Recipes from Dame Rebecca Wheeler’s Asian Tour

A group of Dames joined Rebecca Wheeler of Chicago Food Tours for a walk around the Asian neighborhood of Argyle and Broadway Streets in Uptown. Here are a few recipes she shared from the tour.

Chicken Simmered in Caramel Sauce

Recipe from Nancy McDermott’s Quick and Easy Vietnamese

1 1/2 pounds boneless-skinless chicken thighs

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2-3 large cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

2 tablespoons minced shallots

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons brown sugar or palm sugar (or 2 tablespoons Vietnamese caramel sauce)

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes, or 2 dried red chilies, crumbled

1/4 cup water

5 green onions, trimmed, white part thinly sliced on the diagonal, green part cut in 2 inch lengths on the diagonal


1 recipe Vietnamese caramel sauce (recipe follows)

Chop the chicken thighs into big pieces by halving each thigh and cutting each half into two pieces. In a large deep saucepan or skillet heat the oil over medium high heat until hot. Add the chicken and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, a few minutes.

Push the meat to one side of the pan and add the ginger, garlic and shallots to the middle of the pan. Cook for a minute, stirring, until fragrant, then toss with the chicken. Add both kinds of sugar (or Vietnamese caramel sauce) the fish sauce, salt, pepper, and chile flakes and toss to mix everything well. Let the sauce come to a strong boil and begin to thicken, then add the water. Adjust heat to maintain a lively simmer, then cook the chicken for 10-15 minutes, tossing now and then. When the sauce is a nice reddish brown syrup and the chicken is cooked through, add the green onions and toss well. Transfer to a serving dish and serve hot or warm with jasmine rice. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Vietnamese Caramel Sauce

1/4 cup cold water

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup hot water

Combine the cold water and sugar in a sturdy, medium saucepan over medium high heat and stir well. Cook, tilting the pan to swirl the sauce now and then until the liquid becomes syrupy and the color begins to change, 5 to 7 minutes. Have the hot water handy by the stove.

Watch carefully as soon as the syrup turns from clear to soft gold, to the color of honey. Swirl the syrup gently now and then, and be vigilant, this is the point where things start to happen fast. When the syrup is as dark as maple syrup, but not as dark as molasses, carefully pour the hot water down the side of the saucepan, and expect a small eruption of bubbling steamy chaos. Once the syrup settles down, continue cooking, stirring, until you have a smooth, thin, and handsome caramel-colored sauce.

Set aside to cool, and then transfer to a jar and close tightly. The syrup will keep at room temperature for up to one month. Makes about 1 cup.

Catfish in ClayPot

Recipe from Mai Pham

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, chopped
1 pound fresh catfish fillet, cut in thirds
4 tablespoons Vietnamese caramel sauce (recipe below)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons unsalted chicken stock or water
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat the vegetable oil in a claypot or medium fry pan over moderate heat. Add the garlic and shallots. Stir until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes, and add the catfish pieces. Cook until they turn almost white, about 2 minutes. Add the caramel sauce and gently stir for 1 more minute until the fish absorbs the sauce. Add the fish sauce and chicken stock and reduce heat. Simmer uncovered until the sauce has slightly caramelized, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and serve right out of claypot. Garnish with green onions and black pepper. Makes 2 to 3 servings.

Chef Mai Pham’s tips:
• In this relatively simple recipe, the homemade caramel sauce is an essential ingredient that imparts a nutty sweetness. Pham warns against substituting molasses, which would add an unpleasant bitter flavor. • Fish sauce (nuoc mam), a pungent, salty liquid made from fermented anchovies, adds depth and flavor to numerous Vietnamese dishes. For best results, choose bottles priced at $3 to $4 rather than $1, and pass on jars that are dark, which indicates oxidation or the presence of additives. “Look for fish sauce in glass jars. Avoid plastic,” says Pham. “The fish sauce should have a nice, even color, like iced tea.” She suggests Three Crabs, Lobster Boy, and Phu Quoc brands. When cooking with fish sauce, always add it to other liquids: Never place it directly in a hot, dry pan, which would broadcast its pungent, fishy odor throughout your kitchen in a less-than-pleasant way. Soy sauce is an acceptable vegetarian substitute, though it does lack fish sauce’s smoky complexity. • Clay-pot cooking is common in south Vietnam, where dishes are simmered in earthenware vessels that absorb moisture, producing a rich, caramelized sauce. Look for clay pots in Asian and cookware stores, and rinse a new pot with boiling water to rid it of any claylike smell. When placing a clay pot on the stove, it’s important to avoid heating it too quickly, or it will crack. On a gas stove, bring the heat up gradually. If you have an electric range, use a heat diffuser to be safe.


Roast Duck Red Curry


1-2 tablespoons vegetable cooking oil (not olive oil)

3 tablespoons red curry paste, more if you want the dish spicier

2 ½ cups coconut milk (I like Chaokoh)

1 tablespoon palm sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1-2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (add to taste)

½ Chinese roasted duck, de-boned and cut into bite size chunks (I buy mine at Sun Wah BBQ)

15 cherry tomatoes, cut in half if large

1 cup Japanese, Chinese or Thai eggplant, cut into bite-sized pieces or fresh sweet peas

1/2 cup large dice fresh pineapple

1 cup bamboo shoots

10 fresh kaffir lime leaves, half torn into pieces, half thinly sliced for garnish

Pre-heat a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable oil and, when hot, add the red curry paste. Stir-fry gently in the oil to release all the aromas.

Add the coconut milk and stir to combine. Season the curry sauce with the fish sauce, salt and palm sugar. Taste and adjust as necessary. The sauce should be slightly sweet and have enough saltiness to push all the flavors forward.

Add the kaffir lime leaves and eggplant a simmer a few minutes until the eggplant is tender (if using sweet peas instead, don’t add until the last minute). Add the duck and stir well. Add the tomatoes, pineapple, and bring to a simmer for a couple minutes. Serve garnished with kaffir lime strips and jasmine rice. Makes 4 servings.






Posted in UncategorizedTagged

Leave a Reply