Our sense of smell can power our memories. Vietnam vets will remember street food as we fire up our grills for another season. One is Nuong Vit, charcoal barbecued duck with crackled skin like candy.
Our sense of smell can power our memories. Vietnam vets will remember street food as we fire up our grills for another season.
Vietnamese cooking to Americans ranges from the near garbage to the perfectly sublime. The fermented fish heads in hot sauce is something to miss. I can do without the live octopus that wiggles in the mouth.
Then again, there are dishes that our veterans still dream about and seek if they go back. One is Nuong Vit, charcoal barbecued duck with crackled skin like candy.
This is street food, purveyed by old guys over oil cans cut in half. The smoke, by design, drives your taste buds crazy. It’s served on a paper plate with a plastic fork, no knife needed. You hog the sweet skin first, then it takes at least a half hour to pick off every strand of meat.
After passing two or three of these stands, you’ve gotta have one.
I was thinking about it last summer when I encountered a recipe for Vietnamese duck. It’s easily converted to our game hens and still has that amazing glazed skin. Or, get a duck already.
The glaze/marinade is Chinese with the classic five-spice powder and fresh ginger available in our groceries. The spice is a combination of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise and Szechwan pepper. As you will witness, it’s memorable stuff on the grill.
THIT NUONG GA MAI
(Vietnamese barbecued hens)
4 Cornish game hens
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ginger root, minced
4 green onions (whites only), chopped
1 1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Mix all ingredients except the hens. Cut hens in half lengthwise along the breastbone. Flatten slightly with a cleaver. Place in a food-safe bag and add the sauce. Marinate in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, turning occasionally.
Heat your grill and barbecue the chicken about 15 minutes to the side, allowing the skin to turn dark brown but not burned.
Jim Hillibish writes for The Repository in Canton, Ohio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.