Fried Cauliflower with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette and My Mother-in-Law’s Nuoc Mam Recipe

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.

27 Comments add yours

  1. copy cat, i just posted about deep fried cauliflower yesterday!

    Your’s looks better though! The idea of adding fish sauce and flash fried cilantro is putting me into fits as well! I want that so bad!

    Hahaha, great minds think alike! Deep fried cauliflower is super delicious!

    steph on March 22nd, 2010 at 11:16 am
  2. I can eat anything with nuoc mam… just like I can have anything with ketchup :p

    Nuoc mam is definitely an everything sauce!

    steph on March 22nd, 2010 at 11:17 am
  3. HI – I LOVE all thing cauliflower & fried + roasted cauliflower is on the top of my list. Also with the fresh herbs, cilantro & fish sauce….YUMMY!!!!

    Excellent recipe with some stunning personal pointers :)

    Thanks! Fresh herbs and fish sauce really do make everything taste better!

    steph on March 22nd, 2010 at 11:48 pm
  4. I like roasted cauliflower too. I think it goes well with braised pork shoulder. Or, from the age of ’50s casseroles, cream of mushroom soup (my foodie shame).

    Your putting it with fish sauce makes me think that fried capers would also mix well.

    Don’t worry, I think everyone likes cauliflower with cream of mushroom soup.

    steph on March 22nd, 2010 at 11:49 pm
  5. Just bought a cauliflower even thought it’s more a winter vegetable and we are still having gorgeous summer weather, but I was craving it badly. I’m going to try the roasted version, and that’s really sweet of you to post your mother in law’s nuoc mam recipe!

    Mmm…summer! I’m so happy it’s finally spring over here and we’re getting all sorts of farm fresh produce! Are you going to post your roasted cauliflower soon? *hint hint* :D

    steph on March 22nd, 2010 at 11:51 pm
  6. Deep fried anything is too much for me. I fear deep frying and it seems that I am missing out on this. Hope that it works roasted?

    I definitely think it works roasted; the recipe is more about the fish sauce vinaigrette, not the deep-frying. Hope you get a chance to try it!

    steph on March 23rd, 2010 at 3:23 pm
  7. I am always looking for amazing Cauliflower recipes. Wow this looks really look. I will have to try it out. Here is mine:

    Looks delish! Hope you get a chance to try out the cauliflower with fish sauce.

    steph on March 25th, 2010 at 3:42 pm
  8. This is really interesting! I love cauliflower too but I haven’t thought that it could be fried. This is something that we will try. Will probably use Canola Oil to deep fry the cauliflowers.

    The cauliflower was good deep-fried, but I’m sure roasted would be just as good. Canola oil is a good choice, otherwise, all the high smoke point oils are good too: sunflower, safflower, grapeseed.

    steph on March 29th, 2010 at 12:55 am
  9. This looks delicious!!! There’s a Lebanese place that makes fried vegetable medley (cauliflower, carrots, zucchini, & potatoes) with a garlicky tzatziki sauce& the fried cauliflower is the best part. I’ll definitely try this one!! Oh, and my fav. cauliflower combo is to add it to Martha Stewart macaroni & cheese recipe. Yum!

    Mmm, that fried vegetable medley with garlicky tzatziki sounds awesome.

    I’ve been meaning to try cauliflower in mac and cheese; maybe I’ll do it soon!

    steph on April 6th, 2010 at 10:14 am
  10. soo i tried this one…totally failed. overcooked the cauli..oh well better luck next time i guess. still tasted good though, esp the crisp cilantro.

    That’s too bad about the cauliflower! It doesn’t really get too brown so it’s hard to tell when it’s done. I love the crispy cilantro!

    steph on April 19th, 2010 at 9:41 am
  11. I just made this Nuoc Mam! It’s delicious! I added a bit of ginger and a dash of sesame oil. Oh and I used a habanero pepper. I like the burn!

  12. I have to make this. I have some bird’s eye chili’s in the backyard ready to harvest.

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