The fridge alone contains a huge array of ingredients… fish sauce, soy sauce, various curry pastes (of both Indian and Thai persuasion), a half-dozen kinds of mustard, preserved lemons, tahini paste, piri piri sauce, jerk seasoning and tubes of tomato paste. It’s a wonder there’s room left for anything but condiments in there, but I always seem to find room to fit in just one more jar… and another… and another.
One of my new favourite condiments is Vietnamese Caramel Sauce. Don’t let the name fool you… since the sugar is cooked to the point of being almost burnt, it’s actually not so much sweet as it is deep, smoky and slightly bittersweet. It only takes a spoonful or two to add a gorgeous colour and depth of flavour to all sorts of dishes.
I first discovered caramel sauce while making Lemongrass Pork Riblets (a really delicious dish that I recommend everyone try making, BTW). The only catch is that you end up with quite a bit of leftover caramel sauce, but that’s not particularly a bad thing since you can use it to flavour pork chops, chicken pieces, fish, meatballs, and even flan for dessert.
You’ll find a wonderful tutorial on making your own caramel sauce here. It’s actually dead simple – just make sure you resist the urge to stir, because otherwise you’ll end up with a solid crystallized mess instead of smooth brown caramelly goodness.
Vietnamese Caramel Shrimp
Adapted from Closet Cooking and Tia Nguyen
1 tbsp canola oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp ginger, grated
1 red chili, seeded and minced
2 green onions, chopped
1 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tbsp Vietnamese Caramel Sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp lime juice
Chopped cilantro for garnish
In a large saute pan, cook the garlic, ginger, chili and white parts of the green onion over medium-high heat until soft, about 5 minutes (reserve the green part for garnish).
Add the shrimp, caramel sauce and fish sauce to the pan. Cook, stirring often, until shrimp are pink and just barely opaque, about 3-5 minutes. Drizzle with lime juice, stir to coat and serve, piping hot, on a bed of jasmine rice. Garnish with reserved green onion and chopped cilantro.