Roast Pork Recipe for Lunar New Year from the Red Boat Fish Sauce Cookbook

Tien Nguyen and Diep Tran struggled a bit Julia and Julia when we work on Red Boat Fish Sauce Recipe Book. The duo – a food and culture writer and a chef and recipe developer, respectively – worked in tandem to distill the spirit of the Red Boat fish sauce brand into cookbook form. .

The book features a compilation of recipes that celebrate the family history of Red Boat founder Cuong Pham, using his signature fish sauce as the star ingredient. Although some of the recipes are more recent adaptations of dishes and drinks – such as a michelada with fish sauce and an umami caesar salad with toasted breadcrumbs – much of the book is inspired by the recipes of Cái Thi Kim Vân, Pham’s mother, all deciphered by Tran and Nguyen.

“They were living documents because she updated and changed them,” Nguyen explains, noting the extra notes she jotted down in the margins in a rainbow of different colored inks. “They weren’t kept in amber and this book shows how she was constantly refining and adapting, depending on where she was.”

The cookbook is an incredible feat of translation and comprehension. Recipe development can be a precise practice – how many cups of this or teaspoons of that? But Pham’s mother measured by the length of chopsticks and used all the kitchen utensils and appliances she had in Vietnam, which did not include an oven.

“I love the language used in these recipes where only different terms are used,” says Tran. “Like my grandfather had a peanut praline recipe where it was ‘cook the peanut syrup, drop a little in ice water, and it becomes hard as a plastic button.’ “” The language is musical and evocative, but perhaps inexplicit.

When writing this book for 2021, the year it was published, Nguyen and Tran had to be strategic to ensure the recipes honored Pham’s mother while allowing readers at home to follow along. It was a challenge they looked forward to. “It was just fun,” smiles Tran, “to make recipes something that conforms to the way we cook now in terms of technique.”

For example, the recipe for roast pork – a Tet, or Vietnamese, New Year’s specialty – usually called for boiling and then frying. But frying a tightly rolled slice of meat might not be the best idea for home cooks who aren’t as experienced as Pham’s mom. “We didn’t want anyone burning down their house,” Tran deadpans. Instead, the couple decided to try roasting the pork instead, which still retains a juicy interior and crispy exterior. “We validated it by asking the family,” Tran adds, ensuring that each recipe still retains its original flavors and identity.

The roast pork roll, or thịt ba roi cuôn, is perfect for Tet as it is a community food. “The pig is such a big part of the Lunar New Year because in feudal times you never killed that pig until it was a feast day with some sort of ancestral worship.” Pork can be served hot as a centerpiece, and leftover cold slices make a perfect bánh mì the next day.

Writing a cookbook that weaves fish sauce might seem like a challenge to those unfamiliar with the ingredient. But fish sauce isn’t just a daily staple for Pham, Tran and Nguyen, it’s a livelihood and a way of life.

“I think the media narrative decides who historically wrote about fish sauce and it always comes with this caveat that it’s scary,” says Nguyen. “Or they use pejorative terms to describe the scent. It makes people fearful. the Red Boat Fish Sauce Recipe Book does the opposite, defending the ingredient as something extremely flavorful, salty, and high in umami. Fish sauce can be the star of a recipe or an unsuspecting key player, enhancing pasta sauces and holiday dressings.

“I’m comfortable saying there’s a modicum of Western racism when it comes to fear of [fish sauce]says Tran, citing French colonialists who claimed they couldn’t handle Vietnam’s food. “Have respect for him and respect him, but don’t fear him.”

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