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Bun Thit Nai Nuong Xa (Vietnamese Lemon Grass BBQ Venison Noodle Salad) [Recipe]

Posted on 04 December 2010 by Cork Graham

Vietnam holds my first memories, some of them horrific: the bloodiest days of 1968’s “Little Tet” Offensive in May, marked in my mind by a US Army chopper firing rockets into a Vietcong machine gun post in a Saigon highrise; waking up in the public recovery room at the US Army’s hospital at Tan Son Nhut, among Vietnamese civilians wounded in the war…all well recorded in my 2004 Amazon Topseller memoir.

Other memories as the son of an American expat businessman, weren’t so traumatic and actually quite pleasant: skiing up and down the Saigon River to the Club Nautique (no, the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction wasn’t playing on the transistor radio) , trips to Dalat and Vung Tau, and my first taste of grilled venison noodle salad, otherwise known as Bun Thit Nuong Xa, thit nai being the venison (“meat deer” syntax) and xa the lemongrass that I think makes any wild game that much better.

The restaurant was in Saigon and I think we started going there in 1970 and continued as patrons until our leaving in 1972. Owned by a Frenchman and his Vietnamese wife, and dimly lit for romance it had a décor that would have made Graham Greene envious, but it was the food that made it one of the better-known restaurants in Saigon.

Bun Thit Nai Nuong Xa was only one of what were several courses required of business dinners designed for schmoozing clients, and especially bringing the family as family is very important in Asia. Company wining and dining budgets sure helped keep a family of four fed in those days. All I cared about though, as a boy of seven and then eight, was that big bowl of rice noodles topped by a mound of venison darkened by fire and sweet to the taste.

Over the years since I started deer hunting, I’ve played with the idea of putting it together as I remembered. Often, though, I’d just make a venison chili, marinated steaks, or an oven roast. As I’ve matured in my tastes and trained myself to recognize the different spices that make up dishes, I finally asked myself, what was it about that dish, aside from great tasting venison (probably a muntjac deer hunted by some Degar hunter in the Central Highlands, or a market hunter on one of the rubber plantations)?

When I shot such an amazingly tender mule deer up near Alturas, CA with the great assistance of newfound friends this last deer season, I suddenly got a bug to expand more than the normal repertoire of venison meals. For a meal with such a variety of aromatics and flavor, Bun Thit Nai Nuoung Xa turns out to be a very easy dish to prepare.

In California, it’s pretty easy to keep a stand of lemongrass growing all year in the Bay Area and Southern California; in a mini greenhouse, everywhere else, all year long. Makes a great tea with or without sugar and shows up in a majority of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Thai dishes, making it a worthwhile addition to anyone’s yard or window herb garden.

Finally, I said yesterday would be the day I made Bun Thit Nai Nuong Xa…and when I was done, I wondered why it too me so long: like my ours bourguignon that tastes better than beef bourguignion, Bun Thit Nai Nuong Xa tastes better than Bun Thit Nuong, i.e. the normal restaurant variety made with farmed pork…or the chicken and beef varieties for that matter.

…Yes, it’s that good!

Now you can purchase venison from ranches, but as far as I’m concerned farmed-raised deer is just a very lean beefsteak that used to have antlers instead of steer horns. Farm-raised means drugs, if even the lightest amount of antibiotics, and worst, fed a regulated diet of pellets and feed that comes in bags for improved muscle growth for weight at the market…all thanks to the USDA: we wonder why there’s obesity in the US?

If you want to get true organic venison, one that has been feeding on a variety of naturally occurring flora, living life in the wilds, absorbing all that made us that more connected to the healing qualities of the Earth, you’re going to have to get your venison with a gun or bow, or have a friend willing to share…

In just about every country outside the US, you can pay someone to shoot your venison…but why cut yourself out of the cycle of life equation that brings you that much closer to appreciating what you’re eating…or should be eating?

And while I’d never hunt muntjac in Asia as they’re definitely endangered there, I’d sure hunt them in Ireland and the UK where increasing numbers run the risk of a detrimental effect on native species of deer…as for New Zealand, with its low human population and major red deer populations hunting’s a given.

