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Perfectly crispy Brussels Sprouts with a tangy and salty fish sauce vinaigrette. My ideal Brussels sprouts and possibly the perfect vegetable side.
1) For sprouts, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Heat about 2 tablespoons oil in two oven safe skillets over medium heat. Add sprouts, cut-side down to the skillets. You’ll need two to hold all the sprouts. Don’t pile them in one skillet.
2) After bottoms of sprouts begin to brown, about five minutes, transfer skillets to oven to finish roasting for 10-15 minutes until they are really crispy on the bottom and around the edges. Don’t stir them or touch them.
For sauce, combine fish sauce, water, vinegar, lime, sugar, garlic, and chiles in a bowl. Taste for salt. if it’s too salty, add more water. Right before serving, combine this base with cilantro and mint.
Drizzle roasted sprouts with the vinaigrette and serve warm or at room temperature.
Crispy Brussels Sprouts prep
I used to spend the time to chop off all the little stems on Brussels sprouts but if you try to get the smaller ones, this step is pretty stupid. Just slice them in half and leave the stem. It’s no problem to eat it and it keeps all the leaves together.
The key to these sprouts is to start them on the stovetop but finish them in the oven and no matter what you do: don’t touch them. Don’t stir them. Don’t poke them. Don’t fiddle.
If you’re cooking a full two pounds of sprouts, you’ll need more than one skillet so you can cook them in a single layer. Heat some neutral oil in a large skillet over medium heat and lay out all the sprouts, cut-side down.
Let those cook for about five minutes and they will start to get some color on them already.
Transfer them to a 400 degree oven and let them roast for another 10 minutes or so. This will cook the sprouts through and make them really nice and crispy on the bottoms.
Umami Fish Sauce Vinaigrette
This is some dreamy sauce. It’s light, but super-flavorful. It starts with fish sauce. I’ve been using this brand recently and like it a lot, but any brand will work. Some brands are saltier than others and you might have to adjust the sauce at the end with a little more lime or water if you have a saltier brand.
Mix in the fish sauce with the water, garlic, chiles, vinegar, lime, and sugar. Smells good already.
Right before you serve the sprouts, hit them with the chopped cilantro and mint. If you add this too soon it’ll turn brownish. It’s best really nice and fresh.
All together Now
Remember those sprouts in the oven? This is what happened to them and I tell you it’s beautiful.
As soon as they come out of the oven, toss them with big spoonfuls of the vinaigrette and serve them while warm or at room temperature.
I would put these up against any Brussels sprout side dish out there. They are a delicious masterpiece.
The Genius Recipes Giveaway!
It’s a beautiful book and while you (probably) could find most of the recipes in it on other sources (about half of them are on the chúng tôi website), it’s also nice to have a compendium on your shelf. I can tell you that I personally earmarked enough of the recipes in it that the earmarks lost their meaning. Every fifth page was earmarked.
I’m not usually into crowd-sourced projects, but just because of the experts they pulled from (Judy Rodgers, Yotam Ottolenghi, Dan Barber, Michael Ruhlman, Marcella Hazan, etc…) I think this book is a great addition to any cookbook shelf.
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Best Brussel Sprouts With Fish Sauce Sauce Recipe
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Combine the vinaigrette (below), cilantro stems, and mint in a bowl, and set aside.
Peel away any loose or discolored outer leaves, trim the dry end of the stems with a knife, and cut the sprouts in half. Cut any especially large ones in quarters. Do not wash, especially if frying the sprouts. If roasting, and you must, dry very well.
To roast the brussels sprouts (recommended): Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Heat 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or just enough to evenly coat the bottom of the pan) in 2 oven-safe wide skillets (12 to 14 inches) over medium heat. When the oil slides easily from side to side of the pan, add the brussels sprouts cut side down. When the cut faces of the sprouts begin to brown, transfer the pan to the oven to finish cooking, about 15 minutes. Alternately, if you don’t have 2 large skillets or are cooking more sprouts for a larger crowd, roast them in the oven: toss them with 1 tablespoon of oil per pound and spread them on a baking sheet, cut sides down. Roast in the oven, checking for browning every 10-15 minutes, tossing them around with a spatula only once they start to brown chúng tôi sprouts are ready when they are tender but not soft, with nice, dark brown color.
To fry the brussels sprouts: Heat 1 1/2 inches of oil in a deep saucepan over medium-high heat until a deep-fry or instant-read thermometer registers 375°F. Line a plate with paper towels. Fry in batches that don’t crowd the pan — be careful, these will pop and spatter. Brussels sprouts will take about 5 minutes: when the outer leaves begin to hint at going black around the edges—i.e., after the sprouts have sizzled, shrunk, popped, and browned but before they burn—remove them to a paper towel–lined plate or tray.
