june 13, 2014
Long before I received any formal culinary training, I purchased some fish sauce at a market near my apartment in “Little Hanoi”, in what is now cosmopolitan Clarendon, Northern Virginia. I am embarrassed to admit that after taking one whiff, it was returned to the shop where a kindly proprietor urged me to reconsider, telling me “fish sauce smells bad, but tastes good”.
How right she was. My introduction to all things unusual, at least to a Southern girl raised on simple country cooking, started in my neighborhood Vietnamese cafes. Cilantro, fish sauce, shrimp paste wrapped around lengths of grilled sugar cane – all these delicacies and more were my entry into a new world of ethnic good eats.
To this day one of my favorite dishes is grilled meats or seafood on a bed of cellophane noodles punctuated with crisp vegetables and drizzled generously with nuoc cham, a pungent/sweet dressing made primarily with the aforementioned sauce of fermented little fish.
Last weekend’s trip to the South of the James Farmer’s Market determined what my platters of grilled shrimp and cellophane noodles (also known as bean thread noodles or glass noodles, made from mung beans) would contain. Teal Brooks of Pine Fork Farm had adorable pickling cucumbers and meaty oyster mushrooms, perfect for a short kiss on the grill and a nice base for the shrimp.
Barham Seafood’s Carolina shrimp are always sweet and tender. This year there are multiple venues for selling their fresh seafood. See Lemon Garlic Shrimp with Asparagus and Baby Peas and Shrimp with Late Summer Succotash for more on Barham’s tasty shrimp. Autumn and Brian of Tomten Farm in Green Bay, Virginia had gorgeous garlic scapes and spring onions, as well as lovely salad turnips which would adorn the plates of The Good Eats Company clients for the upcoming week.
With so many ingredients, you would be fooled into thinking this meal requires a big chunk of your time. Not so; the noodles and nuoc cham may be made a day ahead, and vegetables may be chopped ahead in stages. Brief grill time and a quick toss, and the result is a one-dish meal that could satisfy even the most picky eaters. Just don’t let them sniff the fish sauce.
Vietnamese Grilled Shrimp with Spring Vegetables
recipe by Michele Humlan, The Good Eats Company
eight large bamboo skewers
for nuoc cham : 5 tablespoons fresh lime juice, 4 tablespoons fish sauce, 2 tablespoons water, 2 tablespoons sugar – combine well, up to one day ahead
one pound fresh medium shrimp, deveined and peeled with tail shell left on
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce (found in Asian markets and many supermarkets)
neutral vegetable oil (canola, peanut, corn)
about 8 ounces cellophane noodles *
8 large flat mushrooms such as shiitake or oyster
4 small pickling cucumbers, thinly sliced on the diagonal
one medium carrot, finely shredded
¾ cup fresh sugar snaps, sliced thinly
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
⅓ cup garlic scapes, minced, or 2 medium garlic cloves thinly sliced
½ cup Thai basil, snipped
2 Thai bird chiles, thinly sliced (omit if you don’t tolerate the heat)
sliced lime for garnish
*cook’s note : not much standardization in weight packaging of bean thread noodles, so aim for about 6 of the 1.412 ounce packs, or one 8.72 ounce pack of noodles
- Soak bamboo skewers in water at least 30 minutes so they don’t burn on the grill.
- For shrimp marinade, mix 4 tablespoons lime juice with the sweet chili sauce, 1 tablespoon fish sauce and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in shallow nonreactive container like large glass baking dish.
- Thread shrimp onto soaked skewers and place in marinade, turning to coat and then turning again after 15 minutes with a total of 30 minutes marinade time.
- Place noodles in large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally and cooking for a total of 3-4 minutes or until soft and translucent but still firm to taste.
- Drain and rinse noodles under cold running water, draining well before tossing with about 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in large mixing bowl; at this point, you have the option of cutting the noodles several times with kitchen shears to make serving easier.
- While you are heating a gas grill to medium high heat, toss noodles with nuoc cham, cucumber, carrot, sugar snaps ,garlic scapes, cilantro and Thai basil.
- Brush tops of mushrooms lightly with oil and grill top side down, pressing lightly with spatula, just until wilted and lightly browned, about 1-2 minutes; set aside.
- Grill skewered shrimp on both sides, briefly and just until shrimp turns pink and begins to curl; avoid overcooking as they will continue to cook just off the grill.
- To assemble, divide noodle mixture among four plates, top each with two grilled mushrooms and then two shrimp skewers.
- Garnish with Thai bird chiles and slices of fresh lime.