I came to the United States when I was 3 years old, but grew up in a very Viet household. The first 6 years I lived here, I ate predominantly American Midwest cuisine until my Mom (aka Mang) came over. My dad (aka Bo), my brother (AC) and I came over together first, so my Bo became the primary meal maker. The Wausau social services sent out a wonderful lady named Ms. Pegg who taught my Bo – who had no cooking experience – all the American staples. Breakfast was either scrambled eggs or omelets, toast, milk and orange juice, or my Bo’s famous French Toast with Golden Griddle Syrup. Lunch was taken care of by the babysitter or daycare, and consisted of various Oscar Meyer products or Chef Boyardee. Dinner was a rotation of the dishes my Bo learned. Heavy in the rotation was Pot Roast and Pork Roast done in a pressure cooker, brats – cuz it’s WI – tuna casserole and Spaghetti. Peppered in were meals at Bob’s Big Boy, KFC (a lot, because for a while their slaw was the only veggie I would eat) and various other fast food, with pizza reigning supreme since AC worked part-time at Pizza Hut. Back then there really weren’t that many choices.
On weekends Bo would try to do some semblance of a Viet dish. Usually, it was boiled duck that he would chop up and then use the broth to make congee. Then there was my Bo’s version of Thit Kho, which is Caramelized Pork. He would caramelize sugar and then throw pork chops in with some fish sauce. If Bo’s dishes did not have pasta, there was always a pot of rice to go with the entree. My Bo and AC did their best to care and feed a bratty kid, who at times had to be cajoled or threatened to eat the food in front of her. The best line my Bo would use was “If you are my child you will eat it.” Worked every frickin’ time. Sometimes the food resembled a mad scientist’s culinary experiment; like the time my AC tried to make fried rice out of the leftover Pot Roast. Needless to say, it was a sad tragic pot of soggy rice, stringy meat, and mushy vegetables that burned and stuck to the bottom of the pressure cooker. That meal is forever in my memory ‘cuz my goldfish died an early death, when, while changing the water, AC dropped it into the soapy soaking pot of burnt rice. He told me the goldfish wanted to try his fried rice. The fish got away lucky! I had to eat the fried rice again later!
My Bo and AC missed real Viet food, but the closest Asian market was in Green Bay, and every 2 months we would make the drive to buy rice, fish sauce, and soy sauce. There was one Chinese restaurant in Wausau, but we only went there on special occasions or Lunar New Year. My immature taste buds thrived on all things dairy and red meat. Seafood and fresh veggies were not something that my young palate was familiar with yet. To this day, I have a strong aversion to Pot Roasts, Boiled Duck Congee, and canned peas. I didn’t taste real Viet food until my Bo moved us up to DC where there was an actual, if at the time small, Viet community. Once I tasted the food of my birth country, I was hooked!
Boiled Duck and Congee
1 whole young duck
2 large pieces of ginger
1 large onion
1 bunch green onions
1 bunch cilantro
1/2 cup of jasmine rice
5 quarts of water
Salt, pepper, mirin,
1/4 cup Jovian Pantry® Viet Vinaigrette
- Clean your thawed frozen or fresh duck by removing the innards and neck (set them aside for later use). Trim off any excess skin, rub the inside and outside of the duck with salt, then rinse thoroughly with cold water.
- In a large pot, bring the water to a boil, then add the whole onion, 1 skinned piece of ginger, 3 tablespoons of salt, and the duck, then turn the heat down to medium.
- Cook the duck until done, continuously skimming the hot liquid to rid it of fat and scum.
- Place 1/2 cup of jasmine rice into a pan on medium heat and slowly stir to toast the rice kernels to a light brown color, then set aside.
- Clean and chop cilantro and green onions, conserving white bulb heads.
- When the duck is cooked through, remove the duck from the pot and set aside on a plate.
- Into the duck broth add the duck neck, innards, bulb heads of green onion, and toasted rice; bring them to boil, then turn it down to simmer on medium until the rice is cooked to a nice fluffy porridge (about 30 minutes). Be careful not to let the soup boil over in this stage.
- Season the soup to taste with salt, pepper, and mirin.
- Cut the duck up into bite-size pieces with the skin on, and place the pieces on a communal plate for serving.
- Peel and julienne the remaining piece of ginger and add it to the Viet Vinaigrette. This will be used as a dipping sauce.
- Serve each diner their own bowl of congee, which they can garnish to taste with chopped green onions and cilantro.
- Serve each diner their own bowl of dipping sauce.
- Serve the duck from the communal plate.
This is a very simple and hearty dish, but if you eat it every weekend for 6 years that comes to 336 times by the age of 9; it gets kind of old!!!!