CHEFFED-UP

Tropical CRAVINGS

Le France meets Southeast Asia in a delightful mashup

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One of my basic tenants in life is that if cannibals capture me, I hope they prepare me properly. I think I would be very suitable for braising and all the villagers would brag about how tasty I was. Braises and stews play a huge role in the cuisines of the tropics and are perfect for Northeast Florida summers as well. 

With all the tropical mornings and afternoon thunderstorms of late, my cravings have been drifting toward Southeast Asia’s spicy, brightly flavored dishes. How about a little foodie style vacation at home? I realize this sounds like an introduction to a Travel Channel show, but whatever.

Usually when I want Southeast Asian, I steer toward Thai dishes and especially curries. These curries are fairly simple to prepare and most ingredients can be found at Publix or at the plethora of Asian food markets in greater Jax. But familiarity breeds contempt (like at your day job).

Last week, I looked further east to Vietnam for my tropical cuisine du jour. One of the coolest aspects of Vietnamese cuisine is the huge French influence. Say what you will about French colonial policy, I’m not listening ’cause the cuisine it inspired is a truly amazing smashup. Asian flavor profiles and products combined with French cooking techniques are … how do you say, ah, magnifique! The Vietnamese produce some of the lightest, brightest, most flavor-packed dishes in the universe.

The trendiest example of this phenomenon is the Bahn Mi sandy. This iconic sandwich of Saigon is the two-culture flavor smashup at its best. The combo of a French baguette with pâté, Asian pickled vegetables and cilantro is at once rich, bright and intensely satisfying.

Thunderstorms’ dark clouds drew me to another outstanding example of this cuisine, Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef Stew. This fascinating dish takes the premise of Beef Bourguignon and transforms it into an exotic tropical dream. The trick is replacing the heavy butter and flour roux and red wine with umami rich fish sauce, lemongrass, star anise, and tons of galangal. 

So show off your mad Cheffed Up stewing techniques (like braising but with small cuts of meat) and relax. It’s like trading winter clothes for shorts and flops, very satisfying and refreshing. This is food for tropical weather.
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Chef Bill’s Lemongrass Beef Stew
Ingredients

  • 4 pounds chuck, cut into 1 1/2” cubes
  • 1 oz. canola oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, paste
  • 2 medium Spanish onions, medium dice
  • 1 piece of galangal or ginger, peeled and cut into half-inch medallions
  • 2 Serrano chilies, sliced 
  • 4 star anise pods
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 oz. dry sherry
  • 2 tsp. tomato paste
  • 1 qt. unsalted beef broth
  • 3 carrots, cut into 1/2” medallions
  • 1 can sliced water chestnuts
  • 3 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • S&P to taste
  • Five Spice powder as needed

Directions

  1. Season beef with S&P and Five Spice.
  2. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven and sear the beef in batches. Remove and reserve. Pour off any excess oil.
  3. Lower heat and add onion. Sweat until transparent. Add garlic, ginger, chili, star anise, and cinnamon sticks. Sauté briefly.
  4. Add tomato paste, stir to caramelize, deglaze with the sherry.
  5. Return the beef and add stock. Bring to simmer, cover and place in a 325˚F oven for 1-1/2 hours.
  6. Add carrots and cook for 30 minutes. Add fish sauce and adjust the seasoning.
  7. Garnish with lots of Thai basil, and enjoy.

Until we cook again,
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Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of The Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at cheffedup@folioweekly.com to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!

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