Fish Sauce

In Vietnamese and Thai cooking, fish sauce (nuoc mam) is as what salt is in Western and soy sauce in Chinese cooking. It is included in practically all recipes. Prepared from fresh anchovies and salt, layered in huge wooden barrels, the manufacture of fish sauce is a major industry in Vietnam. The factories are located along the coast to assure the freshness of the fish to be processed. After about 3 months of fermentation in the barrel, liquid drips from an open spigot, to be poured back into the top of the barrel. After about 6 months the fish sauce is produced.

The first draining is the very best fish sauce, lighter in color and perfectly clear (kind of “Extra Virgin” fish sauce). It is relatively expensive and is reserved for table use. The second and third draining yield a fish sauce of lower quality and lower cost for general- purpose cooking. The two towns most noted for their fish sauce are Phu Quoc and Phan Thiet in Vietnam. Phu Quoc produces the best fish sauce, some of which are exported. On the label, the “nhi” signifies the highest quality.

In my Asian cooking recipes involving fish sauce, I use the brand “Golden Boy” (Thailand) for seasoning and marinade. For salad and dipping sauces, I use the brand “Three Crabs” (Vietnam) that is nearly three times more expensive than the one used for cooking.

Posted on 2009/11/19

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is made from diluting the liquid pressed from grated coconut meat with water. It should not be confused with the liquid in the center of the coconut that is called coconut water or juice. Nowadays, the pressing process is done in factory and coconut milk is canned or made into powder for convenient use.

Full coconut milk is approximately 20% fat. About 50% of the fatty acids in coconut fat are lauric acid, which is the same fat found in abundance in mother’s milk. Lauric acid is known to promote normal brain development and contribute to healthy bones. It also has important anti-carcinogenic and anti-pathogenic properties and is less likely to cause weight gain than polyunsaturated oils.

When cooking meat and seafood in my recipes, I use the Aroy-D brand (from Thailand) “for cooking” coconut milk. It has more rich taste and aromatic flavour than the general purpose canned milk or milk powder that I would normally use in dessert and drink.

Posted on 2009/11/14

Chicken Facts and Trivia

Classes of Chickens

Chickens are classified primarily by the size, weight and age of the bird when processed. Chickens are produced to meet specific requirements of the customer, which can be a retail outlet, fast food chain, or institutional buyer, among others.


Domesticated fowl raised for meat and/or eggs.


A chicken raised for its meat, as distinguished from a “layer,” which is a chicken that lays eggs for the table.


Less than 24 days of age and about 1 pound or less.

Cornish Game Hens

Less than 30 days of age and about 2 pounds.

Fastfood Size Broiler

2 pounds 4 ounces to 3 pounds 2 ounces, (mostly 2 pounds 6 ounces to 2 pounds 14 ounces), usually cut-up, without necks and giblets, may have tail and leaf fat removed, and less than 42 days of age.

3’s and Up

3 to 4 3/4 pounds, usually with neck and giblets for retail grocery; whole, cut-up, parts, and 40 to 45 days of age. Typical retail size.


5 to 8 pounds, less than 10 weeks of age; usually 55 to 60 days of age.

Broilers for Deboning

5 to 6 pounds, males usually 47 to 56 days of age. Deboned for nuggets, patties, strips, and similar boneless products; most often sold without neck and giblets.


Surgically desexed male broilers weighting 7 to 9 pounds, and about 14 to 15 weeks of age. Plump and tender. Capons were once common but are now a specialty item.

Heavy Hens

Spent breeder hens that are no longer commercially productive for laying hatching eggs, usually 5 to 5 1/2 pounds, about 15 months of age, used for cooked, diced or pulled meat. Also sold at retail as “stewing hens.” Because of their greater age, stewing hens have more flavor than broilers but are considerably less tender.

Note: All weights are r.t.c. (ready-to-cook or eviscerated/dressed weight basis).

Chicken Trivia

In Great Britain over three quarters of all litter from chicken production is used to generate electricity.

Our modern domesticated chickens are all descendants of the red jungle fowl of India and Southeast Asia. They have been domesticated for at least 4,000 years.

4,000 years ago the Egyptians built brick incubators which could hold 10,000 chicks at a time.

Posted on 2009/10/23

Chinese Almond – Prunus armeniaca

The Chinese almond (Xing Ren in Mandarin and Hung Yan in Cantonese) is an important fruit in many countries, but it is only in northern China that it is cultivated specifically for its kernels. The tree of this particular variety grows very erect and is quite distinguishable from all other varieties of apricots. There are several varieties of apricots that produce these seeds, but the best ones are small red fruits with large, medium soft stones, and sweet kernels. The kernel is virtually indistinguishable from the common almond, but the shell is quite different, being darker and having a thickened rim along the suture line which joins the halves. Apricots are native to China and the Chinese prefer the strong flavour to the gentle flavour of true almonds. The Chinese almond appears in many traditional recipes, and may be used in the same way as the true almond.

