The first time I remember having Vietnamese food, it was at a pho restaurant in Los Angeles. My family got pho on my brother's recommendation, but I ended up ordering some other dish. Though I don't recall the name of the dish, I remember that it smelled gross but tasted pretty good. The gross-but-good culprit? Fish sauce. It truly does smell terrible. But when you mix it with something sweet, something acidic, and something spicy, it somehow transforms into this tasty thing that leaves you wanting more.
This dish comes from the Global Kitchen cookbook. And I'm happy to report that I could find all the ingredients locally. I've found fish sauce, rice vermicelli, and serrano peppers at both HEB and the north Walmart. If you don't see rice vinegar with other vinegars, look in the international and/or Asian section of your grocery store.
Bun Tom Xao (Vietnamese Shrimp Noodle Bowl)
Slightly adapted from Cooking Light, as seen in Global Kitchen cookbook
Yield: 4 servings
1/2 cup warm water
3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
5 tsp. fish sauce
1-2 serrano chiles, thinly sliced
3 cups sliced cucumber (about 1 large cucumber)
4 cups green leaf lettuce, chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup torn fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup torn fresh basil or Thai basil leaves
5 oz. rice vermicelli noodles
1/2 cup peanuts, coarsely chopped (toasted if desired)
1/3 cup sliced green onions (1/4" slices) (about 2 green onions)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp. dark brown sugar (I used light brown)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 tsp. black pepper (or white pepper if you have it)
1 lb. shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed (thawed if frozen)
In a two-cup measuring cup or small bowl, combine warm water and sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add lime juice, rice vinegar, fish sauce, and serranos. It's going to smell seriously funky, so cover it with plastic wrap to keep that funk at bay, and set aside while you prepare the rest of the meal.
Peel cucumber if it's bitter. Cut into quarters lengthwise, then slice thinly. Toss with the lettuce, cilantro, mint, and basil.
Cook the rice vermicelli according to package directions. Rinse very well in cold water, and set aside to drain well. These noodles are super starchy, so if they're sitting for very long, give them another good rinse if they start to get sticky.
While the noodles are cooking, toast your peanuts, if desired, and allow them to cool before chopping. Slice your green onions and chop your garlic.
Combine cornstarch, brown sugar, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Add the shrimp and toss to coat well. If you have a wok, now is its time to shine. Otherwise, a large skillet will do quite nicely. Heat your wok/skillet over high heat, and add a swirl of canola oil. Add the shrimp to the pan, and cook until they start to develop a nice sear. When they're almost done, add the green onion and garlic, and stir-fry for about 30 seconds to 1 minute more. Remove from heat.
To serve, put a generous portion of the lettuce mixture in the bottom of each bowl. Top with noodles, shrimp, and chopped peanuts, and about 1/4 cup of the fish sauce-lime mixture.
- I've also made this with boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped into small, thin slices about the size of medium shrimp. And I actually liked it better with the chicken. If you use chicken, prepare and cook it the same way; you'll just need to cook it a bit longer than the shrimp.
- When I made this for just myself, I used only 1 serrano chile. When I made it with a friend I put 1 serrano in the sauce and sliced the other for an optional addition at table.