A Vietnamese Version of Vol-au-vent
Last weekend some friends of mine hosted a "V" party. Everyone was to bring a bottle of Vino and a food that started with V. V is a tough letter for food. Most of what first came to my mind were other types of alcohol – vermouth, vodka, vanilla vodka… Vichyssoise came to mind but I figured other guests would jump on that one. So I did a little research by looking through Schott’s Food and Drink Miscellany, Ma Gastronomie, and The New Food Lover’s Companion. And one item caught my eye: Vol-au-vent.
The traditional French version is a puff pastry shell filled with a cream-based chicken mixture (or sometimes fish or meat). It is often made as one large shell for six or eight people, but can also be created as individual portions. I liked the idea of the puff pastry shell but wanted to go a little further with the Vs. So I turned to my copy of Street Food which has a section on Southeast Asia, including Vietnam. Not only does Vietnam start with V but many Vietnamese recipes are actually a fusion of Asian and French techniques due to the French occupation starting in the mid 1800s.
I found a recipe I thought would be perfect, Cari do bien or South Vietnamese Seafood Curry. This recipe is similar to the one in the cookbook that was my inspiration. Since the party was in an artist’s studio I assumed we’d be mostly standing and walking. I decided to make a finger food version and something that wasn’t too sloppy. I improvised while making the curry but remained true to the basics using curry, lemongrass, ginger, chilies, traditional spices and coconut milk.
I cut puff pastry into 2" rounds, painted the tops with a egg and milk mixture and then baked them until golden. When I removed them from the oven I used my index finger to poke a hole in the top and make the shells into little bowls. I used small shrimp for the curry, so they would more easily fit in the puff pastry shells, and I made sure to cook down the liquids until they were thick and viscous to avoid the shells getting soggy when filled with the curry.
I was really happy with the result! I’ll make some version of this again. The photo above is of a "reject". I filled the shells on site the night of the party and didn’t have my camera with me. So the one in the photo is in a shell that didn’t raise evenly and I didn’t use that evening. The next day I filled a couple rejects with some leftover curry and had a nice little lunch. The "real" versions were more even across the top.
I have to admit I was a tad bit skeptical about the V party at first but I was so impressed with the everyone’s creativity. There was vichyssoise, vermicelli, venison, vodka and Velveeta. There was also violet cupcakes, shrimp with volcano sauce, Vietnamese spring rolls and red velvet cake, just to name a few. This was a very fun (and tasty) party!