The cuisine of Vietnam has achieved justified fame worldwide for its harmonious blending of fresh local herbs, vegetables and spices used in a variety of creative ways that include influences from neighboring China. Vietnamese food is in fact considered to be one of the healthiest cuisines in the world.
Known for its balance of five elements, many Vietnamese dishes are matched to the five fundamental taste senses (ngũ vị): spicy (metal), sour (wood), bitter (fire), salty (water) and sweet (Earth). Dishes in Vietnam also appeal to gastronomes via the five senses (năm giác quan): food arrangement attracts eyes, sounds come from crisp ingredients, five spices are detected on the tongue, aromatic ingredients coming mainly from herbs stimulate the nose, and some meals, especially finger food, can be perceived by touching.
Quail is an extremely popular dish in Vietnam, and I am especially fond of the deep-fried version of this tiny yet flavorful bird. I first tried this dish at the famous Vung Tao restaurant in San Jose, where it was served with a simple yet intensely flavorful sauce made from salt, pepper and lime juice. I realize that Quail aren’t the easiest birds to find, so you can also make this dish with rock cornish game hens. There isn’t a huge amount of meat on quail, so assume a minimum of 2 quail per diner.
My version of this recipe includes a few nods to China in its additional use of Star Anise and hoisin to achieve even deeper flavor. I also added a touch a of brandy to replicate the Vietnamese rice whiskey Bau Da, which adds a nice little kick to the marinade. It’s use is optional.
Citizens, this is actually a rather easy dish to make and I hope you will give it a try! 🙂
Battle on – The Generalissimo
2 ounces rock sugar (preferred) or 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 ounce fresh ginger, grated
4 shallots, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup Chinese Shaoxing rice wine (preferred) or dry sherry
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon top-quality fish sauce
1 tablespoon brandy (optional)
½ teaspoon five-spice powder
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 Star Anise points, ground to powder in a spice grinder
8 quail or 2 rock cornish game hens – order from here http://dartagnan.com/
½ cup homemade or canned low-salt chicken stock
oil for deep-frying
watercress, for garnish + a few drops sesame oil (I prefer Kadoya brand)
Salt, Pepper and Lime Dip (Muoi Tieu Chanh) (per person)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
Cut each quail in half lengthwise and wipe out the body cavity with paper towels. If the quails have been frozen, dry them well after defrosting.
In a mortar, pound or crush the rock sugar, ginger, shallots and garlic to a fine paste. In a small nonreactive saucepan, mix the paste with all the other ingredients (except the last 4 listed in the recipe). Stir to combine. Bring the liquid to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool slightly. Add the quail and turn to coat evenly. Marinate, turning occasionally, for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Drain the quail. Heat 3 inches of oil in a clean wok or deep fryer to 365 F (or until bubbles form around a dry wooden chopstick when inserted in the oil). This temperature must be maintained for the entire frying process.
Add the quail, a few pieces at a time, and fry, turning once, until golden brown, about 2 minutes (longer if using rock cornish game hen). Drain on paper towels and serve immediately on a serving platter lined with watercress and dressed with a few drops of sesame oil.
Salt, Pepper and Lime Dip (Muoi Tieu Chanh)
Combine salt and pepper, squeeze lime juice into the mixture and stir well.