Now there are a lot of Vietnamese BBQ meat noodle salad recipes out there, but I’ve been enjoying reading the Vietnamese recipes published by the Ravenous Couple. Many of their recipes bring me back to the ones my mom learned from her Saigonese friends. Of course, as with all the recipes designed for meat from farm animals, I had to modify for wild game…

I wanted the venison to stand out, which means I had to remove some ingredients in the salad, and add to, and modify the marinade to deal with the dryness of venison—you’d be amazed at what good molasses can do!

Here is the recipe and please remember to comeback to make a comment below once you’ve finished enjoying your home cooked Bun Thit Nai Nuoung Xa–like traditional publications, it costs money to bring these articles FREE to YOU, paid for and supported by advertisers…part of which is attracted by rankings on Google, which is added to by the number of comments…You clicking on advertising links and making sure to make a comment on something you enjoyed means we’re able to keep bringing you useful information..and if you have a blog, too, the link to your blog through your comment brings your ranking up, too: win-win–Thank you and bon apetit!

If you’ve not got a local Asian foods market, you might find these ingredients and other things at Amazon worth ordering:

Bun Thit Nai Nuong Xa (BBQ Venison Noodle Salad)  [Recipe]

Serves four

Perfect Thit Nai cuts

Ingredients

  • 1-2 lbs of moose, blacktail, whitetail, mule deer or elk sliced ¼-inch thick and large enough so they won’t fall through a fish BBQ grill
  • 1 Cucumber cut in half, or quartered and then julienned
  • A bunch each of fresh mint, Thai basil, and cilantro some rolled and sliced, some leaves left whole for the chopped salad
  • One package of rice vermicelli
  • 2 green scallion minced
  • 1 tbs peanut oil
  • 3 tbs fresh peanuts coarsely ground then roasted.

Marinade

  • 1/4 cup minced Lemongrass (Xa) stalk [Cut the stalk an inch from the ground and trim off the green leaves to boil in water for a great tea]
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar—you can use refined sugar, but I think the added molasses adds something special.
  • 2 tbs fish sauce (Nuoc Mam—“water fish”)
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (use more according to taste)
  • 2-3 shallots, minced, or a tbs of thinly sliced red onions
  • 1 tbs sesame oil
  • 2 tbs soy sauce
  • 1-2 tbs of molasses

 

Nuoc Mam Cham (This is the sweet delicious dipping sauce you get served with Chai Gios [Imperial Rolls])

  •   ½ cup Nuoc Mam (Fish Sauce)
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • 2-3 tbs white vinegar
  • 1 tsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 Thai bird chili finely chopped

NOTE: Personally, I never started adding the vinegar until a friend of mine who escaped Hanoi on  a refugee boat, and started the best Hanoi-style noodle shop in San Francisco, called Loi’s—and after  a long hiatus started Cheramoya in Burlingame—turned me onto his use of vinegar.

And even this recipe I just mess around with above for my own tastes everytime I cook…

Everyone…and I mean EVERYONE has his or her own family take on this sauce in Vietnam. I’ve had it salty. I have had it bitter…and I’ve had it so sickeningly sweet I should have poured it on a strawberry sundae—you have my permission to experiment! 😉