Serve warm or at room temperature. When ready to serve, divide the brussels sprouts among four bowls (or serve it all out of one big bowl), top with the dressing to taste and cilantro leaves, and toss once or twice to coat.
Brussels Sprouts With Nuoc Cham
Danilo “DJ” Tangalin, executive chef at JRDN, shared the recipe with us for his signature crispy Brussels sprouts in a Vietnamese Nuoc Cham sauce.
He recommends it as an accompaniment for barbecue or a dish for potluck dinners.
JRDN is a beachfront restaurant in Pacific Beach’s Tower23 Hotel. More information about the restaurant is online at T23hotel.com.
Brussels Sprouts With Nuoc Cham Sauce and Charred Lemon
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer or side dish
Nuoc Cham Sauce:
1 lemon (for charring; instructions follow)
1 cup lime juice
1/2 cup fish sauce
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoon of garlic minced
1 carrot, peeled and julienned (or you can simply grate the carrots)
1/2 bunch basil, chiffonade (thinly sliced)
1/2 bunch cilantro, chiffonade (thinly sliced)
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound Brussels sprouts, cut in half lengthwise
Char the lemon: Slice lemon in half and place on top of the grill, flesh side down. As the lemon gets some char, it activates its natural sweetness and creates a balance of sweet and sour. Take off the grill after a couple of minutes and reserve.
Make the sauce: Combine the wet sauce ingredients with sugar and whisk until sugar is dissolved. Then stir in garlic, carrots, basil and cilantro.
Prepare Brussels sprouts: Get a medium-size pan hot and add enough vegetable oil to cover the base of the pan, about 2-3 tablespoons. Add Brussels sprouts to the pan and begin to cook. (Tip from the chef: To get a nice brown color on the Brussels sprouts, do not shake or move the pan for the first 30-45 seconds. What happens is the pan cools down as you add ingredients, so by not moving or shaking the pan it allows the pan to heat up again and give the Brussels sprouts a better sear.)
Once you have browned the Brussels sprouts, lower the heat and continue to cook until Brussels sprouts are soft. Deglaze with half the Nuoc Cham sauce. Continue to cook for another minute then turn off the heat. Reserve the rest of the nuoc cham as a dipping sauce.
Place Brussels sprouts in a serving bowl and garnish with the charred lemon.
From the chef: Nuoc cham is also great sauce for sautéed shrimp and spring rolls.
A Brief History Of Fish Sauce
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something twisting and turning, rhythmic and precise. It was only when I was directly in front of the Saigon street stall that I realized what was unfolding: the owner, a smiling man in his 40s who always greeted me as I walked by, was packaging nuoc cham, a condiment made from fish sauce, water, lime juice, and sugar. He was also adding thin slivers of pickled carrots to the tiny bags that piled in front of him.
What he was doing happens all over the city at street stalls and restaurants. Nuoc cham, or pure fish sauce, nuoc mam,accompanies many Southern Vietnamese dishes, and fish sauce is consumed by 95% of Vietnamese households.
But his motions – pouring the fishy liquid into tiny plastic bags, delicately deploying slender sliced carrots into the mix, and then elegantly curling his wrist for three turns of an elastic band – were mesmerizing. Each symmetrical package took only three seconds to make, and then waited to be added to a takeaway meal.
The History of Fish Sauce
In my travels, I’ve heard others cite fish sauce as one of those tastes that takes some getting used to for Western palates, along with stinky tofu and durian fruit, and the bright purple fermented shrimp paste that accompanies Vietnamese soup. Its lingering smell leaves no mystery about its strong, fishy contents.
Used in Thailand as nam pla and Myanmar as ngan bya yay, as well as Laos, Cambodia, and the Philippines under other local names and variations, one thing is certain regardless of preference: fish sauce plays a crucial role in flavouring food in Southeast Asia.
“This is more than just a condiment,” founder of Red Boat fish sauce, Cuong Pham, has said. “It’s so good, it’s like gold.”
In it purest form, the sauce is made from two ingredients: fish (usually anchovies) and salt, fermented together for months. Despite the fact that some fish sauce labels depict squid, shrimp, or even a man carrying a giant shrimp over his shoulder (my favourite, for obvious reasons), the ingredients remain the same: fish and salt. Both are placed into huge vats – usually three parts fish to one part salt – and weighted down to prevent the fish from floating to the surface as fermentation begins.
Once liquid begins to seep out of the fish, it is drained and reintroduced to the vat for the full fermentation process, which lasts ” long enough for it to reach concentration, but not long enough for hydro-sulfuric acid to appear, which would spoil the taste. ” Usually this process takes nine months to one year, with the vats sitting in the sun as the fish sauce takes form.
