An: To Eat- Recipes and Stories from a Vietnamese Family Kitchen, written by Helene and Jacqueline An, features a collection of 100 unique recipes with influences from Vietnamese, French, and California cuisine. Helene and Jacqueline also share their remarkable family history, from a high-ranking aristocratic family in Vietnam to life during the wars, becoming refugees, relocating in America, and building their restaurant empire. Those already introduced to Vietnamese ingredients will find familiar flavors presented in a new and exciting way with French Onion Phở with Beef Ravioli, Balsamic Chicken Pot Stickers, Coconut Cake with Strawberry Sauce, Kobe Beef Meatballs on Sugar Cane, Tiato Rolls, and more.
Helene An was born in Kiến An, Vietnam to an aristocratic family. She fled to Saigon when North Vietnam fell under Communist rule, then to a refugee camp in the Philippines before settling in San Francisco. She is now the matriarch behind the House of An, a collection of 5 restaurants in California that she runs with her five daughters: Thanh Long, Anqi, Tiato, and Crustacean (Esquire’s 1997 “Best New Restaurant” and winner of the Five-Star Diamond Award) in two locations (San Francisco, Beverly Hills). In 2007, she was inducted into the Smithsonian Institute for her work in promoting Vietnamese cuisine to America. She has also been featured in Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate and is regularly chosen by the James Beard Foundation to host events.
Jacqueline An followed in her mother’s footsteps with her passion for food and is now a managing partner for the House of An. She was born in America and graduated from the Wharton School of Business. She put together the cookbook to have a permanent source of her mother’s life and recipes in a culture where recipes are generally passed orally through the generations. She and her mother both now live in Beverly Hills.
Chapters are divided based on theme: Introduction, Simple Divinity, Indochine Reverie, New Home Comfort, Everyday Gourmet, Bistronomy, Sides, Desserts, Drinks, and Broths, Sauces, Dressings & Special Ingredients.
The An family begins with an introduction to Vietnamese cuisine and history. Basic cooking techniques are explained (cutting, stir-frying, steaming, boiling, simmering, poaching, stewing, and braising) along with preparation of more specific ingredients such as banana leaves (I appreciate the tip to rinse banana leaves under hot water to bring out their bright green color), rice, bean sprouts, rice paper, fresh herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, and meats. While no special tools or gadgets are required to complete the recipes in the book, some recommended items such as a wok and rice cooker are covered in detail with information on picking one out, seasoning, use, and cleaning.
I love the personal notes and stories throughout the book. You will get a glimpse of Helene An’s experiences in Vietnam during a time of war and how she grew into the person who built a restaurant empire and raised her daughters in the food industry.
Measurements are provided in US Customary. The name of the dish is written in English (though the Vietnamese name is written in the headnotes if applicable). Background information is provided for every recipe with its inspiration, serving ideas, and tips.
The photography is by Evan Sung with prop styling by Nidia Cueva. Family photos accompany many of the stories plus photos from the restaurants. Most of the recipes include a beautifully styled photo of the finished dish.
This is a great book for those looking for Vietnamese flavors with a twist. Many of the dishes are naturally gluten-free and combine meat/lean seafood with fresh vegetables and herbs. While a few of the recipes can be prepared quickly, many are on the more complex side and perfect for impressing guests or weekend cooking. Novice cooks will appreciate the breakdown of techniques. I love that they didn’t skimp on the beverage section with a selection of alcoholic cocktails, coffee, tea, and limeade. An states that “having good drinks is just as important as having good food for your guests.” There is also a section for special ingredients, broths, sauces, and dressings to help build a strong foundation and add additional flavor. For those interested in entertaining, there is a guide with tips and a beer/wine pairing for the main entrees in the back of the book. Having access to an Asian food market specializing in Southeast Asian cuisine will be helpful to locate some of the fresh herbs, spices, and sauces.
