Sweet and Spicy Fish (Vietnamese)

Happy weekend!

Fritz and I were running around all morning (we went to the gym, the library, donated blood like good, caring citizens, and then headed to the mall for some returns) and we got completely and totally exhausted.  It was probably due to the missing pints of blood, but at 3:00 we got home and just collapsed onto the couch.  It was definitely a movie moment, so we watched Bourne Identity  until I had mustered up enough strength to make dinner and force Fritz into his study mode. 

It had been a while since I’ve been that tired.  How do all those 14 year olds stay at the mall all day long?  When did I turn 79?

The food definitely revived us, so on a second wind I decided to blog the second half of our Valentine’s Dinner.  This fish worried us a lot as it was cooking (let me tell you–Thai fish sauce does not smell good.  Like Henry’s morning breath), but as the sauce thickened and the flavors developed, we were won over by the perfect sweet and salty balance.

Vietnamese Sweet and Spicy Fish (adapted from Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet)

  • 1/2 lb fish (we used tilapia–in traditional Vietnamese recipes ca bac is used)
  • 1/2 t white pepper
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 1/4 C warm water
  • 2 T Thai fish sauce
  • 2 t vegetable oil
  • 1 T finely minced lemongrass
  • 2 scallions, minced

Dry the fish and sprinkle with the pepper, and set aside. 

While you’re at it, soak some rice noodles in warm water (they need about 20 minutes), so you can serve the fish over ’em.

  Place a heavy skillet over high heat.  When it’s hot, add the oil and coat the pan by swirling.  Toss in the lemongrass (we only managed to find a tube of pre-minced lemongrass paste, but it worked fine!), and immediately place the fish in the pan and sear for a few seconds, then flip and repeat on the other side.  Add the water, sugar, and fish sauce and bring to a rapid boil, then reduce the heat to medium and add the scallions.

This is the part where you might be nervous.  Some boring fish fillets floating in a watery yet incredibly stinky sauce.  But don’t give up now!  As the fish continues to cook and the sauce thickens, turn the heat down to prevent burning.  Soon the sauce will be a thick, brown, bubbly, fragrant syrup–exactly what you want! 

And if you dare–taste it.

So good!  You won’t believe what your taste buds are tellin’ you.

When the sauce is almost-but-not-quite fully cooked down, drain the rice noodles and toss them in a hot skillet with a touch of canola oil for a minute or two.  They cook fast, so be ready!  We also microwaved a steam-fresh pouch of frozen asian-inspired veggies to go along with this and the spring rolls.

Serve immediately over the hot noodles, and spoon some of the extra sauce over the top.

You may need to physically restrain your dinner guests as this point (and your cat should definitely be locked in another room).

Fritz and I were so relieved that this turned out well, since it was supposed to be a romantic dinner that we weren’t too sure about once we opened that fish sauce bottle.  It just goes to show that you can’t judge a food by its inital stench.

Actually, you probably can for the most part. 

This might just be the exception!

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