6HWbNHN-show-poster2x3-c7tgE2Y.png

Artbound

Start watching
MJ250sC-show-poster2x3-Bflky7i.png

Tending Nature

Start watching
Southland Sessions

Southland Sessions

Start watching
Earth Focus

Earth Focus

Start watching
5LQmQJY-show-poster2x3-MRWBpAK.jpg

Reporter Roundup

Start watching
City Rising

City Rising

Start watching
Lost LA

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

Cooking from the World Pantry: Filet of Sole Steamed in Nước Chấm

Support Provided By
Nước Chấm Ingredients | Photo by Maria Zizka
Photos: Maria Zizka

Fish sauce plays many roles in the Southeast Asian pantry. The funky, fermented liquid enhances savory dishes, is fundamental in dipping sauces, and adds complexity to everything from soups to steamed vegetables.

Top-quality fish sauce begins with freshly caught fish, usually anchovies, which are layered with sea salt and packed into wooden barrels or ceramic vessels. They are left in the sun for between nine months and two years, during which time the fish break down, ferment, and exude a golden liquid. That liquid is strained into clear bottles and left to ferment for another few weeks. For second-rate fish sauce, salt water is poured into the drained barrels--the fish remnants still in them--and the fermentation starts up again.

Ancient Romans made their own version of fish sauce, which they called garum, by leaving salted mackerel innards in the sunshine to ferment for months. Garum production declined as the Roman Empire collapsed, and today it has practically disappeared. However, in the Campania region of modern Italy, fishermen continue to catch anchovies and then ferment the fish in brine in order to turn them into a condiment known as colatura di alici.

Asian grocery stores will likely carry several brands of fish sauce. Look for bottles that list only two ingredients: fish and salt. Additives like sugar and caramel color indicate lesser quality. The amber-colored liquid inside should be clear, without any cloudiness or sediment.

Nước Chấm, the classic Vietnamese dipping sauce, relies on the pungency of fish sauce. To make it, start with a splash of fish sauce, then sweeten with sugar, dilute with lime juice and vinegar (or water), and season with minced garlic and hot chile pepper. Nước Chấm is a simple sauce to make, but it tastes remarkably complex. Try it as a dipping sauce for spring rolls, as a marinade for grilled meat, or as a dressing for rice noodle salad. I like to do something that is, admittedly, a little less traditional. I steam delicate filets of sole in parchment packets with  nước Chấm, combining a cornerstone of the Southeast Asian pantry with a cooking technique from Western Europe.

Filet of Sole Steamed in Nước Chấm | Photo by Maria Zizka

Filet of Sole Steamed in Nước Chấm
Serves 2

If you can't find or don't like sole, try using Pacific cod caught in Alaska, farmed Arctic char, or even shrimp.

1 tablespoon fish sauce
1½ teaspoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 - 3 small cloves garlic, minced
1 - 2 small hot red chiles, stemmed and minced
2 (4-ounce) filets of sole
Sea salt
2 - 4 small shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 scallion, white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, plus more for serving
Steamed rice, for serving

Heat the oven to 400°F.

In a small bowl, make the  nước Chấm by stirring together the fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, vinegar, garlic, and chile.

Cut two approximately 16-inch-long pieces of parchment paper. Place 1 filet of sole in the center of each piece. Lightly season each filet with a tiny pinch of salt. Scatter the shiitake, ginger, scallion, and cilantro evenly over the fish. Gather the edges of the parchment, pulling them up and around each filet, then pour in the  nước Chấm, dividing it evenly between the two parchment bundles. Tie each bundle tightly with twine and place on a rimmed baking sheet.

Bake until the fish is just barely opaque all the way through and the bundles have puffed with steam, 10 - 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the filets. (It's okay to untie a bundle and poke the fish with a knife to see if it is cooked through--just be sure to return it to the oven, tightly tied, if it needs to cook for a few more minutes.)

Serve each bundle on a plate with steamed rice and a small handful of cilantro. Let your guests untie the twine at the table.

Support Provided By
Read More
The landscape at Whitewater Preserve

Where to Explore the Coachella Valley Outdoors (Before It Gets Too Hot)

Whether you’re an off-roader, a two-legged trekker or even an earthquake tourist, here are five great outdoor destinations in the Coachella Valley — no festival pass needed.
Exterior of the Troubadour in West Hollywood.

12 Fascinating Bikeable Spots to Explore in WeHo’s Rainbow District

Whether you’ve got your own wheels or need to borrow some, here are some fascinating points of interest along the first mile of West Hollywood — from intriguing public art to a cornucopia of architectural styles, and even some rock and roll history.
Two rows of colorfully lit Christmas trees at Hikari – A Festival of Lights at Tanaka Farms. | Sandi Hemmerlein

Six SoCal Holiday Lights Drive-Thrus and Drive-Bys for 2020

Haul out the holly and fill up the stockings. We need a little Christmas! Here are some of the best drive-thru holiday experiences in Southern California.