One of the perks of being employed an immensely talented chef (and food stylist/food writer/author/photographer - you get it she’s amazing at a lot of stuff!) is that I get to eat more than my fair share of delicious meals and call it work. Sitting in her kitchen a few steps away from her stove, transcribing recipes, dictated as she industrially whips up incredible food, has taught me a lot. Enough to be able to pull together restorative chicken noodle soups when I feel under the weather, balancing sweet, salty, umami, sour and bitter in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to earlier this year. A few of Uyen’s recipes I now know by heart as they feature frequently on my own table, but I was lacking the basic foundation understanding of Vietnamese cuisine. When Uyen asked me if I would like to attend one of her popular cooking classes I jumped at the chance.
Uyen’s home is bright and inviting, full of flowers and props with her two friendly dogs padding around underfoot. The class started sat around a table with warm cups of fresh ginger tea, informal introductions and a quick lesson on the key ideas of Vietnamese cooking. How to balance flavours, yin and yang in cooking and how food is used to help cure ailments. Through out the class she imparted tidbits of history, family stories and recommendations of the best products to buy. One of my favourite parts was the field trip to the local Vietnamese supermarket. Uyen showed us her favourite brands, which products she found haven’t worked as well, and highlighted the differences in label illustrations to make sure you pick up the right one in the future. I came home with a full bag even though I frequent that shop most weeks! There was a real emphasis in the class that these were achievable, healthy, economical dishes that you could make at home.
Uyen and her Mum (who Uyen says in her mind sets the bar for Vietnamese cooking) taught us so many recipes, thinking back to it makes my head buzz slightly. Ten dishes in one afternoon – yes you get to eat all of it and yes you get to take home a doggy bag too – which is a lot for four and a half hours on a Saturday. If I had to whittle it down to three favourite dishes (which is saying something as they were all delicious) they would be: Thịt Heo Kho Yrứng, a rich savoury stew with melt in the mouth chunks of pork, dotted with quails eggs. Served with fluffy white rice it is both exciting to the palate and the ultimate comfort food. Bahn Xeo, which are eggless rice flour pancakes studded with pork belly and giant prawns. To offset the fried pancake you wrap each strip in a blanket of lettuce and mixed herbs which you then dunk in a spicy tangy dressing. I first ate this for pancake day this year, and I have been saving it to make for friends next Shrove Tuesday. It is impossible to eat neatly, I always lose half my filling in my dipping bowl.
Finally, Saigon Summer Rolls, packed with a mixture of vibrant fresh herbs, pork, prawns and noodles, wrapped tightly in paper thin rice paper. This was one of my favourite dinners, served with an array of dips this summer (though they take a little practice!). They are so good that Jamie Oliver invited Uyen to make them as the starter at his Feastival Supper Club this year! Here’s a video we filmed last month on how to make them at home (click here for the recipe)
Thank you again Uyen for inviting me, and for more information on classes, supper clubs and more visit her website.
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