One of the reasons I'm so glad to have bought Mark Bittman's revised tenth anniversary edition of How to Cook Everything is because of dishes like this. Earlier in the week, Logan thawed a couple of Louisiana redfish fillets his folks gave us while we were there over Christmas. He cooked one of them, but then he needed an interesting and easy workweek-friendly recipe to apply to the other one. I hauled out m'Bittman, handed it over, and moments later heard the boy exclaim "Ooh! Caramel Fish Fillets! YES!"
This is actually really similar to a pork dish we ate in Vietnam near the Cambodian border a couple of years ago called Thịt Kho Tộ (here's the post, which includes a visit to a floating market). Apparently if you use fish instead of pork, it's called Cá Kho Tộ.
This is not caramel in the traditional French sense, made with milk or cream or just tons of sugar. The liquid in this caramel is water mixed that full-of-umami Southeast Asian condiment, fish sauce. It adds a giant hit of flavor to anything, and Logan likes to keep around a couple of kinds. He even has some he brought back from Vietnam, but he's hoarding it.
The dish is super-simple (I mean, as simple as making a caramel can be - careful with that boiling sugar, people!). Bittman even stamps it with an "F" for fast. The whole thing comes together in about 30 minutes, so you can be making rice on the side. And the flavor here is amazing; deep savoriness, with a bit of sweetness.
Recipe, and step by step pictures, after the jump:
Logan did make a couple of adjustments to the recipe. First, when he added the shallots, he also added some dried tomato we had around. Also, he threw in a healthy amount of red pepper flakes, because this dish just seems like it should be spicy. He found that the shallots cooked in WAY less than the indicated 5 minutes, so keep an eye on them.
Because the dish is fairly sweet, he served some raw sliced watermelon radishes on the side. Somehow, this pairing rocked.
Caramel Fish Fillets, from How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup nam pla (Thai fish sauce) plus more to taste
- 3 or 4 medium shallots, sliced (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
- Juice of 2 limes, plus more to taste
- About 1 1/2 pounds thick white fish fillets
- Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
Add the black pepper and lime juice, then lay the fish in the sauce. If the sauce does not reach at least halfway up the fish, add some water. Simmer until the fish is done (a thin-bladed knife inserted into the center will meet little resistance). Taste and add more fish sauce, lime juice, or pepper if necessary, then garnish with cilantro and serve, with the sauce poured on top of the fillets.