For Thi


October 29, 2014

Yesterday I heard that an old friend had died. She was from the city of Hue, formerly the imperial capital of Vietnam. The Vietnamese regard Hue cooking as the best in the country; cooks from there have legendary reputations. Thi deserved a place in that pantheon. We worked together for twelve years at the catering company my husband and I owned. Thi was one of the truly great cooks I have ever known.

Her broths were crystal clear and sparkling with a stunning depth of flavor. She had the capacity to refresh ingredients like fish or salad greens and herbs, even those that had been left lurking around the walk-in, so that they seemed just brought from the sea or picked in the garden. After being shown once, she could work in any vernacular, unless the dish revolved around dairy, to which she never adjusted. There was a clarity of flavor in all her preparations. Thi’s cooking could be simultaneously delicate and hardy and always seemed in tune with the season and nature itself.

In our kitchen there was a famous rivalry between Thi and another fabulous cook from Hue. Each woman had their own specialties and Thi kept the exact details of her recipes top secret. Owning the recipe was power and she was not about to relinquish it. When she decided to retire I asked her to come over to my house and share some of our customer and staff favorites. She didn’t measure, so I had to leap around putting cups and spoons under her hands as ingredients fell into the bowl. At the time I was sworn to secrecy but I think now is the moment to share.


Thi’s Marinade for Whole Roasted Fish or Salmon Steaks

Thi’s Seafood Salad Dressing

Thi’s Shrimp Marinade


  • Maggie Kast says:

    Wondering if you are going to share Thi’s recipe for a rice noodle salad. Marjorie always sang it’s praises and I hoped I might find it here.

    • Lisa Gershenson says:

      Here you go:
      For 6
      I lb. package medium width rice stick noodles (banh pho) – cook and chill*
      2 medium cucumbers – peeled, seeded, sliced thin
      1 large carrot, julienned
      Optional: ½ to 1 pound diced chicken, pressed tofu, shrimp or BBQ pork
      1 pound bean sprouts, blanched
      1 red pepper julienned
      ½ cup chopped scallion
      ½ cup Asian basil and/or ½ cup rau rum
      ½ cup cilantro

      Vegetable oil (optional: a dash of sesame oil)
      Oyster sauce

      *Soften the noodles in warm water and then dip in boiling water, separate the strands and immediately drain and chill. Coat lightly with oil to prevent clumping.

      SAUCE To be served on the side
      4 limes
      4 tbs sugar (adjust)
      6 tbs fish sauce
      1 cup water
      1-5 tbs garlic chili paste
      1 clove garlic
      Salt, to taste
      Combine and stir to dissolve sugar, set aside

      Chill noodles and toss with vegetables and herbs.
      Mix oyster sauce and vegetable oil in equal amounts, and add to noodles to just coat them. Add a dash of sesame oil if desired. Sprinkle chopped peanuts over all and chill.
      Serve with the sauce on the side.

      Note: adjust sugar and chili in sauce to taste – I use less sugar; and the amount of sauce this make is for my use twice as much as is needed for salad, but has other uses as well, for example green papaya salad or fried spring rolls. Caution – Garlic in sauce gets very strong after several days if held in a jar in refrigerator – leave out garlic and add each time you use the sauce.

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