Monday, January 3, 2011

Vietnamese Cooking Class - Park Hyatt, Saigon

Imagine my delight when I discovered that our hotel offered a Vietnamese cooking class. I signed up immediately! We met up with Dinh Vinh, Sous Chef of the Park Hyatt's exquisitely appointed Vietnamese Restaurant, Square One, before heading out for a brief excursion to Saigon's bustling Ben Thanh Market. I thought we'd be on foot, wicker basket in hand, but when you're in tow with one of the Hyatt's chef's, you travel by chauffeur-driven Mercedez! Once we arrived at Ben Thanh, Vinh showed us where to buy the basic ingredients of Vietnamese cuisine. Ben Thanh is the central market for locals and many restaurants and is a rabbit warren of live and dried seafood merchants, fresh fruit and vegetable vendors, noisy food stalls, and a plethora of souvenir shops selling everything from chopsticks to miniature Buddha's.

Upon our return to the hotel Vinh showed us around Square One's five show kitchens: Seafood and Appetizer kitchen, Vietnamese Steam, Wok and Grill, Western Grill, Dessert kitchen and Juice and Tea counter. With recipes in hand, we donned our aprons and got to work on the first of five traditional Vietnamese dishes that we would be preparing over the afternoon including Fresh Spring Rolls, Fried Seafood Spring Rolls, Lotus Stem Salad, Sweet and Sour Seafood Soup and Fried Garoupa.

Vinh walked us through some of the mainstays of Vietnamese cuisine which is famous for it's fresh, lively flavours and artfully composed meals, and feature an abundance of wonderful fresh herbs, lots of greens and vegetables, tangy dipping sauces, hot chilis, garlic, lime juice and of course, nuoc cham — the Vietnamese fish sauce which is used extensively throughout the country. Another hallmark of Vietnamese cooking is their love of wrapping parts of the meal in rice paper or leafy lettuce. Each of the dishes we created were delightfully fresh, tangy, easy to make and healthy tasting, for rarely does a dish have added fats. 

Lotus Stem Salad with Seafood

Fried Garoupa Filet with Ginger Fish Sauce

Deep Fried Seafood Spring Rolls

Fried Garoupa Filet with Ginger Fish Sauce
Serves 2 

2 Garoupa Filets
2 tsp flour
2 tsp garlic, minced
500 ml chicken stock
2 tsp chili sauce
50 ml soya sauce
30 g whole green peppercorns
60 g fresh ginger, julienned
50 g spring onion, chopped fine on diagonal
50 g yellow onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup chicken stock
Vegetable cooking oil, to fry fish
1 leek, white part only, julienned for garnish
2 fresh red chilis, seeded and julienned for garnish
1 bunch fresh cilantro, for garnish

Marinate Garoupa with salt and pepper, then coat in flour. Heat oil in wok and deep fry the fish until golden brown, about 6-10 minutes. Set aside.

Heat oil in a wok and sauté the garlic until fragrant. Add the chicken stock, chili sauce, soya sauce, salt and green peppercorns and stir to combine. Add the ginger, spring onion and yellow onion and cook about 5 minutes, to meld flavours.

Set the fish on a serving platter and top with hot sauce; garnish the top of the fish with julienned leeks, chili peppers and cilantro. Serve with a bowl of white rice on the side. Beautiful and delicious!