Cooking in a sauce based on caramelised sugar is a hallmark of home-style Vietnamese cuisine – the (nearly burnt) sugar adds incredible depth of flavour to chicken, tofu, egg and fish. Caramelising sugar is incredibly hot so do take care not to splash any on you.
- 110 g (½ cup) shaved coconut palm sugar
- 2½ tbsp water
- 125 ml (½ cup) coconut water, approximately
- 2½ tbsp (50 ml) fish sauce
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 cm piece galangal, peeled and cut into fine julienne
- 1 kg ocean trout or salmon steaks, skin on
- 2 small fresh red chillies, thinly sliced
- steamed rice and steamed greens, to serve
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Combine the palm sugar with the water in a large clay pot or deep frying pan. Cook over medium heat, without stirring, for about 3 minutes or until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is boiling. Cook for another 5-6 minutes or until it has turned medium golden brown, thickened and smells caramelised. Working quickly, remove the pan from the heat then add the coconut water and fish sauce, taking care as the mixture will spit. Add the oyster sauce, garlic, galangal and chilli, swirling the pan to combine everything, then return to the heat and simmer over medium heat for 2 minutes for flavours to develop.
Add the fish to the pan in a single layer if possible, bring the caramel mixture to a simmer then cook over medium heat, turning fish once, for 5 minutes or until just cooked through. Add a little extra coconut water if the sauce reduces too quickly. Serve fish, with sauce spooned over, with steamed rice and steamed greens (and optionally, roasted peanuts).
Photography by Alan Benson. Styling by Sarah O'Brien.