Fish Sauce in Ancient Times
The earliest origins of fish sauce date back to Green and Roman times, where the condiment was known as gàros or garum respectively. Italian archaeologist Claudio Giardino notes that garum was mentioned in Roman literature all the way back to the 4th century BC, and that remains of garum factories have been excavated in Spain, Portugal and Northern Africa.
Roman fish sauce was used in a variety of recipes, like those from Apicus’s cookbook De Re Coquinaria – available for free online – as well as a general substitute for salt and a base for sauces. Pompeii was famous in ancient times for its production of garum. The many mentions in ancient texts and cookbooks implies a quotidian use within the ancient Mediterranean footprint.
In his piece about fish sauce in the ancient world, Declan Henesy notes:
The Carthaginians were also early makers and traders of fish sauce, producing it along the coast of the Lake of Tunis, in modern day Tunisia. A Punic shipwreck from 5th century BCE, found off the coast of Ibiza, may have been carrying a cargo of fish sauce stored in amphorae made in Gades (modern day Spain) and Tingi (modern-day Morocco). There are many early Graeco-Roman literary references to fish sauce, from writers such as Aristophanes, Sophocles and Aeschylus.
In modern day cuisine, fish sauce is almost completely absent from Italian food with the exception of colatura di alici, a fish sauce still made in factories in the village of Cetara in Italy’s Salermo’s region.
Why did Romans stop using fish sauce?
Some historians believe garum fell out of fashion because salt was too difficult to procure following the collapse of the Roman Empire. The heavy salt taxes drove up the cost of producing fish sauce, and slowed production down. In addition, without Roman protection of the coasts, pirates began to cut off trade as the empire waned and cut into traditional trade routes. One thing is certain: with the decline of the Roman empire, so too did fish sauce production decline until it ground to a near-halt.
What about Asia’s modern day fish sauce? Is it the same as Roman garum?
In his book Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky theorizes that the two fish sauces were not a result of the other, but instead developed in the East and West at separate times.
“The sauce appears to be, as some historians believe of the domesticated pig, an idea that occurred independently in the East and the West. The Asian sauce is thought to have originated in Vietnam, though the Vietnamese must have taken it in ancient times from the Chinese soy sauce, in those early times when the Chinese fermented fish with the beans.”
Kurlansky also goes on to note that, upon entering Vietnam, the French were horrified to find that the Vietnamese ate “rotten fish.” The Pasteur Institute in Paris then spent years studying nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce) to ascertain how it was fermented. Such a small amount of this condiment adds a punch of flavour to any meal, almost magically so.
In contrast, food historian Laura Kelley suggests on her blog that garum was the parent of modern day fish sauce, passing along the trade routes from West to East.
“So, once again, we can identify a product that flowed from west to east and was eagerly adopted by Asians on the Silk Road. The recipes for garum changed and adapted as they moved east and became nuoc mam and nam pla according to cultural preferences and what gifts the Asian seas had to offer. Archaeologists and food scientists are working to confirm these flows and linkages, so stay tuned to this channel to learn more about garum production in the ancient world and in the kitchen of Chez Kelley.”
Back to Declan’s piece, where he notes that while some historians claim fish sauce was introduced to Asia via the Silk Road, others think it was independently invented.
Either or both may be true. Interestingly, in 2010 CE, a team of researchers analysed samples of garum taken from containers preserved at Pompeii. They found that Roman fish sauce from the 1st century CE had an almost identical taste profile to those produced today in southeast Asia.
These days, fish sauce is a staple in Southeast Asia, with the version from the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc being the first product in Southeast Asia to receive a Protected Designation of Origin certification from the EU Commission. I personally love Red Boat Fish sauce, and was thrilled to find it in Montreal upon my return. There’s a huge bottle in my fridge. It’s also fully gluten-free, which isn’t the case for all fish sauce these days.
While the production depends on the availability of fish, for the moment it appears to be on the rise in the West, both with Asian recipes and to add flavour to more traditional staples.
Truly, I can’t eat without it.
While we travel for the people and the culture, for the stories and the food, we sometimes take the origins of individual ingredients, like fish sauce or chili peppers, for granted.
If this short overview of fish sauce was interesting you might want to read:
* Salt, by Mark Kurlansky: From the book page: “The only rock we eat, salt has shaped civilization from the very beginning, and its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of humankind. A substance so valuable it served as currency, salt has influenced the establishment of trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars, secured empires, and inspired revolutions.”
* The Fish Sauce Cookbook, by Veronica Meewes. Pretty self explanatory!
* History of Ketchup, an article by Dan Jurafsky (spoiler: it also involves fermented fish)
And for those who are vegan or don’t like the taste, a fish sauce substitution can be found in this vegan fish sauce recipe.
I wrote this piece originally for the G Adventures blog and it originally appeared there.
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