Tag Archives: Vietnamese

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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Filed under Entrees

Vietnamese Spring (Is Near!) Rolls

Wow.  If 54 degrees and sunny isn’t enough to remind me that spring is almost here, than I don’t know what is.  Days like today make it possible for me to trudge through those last few gray, rainy, slushy months without despairing.  Plus, I love being able to crack the windows just a bit so I can breathe in some fresh air throughout the day.

And my recipe for today is spring rolls!  Is that perfect or what?  Fritz and I made these little gems together as part of our Valentine’s day dinner, and I’m so excited to share the recipe.  It’s not nearly as complex as I thought, and by baking them instead of deep-frying, they are good for you as well as delicious.  Perfection.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls (from Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid) 

  •  1/2 lb ground pork
  • 4 oz peeled shrimp, finely chopped (about 3/4 C)
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1/2 C shredded carrot
  • 1 oz cellophane noodles (a little over 1/2 C)
  • 1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 T Vietnamese fish sauce
  • spring roll wrappers (we used about 20)

Before starting, take out 1 oz of the cellophane noodles and soak them in warm water for about 20 minutes.  When they’re ready, drain them and cut into 1″ lengths with scissors.

Fritz and I ran out to the grocery store to get all the ingredients, and when we looked at the meat prices, there was a sale on pork chops and not on ground pork.  So what’s a girl to do?

Luckily, this particular girl has parents who recently bought her the meat grinder attachment for her KitchenAid for no reason other than that they love her (I probably would have bought pork chops to grind even if they were more expensive just to try the thing out)!  It’s just an added benefit that it was cheaper and I got to cut off the extra fat and have truly lean ground pork.

Fritz made me promise not to post a picture of the meat grinder in action, because it looks really gross (think: the demon barber of Fleet Street).  It literally took three minutes to set up, grind the meat, and take it back apart.

Anyway, back to the recipe.  Combine the ground pork, shrimp, onion, garlic, shallots, carrot, noodles, pepper, and fish sauce into a bowl and mix.

Now it’s time to set up your rolling station.

You need a dish that can fit the spring roll wrappers, filled with an inch or two of warm water.  Lay a damp dish towel flat on the table, and cover a baking sheet with another damp towel.  You’ll roll the wrappers on the first towel.  The wrappers are very fragile when wet, so you have to move carefully and cover the finished rolls with the second towel while you make more.

With dry hands (you don’t want the others to start sticking together), pick up a spring roll wrapper and hold it under the water until it softens, a few seconds.  Gently lay the wrapper on the damp towel, and spoon a generous tablespoonful of filling in a 2″ line on the side closest you.  Fold the closest edge over the filling, then the right and left sides, and roll it up tightly.

Place seam-side down on a baking sheet and cover with the damp towel.  Repeat until you run out of filling.

Preheat the oven to 350, and bake on the middle rack for 30 minutes, until browned.  Flip over about halfway through.

Arrange these beauties on a plate, and try not to dive in immediately.  If you have some leftover sauces from the last time you had Chinese take-out. this might be a good time to use ’em.

I love cooking on the weekend, because you get beautiful daylight-colored photos…not to mention there’s no rush to get dinner on the table because you just had school and now you have to get to the gym or go grocery shopping or–yes.  Weekend cooking is the best.

Have a beautiful day!  I hope this warm air inspires you as much as it does me.

As a side note, my lovely friend Breanna is running NYC’s Half-Marathon on a Team for Kids fighting childhood obesity.  It’s coming up soon, and if you have any spare cash lying around, she could use the fundraising help.  I am very passionate about this cause myself and whole-heartedly encourage you to donate if you can.  Every dollar helps! Click here to donate on her page.


Filed under Appetizers