It's a pretty solid gig for someone who loves food. The best part? The test kitchen. A constant stream of goodness comes my way - delicious tiny bowls of food to sample, new ideas for my own recipes, and the tutelage of a fantastic head chef that is part mom, part big sister and entirely the boss of all things delicious.
I constantly nag Chef Justine for advice on how to cook stuff. Her pedigree in the San Francisco food world is pretty amazing, but I'm most interested in her very long stint at the Slanted Door , a restaurant in the Financial District with swanky-yet-authentic Vietnamese food. I'm a junkie for Southeast Asia, so it's been a dream to pick Justine's brain.
My latest obsession? Banh Xeo - a crispy Vietnamese crepe filled with shrimp and bean sprouts, served with loads of garnishes and the classic dipping sauce Nuoc Cham. When I asked Justine how to make it, she didn't just tell me what to do - she whipped out the Vietnamese cookbook she wrote along with Charles Phan, the founder of the Slanted Door. Then she warned me, kindly, that I would probably mess it up, and more than once.
So I went home and cooked it, and magically, didn't mangle it too bad. It's all about managing expectations. So when you cook the recipe, there will be some extra batter, in case you do mess it up. But I bet you'll nail it.
Recipe adapted from The Slanted Door: Modern Vietnamese Cooking by Charles Phan.
Banh Xeo - Crispy Vietnamese Crepes with Shrimp
Yield: 3 crepes (serves 6 as a starter, 3 as a main)
Prep Time: 10 min plus resting Cook Time: 10 min per crepe Total Time: 1 hour
1 cup rice flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 c coconut milk
1 tsp salt
4 scallions, green tops only, sliced thin
6-9 Tbs canola or grapeseed oil
1/2 small onion, peeled and sliced thin
8 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and cut lengthwise in half
2 cups mung bean sprouts
1 head red leaf lettuce
6 large mint sprigs
1/2 cucumber, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
1 carrot, shredded into matchsticks
Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce:
3-4 Tbs lime juice
3-4 Tbs sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce, plus extra to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Thai chilies, minced
Make the batter: Combine rice flour, cornstarch and turmeric in a bowl. Pour in coconut milk, 2 cups water and salt. Whisk until well mixed. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes (or refrigerate up to 12 hours). Stir in scallions just before you make the crepes.
Make crepes: Heat 1 Tbs oil in a 10" nonstick pan over high heat. Add 1/3 of onions and cook without stirring for about 30 seconds.
Stir the batter, then pour 1/2 cup into the pan. Lift and tilt the pan, swirling the batter so it coats the bottom and halfway up the sides. Return to heat and cook for 1 minute, until crepe looks fairly dry.
Place 4 pieces of shrimp and a large handful of bean sprouts over half the crepe. Cover the pan, reduce heat to medium, and cook for about 2 minutes.
Increase heat to medium high and uncover the pan. Carefully lifting one edge of the crepe, drizzle some oil into the pan under the crepe to crisp up the bottom. Avoid pouring oil directly on the crepe itself. Continue cooking, uncovered, for 5 minutes, til crepe is browned on the bottom.
Using a spatula, gently fold the empty half of the crepe over the filling. Remove from the pan to a plate.
Stir the batter well, and repeat for the remaining 2 crepes.
Make dipping sauce: Combine 3 Tbs lime juice with 3 Tbs sugar and stir til dissolved. Add 1/4 cup fish sauce, garlic and chilies. Taste, and add more sugar, lime juice and/or fish sauce to adjust to your preference.
To serve: Place lettuce leaves, mint, cucumber slices and carrots on a platter. Serve alongside hot crepes and dipping sauce.
To eat, cut a piece of crepe, wrap in a lettuce leaf with mint, cucumber and carrot, then dip in Nuoc Cham.