• Dan Hong loves a good marinade. (Dan Hong)Source: Dan Hong
Dan Hong of hospitality giant Merivale is a master of Vietnamese barbecues, thanks to a trick from his mum.
By
Candice Chung

29 Jun 2020 - 11:49 AM  UPDATED 29 Jun 2020 - 11:49 AM

For a mother and son whose weekly family dinners look so good, they have their own social media hashtag (#mondayhongdinners), it may come as a surprise that chef Dan Hong and his mum Angie rarely cook alongside each other.

What Angie cooks
Claypot fish

The earthy simplicity of cooking in a claypot has been a method used throughout the ages and is particularly popular in Vietnam. The clay not only adds a little moisture to help steam the food but it also imparts an earthy note. Food Safari Water

Vietnamese soup (pho)

The secret to this recipe lies in the quality of the stock – along with the beautiful spices. 

For one thing, Hong knows his place in his mother's domain. He may have an enviable online following and happens to run some of Sydney's top Asian restaurants—but none of it grants him special status in Angie's home kitchen. A former chef and the founder of Cabramatta's beloved Thanh Binh restaurant, Angie is straight-shooting and eagle-eyed. When the two recently joined forces in Hong's quarantine cooking video series on Instagram, it was a rare moment of collaboration for them.

"You can tell she was actually pretty tame in the video. Usually she's like, 'Do this! No, don't do that!'" Hong laughs.

The dish, as it turns out, is something that featured heavily in Hong's childhood — grilled lamb chops in a sweet-salty, lemongrass-strewn marinade that he ate with a simple salad and rice.

"When mum was running the restaurant and didn't have time to come home to cook dinner — which is a lot; she would marinate some lamb chops and keep them in the freezer. And all we had to do was defrost and grill them, and then eat it with sliced tomato and cucumber and some rice and Maggi seasoning," says Hong. 

But his mum's signature dish wasn't just a midweek 'cheat's meal'. It was also something she made on special occasions, especially when large groups and an open fire is involved. Hong explains that at a Vietnamese barbecue, the meat would always be marinated. It's an easy, economical way to transform ordinary, affordable cuts of protein into a show-stopping dish. 

"At our family barbecues, it would never be like, 'Chuck the steak on the barbie.' Because we didn't really have 'quality meat'…[everything] just came from the local butcher. Back then, there was no Wagyu or anything like that. We didn't care where the meat came from —it was meat, you know what I mean?"

Dan Hong's mum Angie is meticulous about the measurements used in marinades.

All those hours of marinating turned humble cuts like forequarter chops into flavoursome, tender morsels. It's also a way to counter any gaminess in a protein like lamb, which can often be considered too pungent for the Asian palate.

From his mum, Hong learnt the importance of layering flavours, and treating each stage of cooking as a chance to add depth and complexity. "That's the mentality that my mum gave me — which is that you can always layer flavour upon flavour. So let's say you were marinating your meat and later decide to batter and deep fry it. When it comes out, you could also season it with a salt and pepper spice mix if you want. And then serve it with a hot sweet and sour dipping sauce."

Today, fans can see the same playful, umami-packed approach in some of Hong's more popular dishes. Things like Ms G's cheeseburger spring rolls or his more recent quarantine cooking experiments like the steak sandwich 'Bánh mì Phở'. 

"That's the mentality that my mum gave me — which is that you can always layer flavour upon flavour."

Funnily, Angie's grilled lamb is one of the only few recipes that Hong can successfully replicate from her repertoire. While she's meticulous about the measurements used in marinades, most of her elaborate homestyle dishes are seasoned 'by feel'—making them hard to master. "My mum is a really good Vietnamese cook, but I can't really make her dishes on my own because of the way she seasons. Even if I watched her cook something, and… I did it exactly the same way, it still wouldn't taste the same. Because it's my mum."

As for the Monday Hong Dinners? They've returned with a vengeance after a brief quarantine hiatus. What started years ago, as a way for Angie to get the family together at the restaurant on the one night it was close, has turned into a tradition that's now hosted at her home. It's a multi-generation affair, involving Hong's siblings, his partner Rara and their three children Namira, Omar and Indira — all of whom are fans of Angie's weekly dose of comfort food. 

"The first meal back was great. It's just so good to have a broth cooked by my mum," says Dan. "Mum had itchy fingers, she missed cooking for everyone."

Dan Hong enjoys his mum Angie's take on Singapore noodles, but cooks his own at his restaurant Mr Wong in Sydney.

Angie Hong's grilled marinated lamb chops

Serves: 3-4

Ingredients

  • 8-12 lamb cutlets
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp Maggi liquid seasoning
  • 1 tbsp vegetable stock powder
  • 1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 stalk lemongrass (white part only finely chopped)
  • Small knob ginger finely grated
  • 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • Juice of half a lemon

1. Combine all ingredients of the marinade in a bowl and whisk till well combined. Pour marinade all over the lamb cutlets and using your hands (this is where gloves come in handy), massage the marinade into chops. Leave in the fridge to marinate for 2-4 hours or overnight.
2. Preheat the grill to high. Place lamb cutlets on a non-stick baking tray and place directly under grill. Alternatively, you could pan fry or even BBQ the chops. Cook until edges are dark and caramelised and lamb is about medium doneness. This should take around 6 minutes depending on how thick the cutlets are.
3. Serve simply with some steamed white rice and a salad of cucumber, tomato and onion.

Tip: Make sure you remove the lamb from the fridge at least 2 hours before cooking to get to room temperature. This helps the lamb to cook more evenly.

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