A noodlepie cooking lesson – this is a first and quite possibly a last… This recipe for Chao Luon (Vietnamese eel porridge) comes to you as part of the 5th ‘Is my blog burning?’ international cooking event. The idea for IMBB came from this proposal by Alberto, the author of Il Forno. Anybody with a blog can join in. The only rules are; you cook sommit, you write about it, you blog up on a certain day and you include whatever key ingredient was chosen for the event, that being fish today. I chose eel. Oh, and you tell whoever is hosting blog burning day. Today that be Wena at mum-mum.
Here’s what you’ll need to cook Chao Luon yourself. This recipe comes to you via a Vietnamese cook from the Mekong Delta. I think it’s great, but have no idea whether this is the definitive way to cook Chao Luon. Here goes…
600g Fresh Eel
A couple of chopped up Pork bones or a knuckle
1 or 2 cups of medium – long grain rice.
Salt, pepper and sugar
First sling the pork bones into a large stock pot filled with a third boiling water, add a couple of healthy pinches of salt. Let that fester away gently on a medium to low heat. Meanwhile, your eel should still be wriggling around the kitchen somewhere. Catch it and chop its head off and using a knife slit the still slivering body along its belly. Take any scrummy orange eggs out and keep them safe. Then chop up your eel into five or six pieces and clean them out under the tap. (The tail section of the eel I bought was still wriggling post head chop, belly slit, egg scoop and sectioning. The tail gave a final death-flick as it hit the hot stock pot.)
Sling all the eel pieces, including the head section into the stock pot. Also add the string of eel egg spawn at this stage. If you’re squeamish about eel murder, which is understandable, contract out the killing and dismembering to someone who isn’t. You could scrimp by using frozen or (better) fresh, pre-killed and prepared eel, but alive and slivering is the way to go, believe me.
Simmer that aromatic lot and skim any muck from the top of the stock as you wait. Also, you can finely chop the coriander and spring onions and put them in a small bowl at this point. After 5-10 minutes, take the eel and the eggs out of the stock pot and put on a side plate. Add the 1 – 2 cups of rice to the stock pot and continue simmering. While it bubbles away, strip the cooked eel from the bone and chuck the eel bones back into the stock pot. (Eel bones are supposed to be very healthy, particularly for people with back trouble.) The eel head can go in too. This needs to continue simmering uncovered for a further 40 minutes.
Now, back to your plate of cooked eel. Grind some pepper over the freshly cooked meat and eel eggs. It should smell great. There’s nothing liked the smell of a fresh eel, freshly cooked. Marvellous. Douse with a bit of fish sauce, sprinkle with a couple of pinches of sugar and scatter a wee smidgen of the chopped spring onions over the top (don’t add the coriander). Leave that lot on the plate to rest. Continue skimming the broth of scum as and when needed. Grab yourself a beer from the fridge, you’ve earned it. Noodlepie’s beer serving suggestion while waiting for a Chao Luon to cook is Exmoor Gold – if you can get it.
After your 40 minutes are up, add a little more sugar to the stock and take out the eel bones and marrow bled pork bones. The stock will have reduced and the rice will have gone slightly mushy. Now you can throw in the plate of seasoned eel meat and eel eggs. At this point you’ll need to check you’ve got your seasoning right. Taste and add fish sauce, salt, and sugar as you see fit. It’s also time to add 6 or 7 grinds on your peppermill. Once you’ve got it to your liking, turn off the gas, you’re done.
Serve in a soup bowl. You can sprinkle the chopped spring onion and coriander on top of your Chao Luon. Add more pepper if you like. If you can buy Quai (breadsticks) near where you live, they make a dip-tastic addition. The eel costs 90,000VD/kilo. If that’s all a bit Asiatic for your tastes, try this Italian recipe for Eels and Mash. Can’t be arsed to cook? you can get a decent Chao Luon at Quan An Ngon.