair amount on hand. Keep them frozen in a zip-top bag and they’ll be fine for months.
For an investment like galangal, cut the large piece into 1 to 2-inch chunks and freeze them. Frozen galangal is easier to chop and there’s just a slight loss of flavor.
Use an electric coffee grinder just for grinding spices for the freshest
flavors and strongest aromas. Grind small batches of black pepper and
keep it in a jar on my kitchen counter.
Avoid pre-ground spices whenever you can. Buy the seeds (cumin, coriander, etc.) and grind them yourself. Use a dry brush to sweep away the ground up spices.
After each use, clean the grinder by grinding a bit of raw rice in it and discarding the powdery rice.