A Surprising Lemongrass Tip from a Banh Mi Shop

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(Image credit: Sara Kate Gillingham)

While working on my latest cookbook, Queens: A Culinary Passport, I chatted with cooks and chefs from diverse ethnic backgrounds (Himalayan, Cuban, Cypriot, Szechuan and more). As I learned how to replicate their dishes in my own kitchen, I amassed a slew of tips from them that I began using in my everyday cooking life. This week I’ll be sharing some of the best tips I learned from deli owners, restaurateurs, and other stellar folks bringing their home cooking to the neighborhoods of Queens.

For instance, when owners Julie Wong and her brother-in-law, Scott Wong, of JoJu Modern Vietnamese Sandwiches shared their recipe for their divine lemongrass chicken banh mi sandwich, I discovered something surprising!

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(Image credit: Sara Kate Gillingham)

They rely on frozen lemongrass instead of fresh!

They stressed that for a restaurant, the constant availability and optimal price of the frozen makes it more desirable than fresh. Did I mention it’s already grated too? Who even knew this was an option (not me!)?

As someone who can never find lemongrass when a recipe calls for it, I thought the option of frozen was ingenious. Look for it in the freezer aisle of Asian grocers. It comes in a rectangular block of yellow-green slivers—Google images of it so you know what to be on the lookout for since the label may not be in English.

Then, stash the supply in the freezer and whip it out when a recipe calls for it.

While you’re at the Asian supermarket, check out their unique assortment of produce too, like fresh water chestnuts and rambutans.

Cooking Secrets from Immigrant Kitchens

While working on my latest cookbook, Queens: A Culinary Passport, I chatted with cooks and chefs from diverse ethnic backgrounds (Himalayan, Cuban, Cypriot, Szechuan and more). As I learned how to replicate their dishes in my own kitchen, I amassed a slew of tips from them that I began using in my everyday cooking life.

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