Shaken Beef (Shaking Beef, Bo Luc Lac, Thit Bo Luc Lac) is named due to the cooking method used to prepare the meat. The wok is shaken during cooking to sear the beef evenly on all sides and coat in a savory sauce. It is traditional made using lesser cuts of meat like flank steak, but An takes the dish to the next level with the addition of the more tender filet mignon (steak cut from the smaller end of beef tenderloin).
After searing the beef, the cubes are seasoned with garlic and a Red Wine Worcestershire sauce. The original recipe includes double the amounts of the red wine sauce to save the leftovers for later. I halved it since it still created more than enough sauce. The meat is seared in two batches to prevent overcrowding with 2 tablespoons of the sauce per batch.
I served the beef over a bed of lettuce, but An also recommends roasted potatoes as used at their Crustacean restaurant. Watercress is also a popular option.
Oyster sauce is a dark brown sauce created by cooking oyster extract with salt and sugar. It is common in Southeast Asian cuisines. Check the labels before buying. Lower quality sauces include caramel coloring or other additives. It can be found in Asian food markets or some larger grocery stores.
I also made Chicken Phở with Kaffir Lime, Baby Bok Choy in Garlic Sauce, Vietnamese Affogato, and Corn Silk Tea.
I absolutely love Phở, but have only made it at home a handful of times due to the intimidation and long simmering time. Helene regularly has Phở Ga (Chicken Phở) for breakfast and has included a recipe for her Chicken Phở with Kaffir Lime. It actually wasn’t difficult at all, but packed with flavor. Making the chicken broth ahead of time and freezing until needed helps cut back the work on the day of preparation. The addition of kaffir lime leaves add extra fragrance to this comforting dish. New to Vietnamese cuisine and unsure of how to enjoy dishes like Phở? The Ans have that covered with a noodle buying guide and tips for preparation and eating.
Baby Bok Choy in Garlic Sauce is a quick and simple vegetable side. Halved baby bok choys are blanched, then quickly stir-fried in a seasoned garlic butter sauce. It is a nice accompaniment to many of the dishes in the book and Claire particularly loved this one.
The Vietnamese Affogato was quite the delicious dessert and only has three ingredients. Vanilla ice cream is topped with dark roast Vietnamese coffee and a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk. Chad wasn’t too sure about this at first (he has never paired ice cream with coffee), but it quickly grew on him. I am generally not a coffee-drinker, but loved the Affogato. It was the perfect combination of creamy ice cream and condensed milk to intense coffee.
The Corn Silk Tea was so interesting to me. Vietnamese cuisine focuses on not wasting any part of the plant or animal. Fresh summer corn on the cob is a favorite for Evan, so it is great to have a way to use up the silks that would normally be discarded. This tea comes together with only 2 ingredients for a refreshing, light summery flavor. It also has diuretic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Running Press in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Filet Mignon Shaken Beef
Adapted from An: To Eat
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 pound filet mignon, cut into 1 inch cubes
Red Wine Sauce:
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons Maggi seasoning sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 garlic cloves, minced, divided
1 large red onion, sliced
2 large tomatoes, peeled and cut into 6 wedges each for garnish
Roasted potatoes or a bed of lettuce for serving
To prepare the beef: In a large bowl, mix together 1 tablespoon of the canola oil, cornstarch, salt, pepper, and oyster sauce. Toss in the cubes of steak to coat. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes.
To make the red wine sauce: In a medium bowl, whisk together the red wine, Maggi sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and sugar. Cover and set aside.
In a large skillet or wok, drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil for high heat. Once heated, reduce heat to medium. Add half of the steak and cook on one side for 3 minutes. Flip and cook the other side for a minute. Add 2 teaspoons of the garlic and shake the pan for 30 seconds. Pour in 2 tablespoons of the prepared red wine sauce and continue to shake the pan for 2 minutes for browned, medium rare steak. Transfer to serving pan and clean out the pan. Repeat these steps for the remaining half of the marinated steak. Once the second batch is done, transfer to serving plate and return pan to medium heat. Add the sliced onions and cook until softened, 1-2 minutes. Serve over the meat with the tomato wedges and lettuce/roasted potatoes.