Tonight, I'm making a classic southern Vietnamese dish called cá kho tộ with a few twists. Literally, the Vietnamese translates to fish (cá) caramelized (kho) in a clay pot (tộ). In old-world Vietnamese cooking, the clay pot was used frequently. Some people still use a clay pot because of its ability to hold heat, but now that modernity is upon us, it is more than acceptable to use a regular ol' pot. If you'd like to go old-school, I've heard that the dish is only improved, but it's not necessary.
Also, the fish traditionally used in this dish is catfish. First of all, I don't particularly care that much for catfish. But I was still going to use it for this diary because authenticity. Then, I actually saw the catfish being sold in the market I go to--they were rather pathetic. I opted for tuna steaks instead (and it turned out wonderfully). You can really use whatever fish you want, but it needs to be cut into thick steaks and not fillets, as the fillets would not hold up very well to the kind of braising this dish requires.
The last two paragraphs summed up, the cá kho tộ I'm making tonight is not completely traditional.
So, all of that out of the way, let's get started. The first and most obvious thing you'll need is the fish. Like I said, you can use any fish you want (tuna and mackerel are good choices), but if you want to be traditional, use catfish. Whichever fish you use, have it cut into about 1-inch steaks. You'll need about 1-1/2 pounds. Put the fish in a pot and set aside for now.
In a separate pan, add two tablespoons of sugar and two tablespoons of vegetable oil. Don't stir, but swish the pan around. Put it on the stove on medium heat and just leave it alone for a bit. What this is going to do is prepare the nước màu, an inky caramel sauce important to any Vietnamese "kho" dish.
While you're waiting for the sugar to caramelize, mince about a tablespoon each of shallot and garlic. Set aside.
While you're at it, julienne some fresh ginger and set that aside as well.
Keep an eye on the stove. When your sugar looks like this, you'll need to act fast.
Add the shallot and garlic and stir. Cook for about a minute, but be careful not to burn the nước màu.
Pour the mixture over the fish as evenly as possible.
In a small bowl, combine 4 tablespoons fish sauce, 2 teaspoons brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Pour this mixture over the fish as well.
Let the fish marinate for at least 30 minutes--an hour would be better.
Once the fish is done marinating, put the pot on the stove on high heat. Add about 1/2 cup hot water or coconut juice. I'm going with water this time, as much as I love coconut juice.
Bring it to a boil. Once it reaches that point, add the ginger and turn the heat down. Let it cook for about 20 minutes, occasionally swirling the juice around to cook the fish evenly.
Very carefully turn the fish over with a spatula. Cook for another 20 minutes or so.
And that's it! You can eat it alone, or you can eat it with some jasmine rice. Garnish with the ginger and some chopped green onions.
Mmmmmm...so juicy and delicious. Chúc ngon miệng!