Posted by: acooksca | 04/02/2010

Fish Steaks in Vietnamese Caramel Sauce

Fish Steaks in Vietnamese Caramel Sauce

In the South, where fresh water fish are prevalent, you will find cat fish simmered with caramelized sugar and fish sauce. As the dish moves north cooks choose firm-fleshed ocean fish for simmering in clay pots. Clay pot cooking is a Chinese institution and in the Central Vietnam town of Hoi An the descendants of Chinese merchants make this a clay pot specialty.

At Morning Glory Restaurant in Hoi An Chef Vy cooks fresh Mackerel steaks this way. You could choose any firm fleshed fish for this preparation but one with some fat to the meat such as tuna, jack, salmon or cod yields a denser and more interesting sauce then a leaner fish such as halibut. Choose fish steaks with the center bone and at least 1 inch thick for a longer cooking time. Longer cooking helps the flavor of both the fish and the sauce. Serve rice with this dish as it is really all about that rich, dark sauce in the bottom of the pot.

4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoon water, just to wet the sugar
1 ½ tablespoons peanut (or vegetable) oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
¾ cup boiling water
5 tablespoons fish sauce (see Cook’s Note below)
1 lb. fresh firm fleshed fish steak (with center bone)
Fresh black pepper
2 scallions, chopped
½ cup chopped Chinese chives
¼ cup cilantro leaves
Fresh black pepper

Select a clay pot or a high sided saucepan that can hold the fish steaks in one layer. Combine the sugar and water and heat over moderate heat until it turns a rich medium brown. Carefully add the oil and garlic, stirring for one minute. Add the boiling water, fish sauce and stir until the caramel melts totally into the sauce.

Slip the fish into the sauce and turn to coat. Simmer over medium heat, covered, until the fish is cooked through, about 5-8 minutes depending the thickness and type of the fish steaks. Remove the fish to a plate and keep warm. Add the scallions and chives. Turn up the heat and reduce the sauce to about ½ cup. Taste for flavor, add a little water if too strong for you.

To serve, pour the sauce over the fish in a shallow serving bowl or in the clay pot. Sprinkle with the cilantro and pepper. Serve with hot rice.

Cook’s Note: Fish sauce is the prepared clear liquid made from salted, fermented fish. It is an essential flavor in many Southeast Asian cuisines. In Vietnam artisanal fish sauces are the pride of small producers. Fish sauce is widely available in supermarkets in the U.S. where there is an Asian population. It is difficult to tell by the label which are better made but in general the more costly the fish sauce the better made. They come in differing strengths, used for different purposes. Lighter, amber colored ones are used for dipping sauce and more pungent dark ones are often favored for cooking, but it is up to personal taste.


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