Steps

  1. Mix the marinade to taste. Remember, everyone has different tastebuds and cultural tastes. Myself, I start with the recipe I’ve put together and add and subtract at each cooking session to make sure the marinade tastes exactly the way I like it.
  2. Immerse and stir the venison in the marinade. Cover and set in the refrigerator for at least an hour. I like to let it set for 2-3 hours to really get that marinade to the core.
  3. Start up the grill. I prefer to use a small Weber–and use charcoal…gas sucks. If you use a large one, you have to fill it up with a lot of charcoal. With a small Weber, I get high heat without wasting a bunch of charcoal—you want that meat right down there, almost touching the coals to really sear and get the molasses to crust over. Crusting helps keep the normally dry venison moist.
  4. Place the meat in a fish and vegetable basket grill and place on the grill.
  5. Cook the meat on one side for 2-3 minutes (we’re talking high heat here) until browning and slight blacking of tips…all that caramelizing for great taste!
  6. Remove the venison from the fire. Might be sticking, so let it cool on the grill so that it’s not falling to pieces as you remove it from the basket grill.
  7. While the meats resting, roast the ground peanuts in a dry frying pan to brown them slightly and bring out their flavor, then set aside.
  8. Heat up the peanut oil, or cottonseed oil can work, and fry the minced scallions until slightly sweated and then place on a paper towel to remove some of the oil and set aside.
  9. Boil the package of rice vermicelli, drain and set aside—if you want your noodles cold, then I suggest doing this first, or while the meat is marinating.
  10. In a soup bowl (if you have an actual Pho bowl of china, so much the better), place some of the chopped salad, then a layer of the rice vermicelli.
  11. Slice the cooked venison into large bite sizes easily picked up by chopsticks and place on top.
  12. Top with a light sprinkling of the prepared scallions and peanuts
  13. Serve with chopsticks and small bowl of the nuoc mam cham for your guests to dip the venison, or just pour over the whole dish and mix.

Enjoy!

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JOHN NOSLER: GOING BALLISTIC by John Nosler and Gary Lewis [BOOK REVIEW/RADIO INTERVIEW]

Posted on 21 October 2010 by Cork Graham

On October 10, 2010 (that’s right, 10/10/10), a pioneer crossed the summit between this world and the next. If you’re a firearms and reloading enthusiast, you probably knew his name. If you are a hunter, you should.

John Nosler, 97, was a hunter, engineer, innovator, and pioneer in the field of bullet-making—he was a self-made man. Like any self-made man who has been successful, he understood the importance of relationships—no one has ever become successful being a loner.

Nosler’s personal telephone book over the years included some of the other vanguards of the firearms industries, some of them very well-known because of their writing, like Elmer Keith, Jack O’Connor and Chub Eastman (he wrote the memoir’s foreword), some remembered through their own mark in the bullet and reloading industry: Fred Huntington, founder of RCBS; Hornady founder Joyce Hornady; and Speer Bullets founder Vernon Speer, to name a few.

This was a history not only of cartridge and rifle component making, but the story of America pulling itself out of dire economic straits and moving through what many might call the heyday of American might and wherewithal.

At the open of the book, the reader is introduced to John Nosler as a child in Southern California. It’s a wonderful vignette to how most of America was very much rural, and that surburban was a term to come about after the major industrial push into cities after World War II, with the resulting need for workers to not completely lose that connection to the wilds.

In the second chapter we learn about Nosler’s love of all things mechanical, often roadsters and rifles. This natural interest in machines led to his employment at the Ford Motor Company. Through Ford, John Nosler arrived in Reedsport, Oregon: not the place to try selling autos during the Great Depression, much less immediately after an influx of labor unions and a major layoff at the local lumber yard.

A job change and start of a trucking company quickly ensued. The center of Shakespeare Theater on the West Coast, an idyllic western town that drew my own grandmother to live with her aunt immediately after the loss of her parents in a murder-suicide in Chicago in 1914; Ashland, Oregon also, later drew the Nosler family and would become the initial headquarters of the Nosler Partition Bullet Company in 1948.

What were few opportunities in Southern California for deer hunting were replaced with a plethora of deer, elk and black bear in Oregon. A love for shooting was supported well at the Ashland Gun Club, an environment supportive of healthy understandings of firearms and shooting.

Nosler moved its headquarters to Bend in 1958, incorporating in 1960 into what we recognize with distinction as Nosler Bullets, Inc. Bend was very smart in offering incentive to Nosler, which would be a very beneficial venture for Nosler and the local populace.

The Bullet

To think that the famous Nosler Partition Jacket Bullet that has led to the improved kill ratios on big-game around the world came about as the result of John Nosler’s almost losing a moose on one of his earlier hunts in British Columbia, a time when a hunting trip up to Canada could be as challenging as a safari in Africa during its peak in the late 1920s and early 1930s, of which Ruark and Hemingway wrote.

