The earthy simplicity of cooking in a claypot has been a method used throughout the ages and is particularly popular in Vietnam. The clay not only adds a little moisture to help steam the food but it also imparts an earthy note. Food Safari Water
- 1 whole silver perch, body cut into 3 cm cutlets, head and tail reserved
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1½ tbsp sugar
- Pinch of cracked black peppercorns
- steamed rice, to serve
- ¼ cup annatto seeds
- 125 ml (½ cup) vegetable oil
- 170 ml (⅔ cup) white vinegar
- 1 tbsp salt
- 130 g sugar
- 1 cup shredded carrot
- 1 cup bean shoots
- 1 cup garlic chives, cut into 5 cm lengths
- ¼ onion, finely sliced
- 5 spring onions, cut into 4 cm lengths, white and green parts kept separate
- 4 small red chillies, cut in half on the diagonal, plus extra to serve
- 5 black peppercorns
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp sugar
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.
Standing time: 15 min
For the annatto oil, place the seeds and oil in a small saucepan and gently heat over low heat for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stand for 15 minutes to infuse, then strain the oil and discard the seeds.
For the salad, place the vinegar, salt and sugar in a bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the salad ingredients, toss to coat, then stand for 15 minutes. Drain.
Meanwhile, bring a full kettle to the boil and have a bowl of cold water ready. Place the fish in a metal colander. Pour the boiling water over the fish, then immediately refresh in cold water. Drain well and place in a bowl.
For the marinade, pound the white part of the spring onions in a mortar and pestle into a rough paste. Add the peppercorns and pound again. Add the fish sauce and sugar and mix to combine. Pour over the fish, toss to coat and leave to marinade while you make the caramel.
Heat the oil in the claypot over high heat. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Cook until a medium dark caramel forms. Turn off the heat and add 1 tablespoon of the annatto oil. Add the fish, turning to coat all pieces in the caramel and return to the heat. Cover and cook for 5- 10 minutes over high heat, shaking every now and then to stop it from sticking. Garnish with the spring onion greens, extra chilli and a pinch of cracked black peppercorns. Cover again briefly to wilt the spring onions. Serve with steamed rice and salad.
Photography by Sharyn Cairns. Styling by Lee Blaylock. Food preparation by Rachel Lane. Creative concept by Belinda So.