Chef Vilavong Prasith Of Asia At L’Auberge
By Karla Wall
L’Auberge’s Asia restaurant offers a wide variety of dishes from some of the most flavorful cuisines in existence — Japanese sushi, Vietnamese pho, Korean barbecue and more.
But when asked to come up with one dish to highlight for Lagniappe’s chef spotlight, Asia room chef Vilavong “Vee” Prasith chose to highlight the cuisine from his home country of Laos.
Prasith and his family immigrated to the U.S. in 1986, and landed in New Iberia because, he says, there was already a family there by the name of Prasith. The U.S. government, he says, tended to put families of the same name together in the same region.
“Chef Vee” learned to cook, as almost all professional chefs do, by assisting his mother in the kitchen. His love of cooking led to a career that actually began with a position as a dishwasher at Bonsai in Lafayette in 2002. He pursued his culinary education and quickly worked his way up to head chef at the restaurant.
He went on to oversee the opening of a second location of Bonsai in Lafayette, and also the opening of Bojangles, a sushi and oyster bar in New Iberia. He joined Asia in 2010, because he “wanted to check out the corporate world.”
With such a wide variety of options in his repertoire, what led Prasith to choose the recipe for larb pork, a simple and common Laotian dish, to share with Lagniappe readers?
“I wanted to highlight my country’s’food,” he says simply. “It’s time for this dish to have its day.”
The dish originated in Laos, Prasith says. “The Taiwanese use it a lot in their cuisine, but it comes from Laos.” It’s a peasant food, made with whatever is on hand. “You can’t buy meat in Laos every day,” Prasith explains, “so you use what you have.”
Larb can be made with any protein, Prasith says, from raw or cooked beef, fish, shrimp or scallops to sautéed pork. It’s made with fish sauce, a Laotian staple, and plenty of fresh herbs, another staple.
“There are herbs everywhere in Laos,” Prasith says.
The dish is eaten mostly with sticky rice, which is “much different from the rice eaten here,” says Prasith. Sticky rice, he explains, is a short-grain rice that’s high in starch. It’s soaked for 30 minutes, then steamed in wooden baskets.
Whatever type of rice you use with the dish, warns Prasith, it must be unsalted.
“If you use salted rice, with the fish sauce in the larb, you’ll have one salty dish,” he says.
The dish can also be eaten as a lettuce wrap. It is, after all, a finger food, Prasith says, as are all foods in that region.
Prasith begins by sauteeing thin strips of pork in vegetable oil. You can, he says, steam or bake the protein ahead of time and add it later in the process. Or, again, simply add uncooked protein in later.
Once the meat is sautéed, Prasith turns off the skillet and adds the onion, green onion, chili, fish sauce, sugar, cilantro, the juice of a lime, and mint leaves, which he says are added to “wake up the dish.”
And that’s pretty much it. The herbs, onion and meat are stirred in the hot skillet until hot and well-blended in the fish sauce.
Asian food is noted for its simplicity, and for packing a ton of flavor into a simple concoction. This dish is no exception.
I sampled the dish over rice, and I was first bombarded with the pungent aroma of the fish sauce, which I have to admit I hadn’t ever had and was nervous to try. Balanced by the rice, however, it was perfect.
That was only the first taste and smell to hit the senses, and was quickly followed by the bright herbs and, lastly, by the bite of the chili. A kaleidoscope of flavors blended into one dish.
Then I tried it as a lettuce wrap and was amazed at the difference in the dish. It was much, much brighter, with the citrus really shining through, as well as the fish sauce, which was sharper and more pronounced than it had been when served with the rice.
This is Southeast Asian cuisine in a nutshell: a simple dish that packs a world of flavor.
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 lb. pork (can substitute with shrimp, chicken, or beef)
¼ tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
1 lime, juiced
1 red chili, sliced (add more chili if you like it spicy)
1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
3 scallions, chopped
¼ cup cilantro leaves
½ cup fresh mint leaves
In a large saucepan or wok, sauté pork over medium-high heat until well done. Turn off the stove then add fish sauce, lime juice, red chili, red onion, scallion, cilantro and mint leaves to the sautéed pork. Serve over steamed, unsalted white rice or with lettuce as a wrap. Can be served cold or warm.