Clay Pot Fish / Ca Kho

Caramel Sauce is Key
A Fusion Note with Pancetta

Clay Pots

The strong, intense bittersweet Caramel Sauce is the key to this dish.  This version,adapted  from Nguyen Tran of Dallas, uses Pancetta instead of Pork Belly.

Clay Pot cooking is one of the favored techniques of Vietnamese Cuisine.

Clay Pot Fish
Ca Kho

Vietnamese

Ingredients:

1¼ pounds Fish Filets, such as Striped Bass, Swai or Catfish, cut into 1¼ inch steaks

The Mixture:
6 tablespoons Fish Sauce
4½ tablespoons firmly packed Brown Sugar
4 tablespoons minced Green Onions
3 tablespoons minced Garlic
Coarsely ground Black Pepper, about 1 teaspoon

5 large Pancetta cubes, about a quarter-inch square
Neutral cooking Oil, such as Grape seed
1 tablespoon Caramel Sauce
1 tab;espoon minced Ginger
1 Thai chili pepper, sliced
1½ cups Coconut Juice
Kosher Salt and Black Pepper to taste
1 teaspoon chopped Scallion
2 stalks Cilantro, hand torn
6 slices Fresno Chili or other medium Chili

For Caramel Sauce:

Heat a cup of Sugar and a quarter cup of Water in a saucepan over medium to low fire, 12 to 13 minutes.  Let the Sugar melt.  Do not stir it.  While waiting, fill a large bowl with enough hot water to dip the bottom of he pan into.  When the mixture is the color and consistency of dark Molasses, slip the pan in the bowl to stop the cooking.  Watch out for steam.  Add half a cup of water to the pan.  Be careful as it will sizzle.  Return the pan to the stove stirring over medium fire until the Caramel dissolves.  The flavor should be bittersweet.

Method:

First preheat the oven to 450° F.

Clean the Fish, rinse well and pat dry.

Combine The Mixture in a bowl.  Mix until the Sugar dissolves.  Coat the Fish with this mixture.  Marinate 30 minus on each side, no longer.  Remove from the marinade, shaking off any excess and set aside.

Next sauté and brown the Pancett in a pan with a little Oil over high fire.  Set aside.

In the same pan, sear the Fish in Oil over medium to high fire until it turns golden.  Transfer to a clay pot or use a case iron skillet or an oven-safe pan.  Add the Pancetta.  Dribble Caramel Sauce evenly over the Fish.  Let it sit a little while.

Meanwhile in the pan used to sear the Fish, add the Ginger, rest of the Green Onions and Thai chili.  Saute over medium to high fire 10 to 15 seconds until brown.  Add Coconut Juice and a pinch of Salt while geglazing over high heat, scraping and stirring.  When the sauce boils,immediately our over the Fish.  Coveer the clay pot, place on the middle rack in the oven and bake 7 to 8 minutes.

Finally remove from he oven, sprinkle with a pinch of Black Pepper and garnish with a few more chopped Green Onion, Cilantro and Fresho Chili.  Serves 2 to 4 — serve with plain steamed Whie Rice or with Fried Rice.

Clay Pot cooking remains a classic staple of Vietnamese cuisine.  See also the recipe for Pork Clay Pot.

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