Banking on his own intellectual resourcefulness that led him to a number of successes at Ford, and his own trucking company, in positions that most people now couldn’t apply for without a university degree, Nosler designed his Partition and created the company that has brought about so many innovations in bullet design over the last sixty-two years.

John Nosler: Going Ballistic – The Life and Adventures of John Nosler, a memoir that came about through many hours of Gary Lewis’s recorded interviews with John Nosler in 2003, goes into much more depth than could ever be captured of a man’s life in a magazine article, even the designing of the bullets that have become the crowning glories of the company, such as the Nosler Partition that started it all, the Zipedo, a bullet offering I didn’t even know about until I read the book, the Ballistic Tip, which I shot my first blacktail with near California’s Lake Almanor in the mid-1980s, and the bullet that has quickly become one of my favorites, if not my favorite, the Nosler Accubond, marrying the best qualities of Nosler’s offerings: the accuracy of the Ballistic Tip, and the penetration and energy delivery to the animal’s vitals of the Nosler Partition.

Nosler seems to have been part of many firsts of my life. Just last Saturday, I used the Accubond to shoot my first California mule deer in Modoc County. The shot wasn’t ideal  (only offered a view of the buck’s rear, with the deer looking back over its shoulder, ready to take off straight away from me at 200 yards), but with my Model 70 Super Grade solid on shooting sticks, I took the shot, confident that if I didn’t hit the spine with my ½ MOA rifle, by using the base of the tail as a target, the bullet would still do its job.

When we got to the buck that expired within 10 yards of where it had been hit, I was delighted at how the .270 caliber 130 gr. Accubond bullet had done what it was supposed to: deliver high shock and deep penetration. It was a tricky shot and one that could have really made a mess. As it was, by the time I butchered the buck after four days aging in my garage, I not only had a completely undamaged liver that I had collected the evening of the shot, but had lost only a little bit of meat on the right inside of the buck’s ham, an inch from the base of the tail, to bloodshot where the Accubond entered. NOTE: I’d never have attempted such a shot without confidence in my shooting ability based on years of practice, or using a bullet I wasn’t sure would so efficiently retain its weight, mushrooming in a timely manner to deliver such lethality so far into the chest.

I’ve been impressed and continue to be impressed by the offerings John Nosler envisioned and I’m sure we’ll continue to see more as the next generations carry the Nosler flag—a legacy I’m delighted and honored to have had a peek into through the well-written, entertaining and informative John Nosler: Going Ballistic – The Life and Adventures of John Nosler.

For your daily commute on your MP3 player – Click the Play Button now, or Download and Enjoy Author Gary Lewis’s interview, along with snippets of Lewis’s interviews of John Nosler, on Cork’s Outdoors Radio:

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FORGOTTEN SKILLS OF COOKING by Darina Allen [Book Review & CO Radio/TV]

Posted on 19 August 2010 by Cork Graham

In 1972, I arrived in Singapore to attend the Singapore American School and soon after was introduced to a documentary film, called Future Shock, based on a book by Alvin Toffler and narrated by Orson Welles which was taking the US by storm. As a child, it totally freaked me out….perhaps one of the reasons I avoided computers until I could avoid them no longer. At that time there was also a large movement to get back to basics.

It revealed itself in the very large “Ecology” movement of the 1970s (remember the riff on the American flag, in green with the Greek letter ‘Theta’ where the stars and blue background would have been?), and publications like The Foxfire Books, a collection of stories detailing life in Southern Appalachia. I still have my father’s copies that he picked up on visits back to the States. It’s full of information on woodcraft and pre-supermarket self-reliance. They even showed how to properly scald a pig, which I used in this episode of Cork’s Outdoor TV on roasting a pig.

I’m reminded greatly of the back-to-basics movement of the 1970s, by these latest “slow food” and “green food” movements recorded by Michael Pollan and Paul Bertolli. What could be better than eating food that led to a slower and more relaxed society? But, so much information has been lost due to the increasing lack of family histories and traditions being handed down through live practice, i.e. on a farm or ranch. So many generations have moved off the land and into cities. Nowadays, most slow food information is that carried into the US by new immigrants from Asia and Latin America.

