Fish sauce caramels are all very trendy now, seeing as the world has turned to dirty versions of Asian classics as the next generation of hipster dude food. I’ve been using them in my food for a wee bit longer, but even so, I never tire of their funky stickiness.
- 1 kg piece prime grass-fed beef fillet
- sea salt
- 250 g coarsely grated palm sugar or caster sugar
- about 60 ml (1⁄4 cup) of the best fish sauce you can find
- finely grated zest of 1 lime, the resulting bald lime cut into six wedges
- 6 long red chillies, deseeded and cut into long threads
QUICK STICKS SLAW
- 200 g rice stick noodles
- 200 g snow peas, trimmed, strings removed, sliced into batons (see TIPS)
- juice of 3 plump limes
- 1⁄4 white drumhead cabbage, finely shredded
- 1⁄4 iceberg lettuce, finely shredded
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce (from the same bottle I mentioned above)
- 1 bunch Thai basil (mint, purple basil or coriander would also do), leaves picked
- Kewpie mayonnaise, to serve (optional)
Trim the beef of any silverskin and sinew and rub all over with a little salt.
Make a caramel in the heaviest-based saucepan you have. To do this, place the sugar and 185 ml (3⁄4 cup) water in the saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat to high and bring to the boil. Cook, without stirring, for about 8 minutes or until the water evaporates and you are left with a golden caramel. Remove from the heat and splash in 2 tablespoons of the fish sauce to cool the caramel down. Let the caramel cool enough to taste, then add more fish sauce, little by little, until its evil, salty stinkiness peeks through the sweetness. Reserve.
Boil a kettle for the noodles.
Preheat a barbecue grill or chargrill pan over the highest possible heat. Sear the meat on all sides, brushing with the caramel before you turn it and making sure you place the meat on a new hot spot each time. Sear for about 2–3 minutes each side (or longer if you don’t want your beef rare), ensuring all the sides get nice and crusty. When the beef is almost done to your liking, remove it from the heat and place on a plate. Set aside for 10 minutes to rest, then sprinkle with the lime zest.
To make the slaw, place the noodles in a large heatproof bowl, cover with boiling water and set aside for 5–8 minutes to soften. Drain. Place the snow peas in the bowl and cover with boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and return to the bowl. Add the softened noodles and lime juice and toss to combine. Spread over a serving platter.
Place the cabbage, lettuce and fish sauce in the bowl and toss together, then throw over the noodle mixture. Finish with the Thai basil leaves and swipes of Kewpie mayo (if you like).
Thinly slice the beef. Dredge one side only of each slice in the remaining caramel and place on top of the slaw, dredged-side up. Sprinkle with the threads of chilli. Serve with the bald lime wedges and the remaining caramel on the side for individual re-application.
TIP: Swap the Thai basil for Vietnamese mint and this dish instantly moves to Hue. You’ll also need me to write you a new intro about how I once ate pork loin served this way in a garden restaurant in Vietnam’s old imperial capital. It was cooked on a terracotta tile over a small pot of fire.
Yummy Easy Quick Around the World by Matt Preston, published by Plum.