Ever had the craving for exotic food every once in a while? Dishes that are not part of our everyday lives often attracts our attention, doesn’t it? One major obstacle in the way is usually cost and the hassle of going and waiting for hours in restaurants. That’s why I am going to tell you how to make one of those mouth watering dishes that doesn’t cost much and can be made in a short time by anyone as well. It is a traditional Vietnamese serving, called caramel fish that I learnt from a friend. The instructions below will help you recreate one of Asia's finest cuisines. Look below for the magic formula!!
Ingredients: 1/2lb catfish fillets, sugar, garlic, fish sauce, onions, salt, black pepper, oil, red chilies
Cooking Time: 30 min
Step 1: THAW THE FISH
Put about 10-12 fillets in a bowl and fill with warm water. Let it thaw for about 10 minutes. This is done so that the fish that is normally frozen, would become tender. The more tender the fillets are, the more flavor it will absorb from the ingredients and sauce that would be added to it.
Step 2: DICE THE ONIONS
Cut the onions into tiny cubes. Make sure you don’t slice the onions. This would be added to the fish to be marinated with it. The purpose of dicing and not slicing, is so that it would have a better effect on the marination process. The more surface area it has, the more the fish will be able to absorb the flavor of the onions. The onions shown in the picture needs to be cut some more into cubes.
Step 3: MARINATE THE FISH
Remove the water from the fillets after it is thawed. Add 3 tablespoons of fish sauce, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 3 pinches of salt, teaspoon of black pepper and about 2 tablespoons of garlic powder. Mix it all up and let it marinate for 1 hr. You can even use garlic as a whole instead of powder. Essentially, you want the flavor needs to be passed to the fish. This is an important step of the cooking process. Once again, it is done with the intent of letting the flavor soak into the fish in addition to tenderizing it. Marinating can be time consuming, but believe me, you’re going to thank yourself once you taste it!
Step 4: PREPARE THE INGREDIENTS
Mince 2 or 3 chilies. Slice ½ onion and put in hot dry pan for about a minute. Add 3 tablespoons of oil and let it fry for 2 minutes. Although the picture here depicts Thai chilies, you can also experiment with Mexican jalapenos or other types of chilly depending on your preference. Be sure to mince the chillies instead of just cutting them. The purpose is to allow the chilly to be easily mixed with the dish. If it is cut, then it needs a longer period for it to be fully absorbed.
Step 5: ADD THE FISH
CAUTION: Be careful as the hot oil may sizzle and burn you.
Put the fillets in one at a time slowly. The heat should be at about a scale of 8 out of 10. The reason of setting the heat at this value, is so that the fish will be slightly crispy as you stir fry it. You don’t want the fish to be watery or dilute because then the taste will not be prominent. Also, at this heat, the fish would turn to that appetizing golden- brown color.
Step 6: ADD THE SAUCE
Once the fish turns slightly white, as shown in the picture,add the marinated sauce to it. This is done to give the maximum amount of flavor to the fish in addition to the marination process. The essence of the flavor lies in the sauce, thus making it an important ingredient. When you actually add it, you might find that there is probably very little. So, a little bit of water can be added to the sauce to fully capture all the leftover spices. Don’t add too much though!
Step 7: MAKING THE CARAMEL
Fill a small pan with 3 tablespoons of sugar. Add a teaspoon of oil to the sugar after a minute .NOTE: Be sure to set the heat slightly less than the fish at around 7/10. The reasoning behind this is that the sugar that is heated will melt after a few minutes and should be kept that way. If the heat on the fish is less than the sugar, it will recrystallize or become solid again. If that happens, then the sweetness from the caramel will not be transferred to the fish. But, don’t worry, you can always increase the heat to the fish and melt it again, although its not preferable.
Step 8: ADDING THE CARAMEL
Once the caramel is dark brown, it should be added equally to the fish. The sugar that was white originally, turns dark brown after a few minutes. This is because the heating process breaks it down to its essential particle, carbon, which is brown. So don’t worry if you think you’ve overheated it, its supposed to be like that.
Step 9: SPICE IT UP!
Put in the minced chilies to add the spiciness. As you can see, the fish should look something like shown in the picture. Golden-brown is what you want it to look like at the finishing stage. Observe the minced chilies in there that’s going to thrill your taste buds!
Step 10: LET IT BE
Let the fish simmer and absorb the ingredients for about 10 minutes. You can probably add some tomatoes, as I have done here, if you like. They normally, dilute the dish slightly for those who don’t want it to be that spicy in addition to giving that nice taste. Once your at this stage, it might be tempting to take it out quickly for tasting. DO NOT do that, as this is an essential step. It ensures the fish has absorbed all the possible flavors that just gives that delicious taste you won’t forget!! Feel free to experiment with potatoes and other spices the next time around. ENJOY!!