The spring festival or Chinese New Year falls on January 28th this year. It’s always been a good opportunity for caterers to put on a theme day, dress the unit up a bit and put on some great food that is perhaps rarely cooked at other times in the year. While this is always a great celebration and always popular with customers, those looking to change things up a little bit could do far worse than looking south and putting on a second theme day featuring the fascinating and beautiful cuisine of Vietnam.
Vietnamese cooking has several immediate benefits to the contract caterer. It’s light, full of flavour, healthy and simple to make. It also has the added benefit of being relatively un-explored in the contract world.
Vietnamese cooking has evolved over thousands of years. In addition to what was already happening inside its many regions, the influence of thousands of years of Chinese rule has can clearly be seen; chopsticks are widely used and stir frying is a frequently used technique. French colonial rule brought with it not only greater variety of ingredients but also some refinement in technique. Added to this are influences from Cambodia and the spices of India and you have a cuisine that is among the most sophisticated and delicate in the world.
The featured dish is a stuffed squid. It’s very quick to cook and full of great flavour and texture, with the noodles and finely chopped mushrooms holding the filling together. The green papaya salad is borrowed from Thai cookery, but it stands up to the bolder flavours of the dressing and is very refreshing when eaten as an accompaniment.
There isn’t a sauce or dressing with this dish but if you’d like one then some sweet chilli, water and a pinch of 5 spice once the squid has been cooked makes a good rudimentary pan sauce. Some sticky rice would be the best accompaniment.
10 large squid tubes (or more smaller ones) – cleaned dried and tentacles removed
500g minced pork
2 finely diced shallots
6 spring onions
Fish sauce, soy sauce
200g finely chopped mushrooms
300g glass noodles
1 finely chopped red chilli
3 cloves finely chopped garlic
Green papaya salad
600g green papaya (very finely shredded)
Chopped red chilli
Handful cut cherry tomatoes
Sweat the shallots, garlic and chilli. Turn up the pan and brown the pork mince.
When the meat is cooked add the glass noodles, mushrooms, herbs, spring onion and seasonings to taste. Leave to cool.
Stuff the squid about ¾ full and secure the end with a cocktail stick. Poke a hole in one end so that the tubes don’t expand and burst.
Heat some veg oil and brown the squid all over. Cover with a lid and cook for a couple of minutes until cooked through. De-glaze, if you like, with some sweet chilli sauce, water and a pinch of 5 spice to drizzle over. Leave to rest before slicing.
For the dressing, put everything except the papaya, tomatoes and herbs into a bowl and pummel with the end of a rolling pin. When the balance of the dressing is about right, add the herbs.
When ready to serve, lightly dress the papaya and scatter in the tomatoes. Enjoy!