This is a pity as there was a lot of slow food information held in the family lines that came here from Northern Europe. In March of this year, I had the opportunity to complete a phone interview for Cork’s Outdoors Radio with one such food authority on her latest book on getting back to the basics (be sure to listen to the audio and watch the show below).

Darina Allen is noted as the “Julia Child of Ireland” and has been entertaining and educating on the subject of cooking in Ireland and the United Kingdom through her TV show and a collection of books. Her latest book, Forgotten Skills of Cooking: The Time Honored Ways are The Best – Over 700 Recipes Show You Why, is that treasure trove of not only Irish, British, and foods from other parts of the world, like Italian slow food recipes, but also articles and remedies for raising your own chickens for meat and eggs, how to properly butcher large farm animals like pigs, cattle and lambs.

It’s a gorgeous book, with photos that took all the seasons to create, evidenced by plants in bloom, and the foods in season. It’s all about being seasonal, Allen says, something clear in how she describes not only those foods that are collected on the farm, but also on a day’s walk in the woods gathering such morsels for the kitchen as nettles, mushrooms and a number of herbs, leafy greens, and berries.

Both land and water are covered, with foraging rewards, like limpets that are easily found in the Americas, and are cooked in a number of dishes that incorporate the bounty of the farm and field.

Though spending a lot of time reading through the scrumptious recipes that anyone would easily take a few years preparing all the scrumptious family meals using organic ingredients (either purchased or foraged): pies, breads, puddings, roasts and grilled fishes, I was keen on the game and fish sections.

Hare, venison, duck and goose are covered well, both as farm offerings and from the marsh, and of course the obligatory pheasant, but I’d done enough pheasant recipes lately, so I quickly focused on the basil cream rabbit recipe. It was the very cottontail taken with a .22 pellet rifle from Crosman. Who would have thought the hardest part for this recipe was to get the caul fat: Thank God for Dittmer’s in Mountain View, CA!

Watch the preparation and presentation on Cork’s Outdoors TV and return for the recipe below:

SADDLE OF RABBIT WITH CREAM, BASIL, AND CARAMELIZED SHALLOTS

reprinted with permission from the publisher, KYLE BOOKS

SERVES 6

6 saddle of rabbit (use the legs for confit)

4oz pork caul fat

salt and freshly ground pepper

extra virgin olive oil

23 cup dry white wine

23 cup Chicken Stock

23 cup cream

2oz basil leaves

Caramelized Shallots (see below)

 Steps:

  1. Trim the flap of each saddle, if necessary (use in stock or pâté).
  2. Remove the membrane and sinews from the back of the saddles
  3. with a small knife.
  4. Wrap each saddle loosely in pork caul fat.
  5. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the rabbit pieces in a stainless steel or heavy roasting pan and roast for 8–12 minutes, depending on size.
  7. Remove from the oven, cover, and allow to rest.
  8. Degrease the pan if necessary, and put the wine to reduce in the roasting pan.
  9. Reduce by half over medium heat, add the chicken stock, and continue to reduce.
  10. Add the cream.
  11. Bring to a boil, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, and add lots of snipped basil.
  12. Serve the rabbit with the basil sauce, caramelized shallots, boiled new potatoes, and a good green salad.

 

CARAMELIZED SHALLOTS

1lb shallots, peeled

4 tablespoons butter

12 cup water

1–2 tablespoons sugar

salt and freshly ground pepper

 Steps:

  1. Put all the ingredients in a small saucepan, and add the peeled shallots.
  2. Cover and cook on a gentle heat for about 10–15 minutes or until the shallots are soft and juicy.
  3. Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally.
  4. Allow the juices to evaporate and caramelize. Be careful not to let them burn.

For more information on Darina Allen’s cooking school in Ireland, check out her school’s website: Ballymaloe Cookery School

 

For your daily commute on your MP3 player – Download and Enjoy Darina Allen’s interview on Cork’s Outdoors Radio:

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