With the Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette under my belt, I decided to try the cauliflower version. I think cauliflower is one of the best vegetables out there: I love the texture of it, raw or cooked. I love it so much that for a time I had cauliflower at every meal.
I’ve had it steamed, pan-fried, and roasted, but I’ve never had it deep-fried. I thought this recipe would be a good way to eat more vegetables, but when you deep fry them, it doesn’t really count. It never occurred to me to deep fry cauliflower, but it’s an ideal deep-fry vegetable; if you dry it really well after washing, there’s minimal oil splatter.
Deep-frying the cauliflower probably wasn’t the healthiest choice, but I wanted to see if deep-frying added anything special to the dish. I also changed some other things: I made my mother-in-law’s fish sauce and substituted fried shallots for the crispy shichimi togarashi puffed rice.
The new fish sauce I made is basically the same as Chang’s, minus the rice wine vinegar. My mother-in-law, like most Asian moms, doesn’t cook from a recipe, so I was surprised she had actual measurements for her fish sauce. But wait, these instructions were along the lines of: a ladle of sugar, garlic, chili, a quarter bowl of water, a third of a lime, and half a bowl of fish sauce. It was almost as bad as a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
I’d say the biggest difference between Chang’s recipe and my mother-in-law’s is the way the sauce is made. Chang just mixes up all his ingredients, whereas my mother-in-law had an exact way to prepare her nuoc mam. Ironic, right?
Garlic and bird’s eye chilies are put into a mortar and pestle with the sugar and ground until they’re unrecognizable. Then water is added to dissolve the sugar before the lime juice is added. Lastly, the fish sauce is mixed in. The measurements she gave me seemed way off, but with a little fiddling, the sauce was great.
Really, sometimes I think my mom and my mother-in-law are in cahoots to get me to watch them cook. That’s the Asian way of learning how to cook: there aren’t any family recipes to hand down, there’s just a watch and learn philosophy.
I have a lot of watching and learning to do, but after all that tweaking, Mike pronounced my fish sauce good. It’s lighter tasting than Chang’s vinaigrette, which is a bit too fishy for me.
The lighter fish sauce with the chopped mint and cilantro stems was bright, fresh, and complimented the fried cauliflower without overpowering it. The deep-fried cauliflower was good, but I think this recipe would be just as good with roasted. I recommend flash-frying the cilantro leaves though, those are awesomely crisp when they come out.
If you want a simple version of this dish, just roast yourself some vegetables and toss them in fish sauce and top with something crunchy. It won’t be as Momofuku, but it’ll still be good.
My Mother-in-Law’s Nuoc Mam Recipe
yields 2 cups
1 clove of garlic
1 red bird’s eye chili
5 tablespoons sugar
juice of 1/2 lime (or to taste)
1 3/4 cups of water
1/4 cup fish sauce
Crush the garlic, chili and sugar together in a mortar and pestle until the garlic and chili are crushed to tiny pieces and the sugar is spicy and fragrant. Dissolve the sugar, garlic and chili mixture with the water then add the lime juice. Mix well then add the fish sauce. It’s best to let the fish sauce sit in the fridge for a day or so for the flavours to meld before using.
Note: If you don’t have a mortar and pestle (I don’t), just finely mince the garlic and chili and then grind them into the sugar using the back of a spoon.