There are some ingredients that will totally stretch your repertoire of dinner ideas. Fish sauce is one of them. Funky, salty fish sauce is the gateway to Southeast Asian cooking, but it can go much further if you know how to use it.
Fish sauce is made from fermented fish and salt. It's easy to find these days - most supermarkets have it in the Asian section. You'll notice it has a bit of a stink when you're using it, but don't fret. The smell will cook right off, and eventually it won't even faze you.
You'll find that fish sauce is often used in conjunction with lime juice and sugar. That combo is the basis for a huge range of Southeast Asian dishes, and it will take you far in concocting your own dishes. Cilantro, mint, green onions, shallots, coconut milk, Sriracha and chiles are also common pairings. Keeping your fridge stocked with this stuff will guarantee that you can pull together tons of Southeast Asian recipes.
But beyond the tried and true classics like Pad Thai, I want to acquaint you with fish sauce in a new way. Start using it as a salty component in dishes where you might otherwise use soy sauce, and go from there. Today's recipe is an awesome quasi-vegetarian stir-fry that incorporates fish sauce with Brussels sprouts and mushrooms. It's a non-traditional way to use fish sauce, inspired by two of my favorite recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi and Donna Hay. And it tastes fantastic.
Sweet Chili Brussels Sprouts with Tofu and Mushrooms
Yield: Serves 2
Prep Time: 15 min Cook Time: 20 min Total Time: 1 hour (includes time to press tofu)
0.5 package of firm or extra firm tofu, drained, cubed, and pressed
1 tsp soy sauce
Canola or grapeseed oil
1-2 shallots, sliced into rounds
1 clove garlic, minced
3.5 oz / 100 g mushrooms, sliced. Experiment with shiitake, oyster or maitake if you can find them
1 Lb / 450 g Brussels sprouts, sliced into halves or quarters if they're large
2 tsp fish sauce
.25 cup / 60 mL sweet chili sauce (easy to find in the Asian section of most supermarkets)
1 Tbs coarsely chopped cilantro and/or mint leaves
A note on mushrooms: I keep a big jar of dried shiitakes on hand - you can find them at Costco. 20 minutes before you're ready to cook, pour boiling water over them to rehydrate. Let them soften, then drain, rinse and slice.
A note on tofu: If you have an extra 15 minutes, cube the tofu then place on a clean kitchen towel on a plate. Fold the top of the towel over the tofu and press with something heavy (cans, plates, whatever). This presses the water out of the tofu and creates a chewier texture once cooked. I advise pressing the tofu while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
After pressing, put tofu in a small bowl and drizzle over soy sauce. Let marinate while you start cooking everything else.
Heat a large glug of oil in a skillet or wok over medium heat. Fry the shallots for about 3 minutes, breaking up the rings with your spatula. Remove and drain on a paper towel.
Add the garlic to the skillet and cook for about 30 seconds, then stir in the mushrooms. Let the mushrooms sit for a few minutes without stirring so they get brown. Cook, flipping a few times, til mushrooms are fully cooked through. Remove from skillet.
Saute the Brussels sprouts with a pinch of salt til edges are nicely browned. Again, resist the urge to stir too much - we are aiming for some nice caramelization in the pan. Remove from skillet (you can add to the bowl with the mushrooms).
Add a bit more oil. Stir fry the tofu til edges are brown. Add mushrooms and sprouts back to the pan, then stir in fish sauce and chili sauce. Remove from heat and garnish with fried shallots and herbs.