Controversy reigns about the use of apricot kernels, as eating them raw in anything but small quantities can be toxic. However, hydrocyanic acid, the toxic substance that forms when they are eaten raw, is destroyed by heat. For this reason, the apricot kernels sold in Chinese shops have been blanched, but before using they may be boiled, fried or roasted in a low oven. Twenty minutes at 100 degrees C (200 degrees F) is sufficient.

Chinese almonds come in two main varieties: there are "northern" (bitter) and "southern" (sweet) almonds. Both are used by the Chinese for food and medicine. Sweet almonds have a neutral nature, while the bitter are warming and toxic, but both lubricate the intestines and temper coughs. When used in food, a very small amount of "northern" (bitter) almonds is often used in conjunction with the "southern" (sweet) almonds to bring out the distinct almond flavour.

Chinese Noodles

Chinese noodles are made from either rice or wheat.

Rice noodles ( fun) are made with rice and water. They are available, from thin rice vermicelli to the thick broad flat noodles. Rice vermicelli (mai fun), also called rice stick, is the thin, dried translucent noodle often used in stir-fry or in noodle soups. It is also an ingredient used in Chinese salad and cold dishes. It has to be softend in water before use. Sometimes, dried rice vermicelli is deep-fried and used as garnish in dishes. The thick broad flat noodle (hor fun) is often sold fresh. Hor fun is used in either noodle soup or stir-fry.

Wheat noodles (mein) are made with wheat flour, water and salt. Sometimes eggs are added. Chinese wheat noodles can be white or yellow (after egg or colouring is added). They are available fresh or dried, thin or thick. The thinner varieties are often used in light noodle soups such as wonton soup, while the thicker ones work well in noodle soups and stir-fries. Wheat noodle made with wheat flour, water, salt and eggs is also known as egg noodles (dan mein). Chinese egg noodles are typically 2 to 3mm wide and pale yellow in color. There are endless delicious soup and stir-fry recipes. Stir-fried Chinese egg noodles is called ‘chow mein’ where ‘chow’ means stir-fried and ‘mein’ is wheat noodles in Chinese. Chinese chefs usually use soft fresh wheat noodle in the preparation of chow mein. If dried noodles are used, they have to be cooked in boiling water, drained and then fried. However they may not have the same crispness as when fresh noodle is used. Most fresh and dried wheat noodles available in the grocery market have been pre-cooked by steaming process. Yee mein is a type of dried wheat noodle that is made by deep-frying in oil.

You can learn more about Chinese and Asian noodles and see their pictures by visiting:


For the cook’s purposes, the main difference between salts is in their texture. Table salt’s fine granules dissolve quickly, making it the preferred salt of bakers. Sea salt and kosher salt possess larger, irregular grains that add a delightful crunch and hit of briny flavor when sprinkled on food at the last minute. Generally, chefs prefer kosher salt when cooking, since its coarse texture is easier to take a pinch of when seasoning savory dishes.

Chemically there is little difference between kitchen salts. All are at least 97 1/2 percent sodium chloride. But there are significant differences in the provenance and processing of these salts.

Table salt is mined from underground salt deposits, and includes a small portion of calcium silicate, an anti-caking agent added to prevent clumping. It possesses very fine crystals and a sharp taste. It often contains added iodine, which is necessary for normal thyroid function. Because of its fine grain a single teaspoon of table salt contains more salt than a tablespoon of kosher or sea salt.

Sea salt is harvested from evaporated seawater and receives little or no processing, leaving in tact the minerals from the water it came from. These minerals flavor and color the salt slightly. Like kosher salt, sea salt contains no additives. Fleur de Sel de Guérande is the premier quality of Grey Sea Salt from France. Grey salt is organic sea salt from the coastal area of Guérande, Brittany, France. The salt is “moist” and unrefined. It remains a light grey, almost light purple color because of the clay from the salt flats where it is collected. The salt is not collected by machine but by hand using traditional Celtic methods. It is available in coarse or stoneground fine grain. It is considered by many to be the best quality salt available. This salt has really gained fame in the main stream culinary world in the last few of years. However, because these salts often come at a dear price, it is worth keeping in mind that they lose their unique flavor when cooked or dissolved.

Kosher salt takes its name from its use in the koshering process. It is used in the production of Kosher meats to draw blood out of the meat. It contains no preservatives and can be derived from either seawater or underground sources. Aside from being a great salt to keep within arm’s reach when you are cooking, it is particularly useful in preserving, because its large crystals draw moisture out of meats and other foods more effectively than other salts.

You typically don’t have to worry about iodine deficiency, if you use noniodized salt for cooking and seasoning food. Iodine is readily available in many other foods, including dairy products and seafood. Also, many processed foods contain iodized salt.

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