Have you ever been overcome with jealousy while at the library? Happened to me just this week. I was sitting at a study table, innocently leafing through my gigantic dictionaries (copyediting course), when I looked across at the next table and saw a woman taking notes from this:
A hugely gorgeous Vietnamese cookbook. I wasn’t even able to see any of the pages, but I just knew that that cookbook was chock full of deliciously dangerous recipes.
I completely forgot about copyediting and stared that woman down. I psychically (psycho-ly?) tried to connect with her mind, sending her this message: You will not sign out that cookbook and will leave it for me. That is my cookbook, woman! I repeated this message over and over again, and gave her the best stink-eye I could.
And it worked.
I exercised my tired ol’ library card and lugged that monster book home (before I made my daughter lug it for the picture) and eagerly flipped through to find something with odd ingredients to cook, which is a different process from usual – generally I find the odd food first, and then figure out how to cook it. But my new process wasn’t disappointing except that I had to journey to a further grocery store to ensure I found my ingredient, which happened to be jellyfish…
…or “jellies,” as my very particular BC coastal friend calls them. He says that jellyfish is a misnomer. They’re not fish, he says. True. But the name “jellyfish,” is much more melodic and commonplace, in my opinion, so let’s just stick with popular opinion on this one. Sorry, Cam. I’m sure people listen to your other opinions. Like, if I was going to scale a tall building using only my fingers and toes, I’d totally call you.
I had tried jellyfish once before, and I’m not gonna lie, the experience was not a good one. It was probably ten years ago at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant, and it appeared as a side dish, almost in place of rice or noodles. I slurped them up, eager to try them, but … they sucked. They were extremely rubbery, greasy, and flavourless. But I had faith in my big fat book. When you catch someone going to the trouble of schlepping themselves to the library so that they can get a hand cramp writing out recipes, it’s a safe bet that they’re on to something.
And that woman was right! Thank goodness my mind meld with her was successful, or I would have continued to believe that jellyfish’s only usefulness is to lure a hot lifeguard to pee on your leg. (Not going to Google for an image of that, although I’ll bet it exists.)
Here’s what I did to prepare Nguyen’s recipe – slightly simpler than how he created it because I couldn’t find all herbs his called for.
Chicken Salad with Jellyfish (why he didn’t call it Jellyfish Slaw I don’t know)
- 1 single chicken breast, skin removed
- 500mL chicken stock
- 2 handfuls salted jellyfish strips
- 1C finely shredded white cabbage
- a healthy handful of mint leaves, chopped
- 1tsp toasted rice powder (pan fry dry glutenous rice grains over med heat 15 mins, then grind w mortar and pestle)
- 6 cloves garlic turned into chips (heat 1/2C olive oil, then add sliced garlic until browned)
- 1Tbsp garlic oil (use olive oil from previous bullet point)
- 1/4 red onion, cut into thin rings
- 3 or more Tbsp Nuoc mam cham dipping sauce (3Tbsp fish sauce, 3Tbsp rice vinegar, 2Tbsp sugar, 1tsp chili flakes, 2Tbsp lime juice)
- small handful of lightly fried chives
- top with peanuts (but we didn’t due to an allergy)
Directions: Boil chicken breast in chicken stock 15 minutes, then pull apart into strips and allow to cool. Use stock again another day. Rinse salt from jellyfish and then boil for 30 seconds. Soak in a bowl of cold water 30 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients with drained jellyfish.
I served this dish to my camera-shy friend Krishna.
She’s a very dangerous eater – you may remember meeting her last time she was over, when I served her up some curried goat. Right now you’re thinking, “I’m kind of glad I don’t get invited to dinner parties at yours, Ann,” but honest, she likes trying my stuff. Plus we’ve been friends a long time, so I just threaten I’ll expose her dirt if she doesn’t eat and like what I make for her. That chick has a lot of dirt. (Like, under her fingernails. Okay, so that’s not even true either.)
We ate the salad with a delectable pork moo shu lettuce wrap main — here’s a hot pic of the thinly sliced pork loin prior to cooking:
We nibbled directly from the bowls long after our first plates were clean. I even ate jellyfish slaw leftovers for lunch today, and it was just as good. My husband ate tons too, and he would have been the first one to say he was ordering pizza if it was blah.
And what did the jellyfish taste like? It was chewy for sure, but it didn’t taste fishy or have much flavour at all, really. My husband said that it took on the flavour of the sauce. I think the salad definitely would have been missing something if it had been cooked without the jellyfish. I’m going to call it an important textural assistant. Rating: 3 Yums. If you live near a coastline and a jellyfish stings you, make sure you teach it a lesson and throw it in a pot after the whole leg-peeing rigamarole.