Monday, August 8, 2011

TBIR: Southeast Asia; Russia and Eastern Europe

Allow me to apologize to Southeast Asia for the disaster of a dish I prepared last night. In no way do I believe that this preparation of Ca Kho To, aka Catfish in Salty-Sweet Caramel Sauce (pg 494), represents your food as a whole, nor do I suspect it remotely represents this actual dish, as the Vietnamese would recognize it.

This seemed fairly easy to make, and included ingredients that I already had in the house (except, of course, for the catfish.) Basically, all you do is make a maple-colored caramel in a pan, then add two cups of boiling water, 1/4 cup of fish sauce, and black pepper. Add the fish, and let it simmer for 25 minutes. At the end of this time, the sauce will have "thickened to a thick, syrupy consistency." Methinks there's one extra "thick" in that sentence. Ah, well.

I had two problems with the execution of this.
1) I only used two catfish fillets. If I'd used 5 (as specified in the recipe), there's no way they would have fit in my 12 inch skillet (as specified in the recipe) without overlapping (as specified in the recipe), nor would this have been enough fluid to submerge it all. It ticks me off when the reality of the cooking doesn't match the version in the book.
2) After 25 minutes of simmering, I still had a pan of watery liquid. I removed the fish, raised the heat, and gave it ten more minutes. It still wasn't anywhere close to syrupy, but I was hungry, so served it as it was.
My mouth dried out just looking at this.
I couldn't eat this. 1/4 cup of fish sauce = SALTY. Holy mother of whatever god you pray to. I'm a big fan of fish sauce (except for the straight-out-of-the-bottle ass smell of it), but it needs to be used judiciously. Even when I scraped the sauce off, the fish itself had absorbed too much of it.

Conclusion: Hated it. I ate a peach for dinner. To be fair, Matt said it was okay and ate both of ours, but he was guzzling water for the rest of the night. He eats a lot more fast food than I do and is always adding salt to things, so we have a different threshold for how salty is too salty.

I'm afraid I'm skimping the Russia and Eastern Europe section a bit with my selection of Eggplant Caviar (pg 375). I haven't been eating nearly enough vegetables since I started cooking out of this book, so the fact that this recipe is all vegetable won me over, despite the fact that French Fridays with Dorie picked her eggplant caviar as its dish for the week after this. Oh well. It might be interesting to compare the two. Besides that, the heat index tends to be over 100 degrees these days, and I could not bear the thought of goulash or pierogies or stuffed cabbage or paprikash, tasty as they may turn out to be.

I found this eggplant caviar to be pretty bland. It doesn't even taste of eggplant. I guess 1 teaspoon of tomato paste was enough to overwhelm the dish.

Maybe my eggplant was too small, or maybe I didn't cut my onion up small enough, but the proportions of eggplant to onion seem to be way off. Also, my onion could have cooked for a few more minutes. It was too firm to just melt into the eggplant mush, if that's what it was supposed to do.
I hope Dorie's recipe is better.

Conclusion: Just okay. It's boring. I'll eat it, since I made it, but I mostly am using it as an excuse to eat pita chips.


  1. Disaster in the kitchen! I'd have been super ticked off about that fish dish. Sometimes I wonder if the recipes in cookbooks are even tested before they're put in because more often than not I find that I need to make adjustments. Boo. At least you had that yummy peach :)

  2. i have had bad experiences with fish sauce- they really range a lot in terms of taste and quality. this might help in terms of evaluating your recipe...

  3. Hmmm...I don't see any of the markers that this website says to look for, though the one we have is a thai brand, not a vietnamese one. I don't think the problem was with the sauce, though. We use it pretty regularly, and have always liked it before. 1/4 cup is just too much of it.

  4. OMG, 1/4 c. of fish sauce?? As a Filipina who loves fish sauce, I don't think I've ever used that amount for a whole dish. You brave soul!

  5. yeah it might be saltier than vietnamese which is why the 1/4 cup is salt overkill?

  6. I don't know. The recipe didn't specify Vietnamese fish sauce. It just said fish sauce.

  7. i have a hunch if the recipe called for 1/4 cup it means light fish sauce- this article explains the grades: