Vietnamese Food

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Vietnam is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea, referred to as East Sea (Vietnamese: Biển Đông), to the east. With a population of over 86 million, Vietnam is the 13th most populous country in the world.

Vietnamese Crab Soup (Sup Cua)

Vietnamese Crab Soup (Súp măng tây nấu cua) was always a festive dish when I was a child. We would have it whenever my parents had non-Vietnamese friends to our house for dinner. I would help with cracking the crab and gathering the crab meat. Corn starch, used as a thickening agent, gives the velvety, thick broth gives the dish a unique texture. While white asparagus doesn't provide a lot of color contrast to the crab, it does complement the flavor quite well.
The authentic version of this soup requires shark fin, but given how expensive it is, crab alone is used instead. The dish still has a luxurious quality, and as such, white asparagus crab soup often appears on the menu at Vietnamese weddings. Now you don't have to crash a Vietnamese wedding to try this dish; make it the next time you throw a dinner party, and I guarantee it will be the highlight of the meal.


Yields: 8 servings
10 cups Vietnamese chicken broth
1 whole fresh crab
1 tablespoon canola oil (or any neutral oil)
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1 (13.75 ounce) package fresh white asparagus
1-½ teaspoons mushroom seasoning salt (or salt)
3-½ tablespoons corn starch
½ (7-ounce) package enoki mushrooms, trimmed and separated
3 green onions, sliced
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 cup bean sprouts (optional)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon white pepper, freshly ground
½ cup nước mắm (fish sauce), for drizzling


Prepping the crab:
Clean the crab, brush and rinse thoroughly. Place in a pot, add about ½ to 1 cup of water and bring to a boil for about 10 minutes (see tips). Transfer to an ice water bath for about 3 minutes to stop the cooking process. Drain and discard all the liquid.
Remove and discard the abdominal flaps (the triangle-shaped tail). Lift and separate the back-fin with the rest of the claws by placing a large tablespoon at the bottom of the crab. Remove and discard the "lungs" (also known as Devil's fingers; they have a spongy texture and are inedible.

Gently remove the crab meat from the back-fins (the inner chambers are filled with meat). Gently crack the claws using a meat tenderizer mallet and gather all the crab meat in a large mixing bowl.

For the asparagus and enoki mushrooms:
Trim about ½ inch from the root. Using a vegetable peeler, shave a few inches from the root; this part is fibrous. Cut the asparagus into 2-inch pieces. Blanch the asparagus for 4 minutes in boiling water, then transfer into an ice bath. (Dip the heads of the asparagus for 2 minutes only). Drain thoroughly, then pat dry on a paper towel. Do not over-cook as the asparagus will continue to cook in the chicken broth later; it should still be tender and crisp and not mushy or you will have depleted all the healthy nutrients.
In a saucepan, heat the oil. Add the shallot and cook until slightly golden. Add the asparagus, crab and enoki mushrooms. Add red chili flakes and mushroom seasoning salt. Sauté for about 2 minutes until fragrant. Set aside.

Assembly time:
In a small bowl, dissolve the corn starch into 3/4 cup of water.
In a large pot, bring the chicken broth to a full boil. Adjust seasoning. Mix the corn starch liquid one more time and add it to the boiling broth to prevent the starch from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Continuously stir the broth as it will thicken very quickly.  Add the mushrooms, asparagus and crab. Add the green onions and 2 tablespoons of cilantro. Check the texture of the sauce; it should be thick and syrupy. If you find the sauce to be too thick, add more water. Cook for about 2 minutes. Stir gently.
Optional: Crack 2 eggs in a small bowl. Gently break the egg yolks using a fork. When you're ready to serve, bring the soup to a boil one more time. Add the lightly beaten eggs while stirring the thickened soup. The heat from the soup will slightly cook the eggs and will create yellow and white threads.
Sprinkle with black pepper and cilantro. Add bean sprouts (if used) for crunch. Drizzle some nước mắm into the broth to finish.

Bon appétit!
Sup Cua Recipe with Picture


If you want to make a very authentic súp cua (crab soup), the choice of chicken is crucial for the chicken broth. Buy it from an Asian market and ask for a gà đi bộ, literally a walking chicken. In Vietnam, the gà đi bộ chicken are considered "free-range"; the chickens are "trained" to run and as a result the meat has a totally different texture from that found in American grocery stores. (Click on the link in the ingredient list for the Asian chicken broth recipe).yu

For the crab cooking time, count approximately 8 minutes per pound.
Mushroom seasoning salt brings a very distinct, earthy flavor to the sauce. You can find it at gourmet specialty stores or in most Korean stores. I buy it at Marina Foods -10122 Bandley Drive -Cupertino, CA 95014.
I love bean sprouts; they add some crunchiness to the dish. Maman's version never has bean sprouts and always contains boiled quail eggs and canned baby corn in addition to the ingredients listed above.
White asparagus don't turn green because they're grown under the soil so they don't get sun exposure. They have a more velvety texture and nutty flavor than green ones.

Note: Glossary of relevant Vietnamese cooking terms.
Súp = soup
Măng = bamboo
Măng tây = asparagus, literally "French bamboo"

Nấu = cook

Cua = crab



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