Spring is the time of year when new cookbooks land. (Fall is the other.) I check out a lot of them, buy them or get review copies, cooking and baking from them. But it’s always interesting when one cookbook comes along, and as I’m reading through it, I realize that I want to make every single recipe in it.
But I should backtrack for a moment. A few months ago, I got sent a preview of Vietnamese Food Every Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors (for a back cover quote), and as I was paging through the PDF, I found myself mentally bookmarking all the dishes that I wanted to make. So I was thrilled when the actual book finally landed in my lap, or in my kitchen, and decided to start with the Coconut caramel shrimp. I mean, with a name like that, how could I not?
I love this book so much because it’s possible to make every recipe in it. Andrea Nguyen wrote Vietnamese Food Every Day with that in mind; every recipe calls for ingredients that are readily available. In the U.S., and elsewhere, many supermarkets now regularly carry things like rice wine vinegar, tofu, fish sauce, fresh ginger, and a variety of fresh chiles, which you used to have to cross town to try (and try..and try) to hunt down. Rice noodles and pomegranate molasses are the only things you might have to make a special trip to a multicultural market for. (Which to me, is never a bad thing, because I always discover some interesting and unusual ingredients when browsing the aisles.)
Speaking of tofu, when I first arrived in Paris, I went for lunch at a Japanese restaurant on the rue Saint-Anne and they wouldn’t serve me tofu. I couldn’t figure out why and on the way out, I asked the waiter why not. He said, “French people don’t like tofu,” which is wrong on both counts. The first count was thinking that I was didn’t like tofu, and the second was that Romain (who is) loves tofu and prefers it to meat now.
(And speaking of the rue Saint-Anne in Paris, where many of the Japanese restaurants are clustered, when I moved to Paris years ago, most of the restaurants you could just walk right into. Now they’re all packed. And I don’t think someone ordering tofu would surprise anyone, anymore.)
For those scared to tackle their own dumplings, even though Andrea pretty much wrote the book on homemade dumplings, in the same book where I found this recipe for Coconut caramel shrimp, she offers up super-easy wontons made with premade wrappers that float in a gingery broth. I’ve also bookmarked the spicy sweet pomegranate tofu, which, like this shrimp recipe, has a sweet & sour element to it, and looks amazing.
For those timid about making Vietnamese food, or foods featuring Vietnamese ingredients, Andrea really walks you through everything, from what to buy at the grocery store, to how to cook it right.
When shopping for the shrimp, I’d read somewhere that most “fresh” shrimp on offer at seafood markets is previously frozen. So you’re better off (financially) buying frozen shrimp. In this case, I wanted to use wild (sauvage) shrimp, and all I could find were frozen, so I used those to make this dish.
I mixed the sauce ingredients in a bowl then quickly stir-fried the aromatics (garlic and shallots). Once everything simmered down, the sauce ingredients were added to the skillet, reduce to a syrup, and the shrimp cooked quickly in the simmering liquid. Within minutes, lunch was ready. The tender shrimp that had been bathed in the coconutty caramel benefitted from the light touch of fish sauce added. The idea of using coconut oil and coconut water added flavor, without a lot of fuss (or fat), and we spooned up the very (very) tasty shrimp with some white rice, and beer.