For chef Isabelle Nguyen, who grew up under the influence of a mother who strived for perfection in cooking, the “homestyle” Vietnamese food Nguyen ate everyday is the cuisine she’s now serving up at her pop-up cooking concept, “The Art of Pho,” in New York City.
Vienamese Food in Brooklyn
On a recent Saturday night at the Court Tree Collective, a hip, intimate arts and cooking events space in Brooklyn, New York, Chef Isabelle Nguyen dished out a three-course tasting menu of flavorful Vienamese food. The dishes harken back to her childhood and the town of My Tho, where she was born. Nguyen, a self-taught chef, had been cooking in New York restaurants for the last few years and came up with her cooking pop-up after finding herself disappointed in the selection of Vietnamese food found in the city.
About a Broth
Nguyen explains the flavor of her pho broth (made with bone soup stock) comes from hours (16 to be precise) of “patient simmering.” She says that in a previous “Pho How-To” course she’s given, attendees tasted the differences between four different pho broths—each cooked to different levels of readiness spanning from 8 to 24 hours—and one sample of a restaurant-made pho. As the pho simmers, she says, the flavor develops, the color changes and a darker, richer, deeper taste accompanies the timing.
Timing is Everything
For Nguyen, there’s no skimping on time taken to make her pho. Her mother’s perfectionism translated to an inherited passion to “make sure the things she loves to eat are put out correctly.” When finished, Nguyen wants a clear broth with no cloudiness or murkiness, accompanied by a deep color and fragrance. The flavor should linger, she says.
On the Menu
The evening’s menu comprised of two appetizers—first crispy rice with braised pork belly and quail egg, with picked greens, ginger, crisp cucumbers and a scallion dressing, and second a grilled pork summer roll with fish dipping sauce. The crispy rice appetizer was inspired by memories of her mother pulling crispy rice from the pot edges after juices had soaked in while cooking.
The main course, the pho, was served with sliced round beef, handmade meatballs, and garnished with cilantro, basil, lime wedges and jalapenos. Nguyen’s website gives you five reasons why you should try the pho, touting, among other things, the stock’s benefit to hair, nails and skin.
On a recent Dr. Oz episode, the doctor reminisced about how he’d grown up drinking bone broth as a child in Turkey, and touted health benefits, including it being a great source of hydration, an easy way to digest protein, and most importantly, a way to combat fatigue. (Other forms of bone broth mentioned included “Jewish penicillin”-aka chicken broth, Mexican bone broth, and French bone broth.)
Dessert was a coconut cream pudding with pandan whipped cream, crushed lime peanuts, toasted coconut flakes and a green tea cookie. Decadent but light and airy at the same time.
The Pho Recipe
Event foodies described the pho as “beautifully clean and very fresh,” and “truly delicious.” One attendee who hails from Israel, said hers had a, “sweetness, yet it was not sweet, a smokiness, yet it was not smoky.” She was eating a vegetarian version of the pho. Chef Nguyen will work to adjust for dietary restrictions, but prefers to be contacted in advance so she can do so. To learn about the next pop-up experience, follow Nguyen on Instagram or twitter @theartofphonyc. If you’re salivating and want to get cooking now, Chef Isabelle Nguyen generously shares her “Quick Shrimp Summer Rolls” recipe.
- "Quick Shrimp Summer Rolls" recipe.
- It can be made alternatively with chicken, pork, tofu, or vegetarian style with vegetables like blanched carrots, zucchini and sliced avocado.
- 6 cooked shrimp
- 6 pieces of butter lettuce
- 6 3" cucumber sticks
- 6 cilantro sprigs
- 18 mint leaves
- ½ cup cooked rice vermicelli
- 6 sheets of rice paper
- Bowl of hot water
- Fish dipping sauce
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 6 thin slices of thai bird chili pieces (You can also substitute serrano peppers)
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 T sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ cup water
- For the summer rolls
- Slice the shrimp in half. Set aside.
- On a clean surface, dip one sheet of rice paper into the bowl of hot water and place on surface.
- Place and line the shrimp, lettuce, cucumber, cilantro, mint, and rice vermicelli on the rice paper, about 2" from the bottom of the edge.
- Roll the rice paper slowly and carefully so it does not rip. The rolls should be approx 3-4" long.
- Roll the remaining summer rolls and serve immediately.
- For the fish dipping sauce
- Mix the lime juice, salt, and sugar until dissolved.
- Add in the fish sauce, garlic, chili slices, and water and mix until blended.