For the past two years I’ve been writing features for a Chatelaine magazine series called Cooking in Canada, whereby I visit families from different ethnicities across the country and learn about their journey to Canada while we shop for food and then cook up a storm. So far I’ve done Mexican Mennonites in Norfolk County, Lebanese in Ottawa, Vietnamese in Montreal, Indian in Vancouver, and next up is the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan in Golden Lake (though obviously, they were here first.)
The Quebec-based story called "Missing Saigon" included the simplest and most delicious recipes of the bunch. Makes sense, seeing as my subject, Lilly Nguyen, is a new cookbook author. While chatting over lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown where we had been collecting our ingredients, Lilly casually said something that totally choked me up.
In explaining Canada’s open arms policy to the Boat People in the 1970s, Lilly said of her then-new home, the city of Montreal with its now 27,000-strong Vietnamese community, that word quickly spread about how welcoming Canada was, and thousands of Vietnamese followed: “I know some friends who were adopted by Quebecers, and others who were taken in by friends and neighbours," she says. "They just said, ‘we’re going to help you.’”
I wish the Canada of today were a little more like it was back then.
This traditional Vietnamese dish, which Lilly put her own Can-con spin on with the salmon and maple syrup, was first printed in Chatelaine magazine. I’ve made it many times and it’s awesome. Just watch for bones in the salmon steaks.
Lilly’s Vietnamese caramel and pepper fish (Ca Kho tieu)
Prep 5 min Refrigerate 30 min Cook 30 min Makes 2 servings
2 salmon steaks, at least 1 in (2.5 cm) thick
2 tbsp (30 mL) granulated sugar
4 tsp (20 mL) maple syrup
1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) water
1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) vegetable or olive oil
1 tbsp (15 mL) fish sauce
3/4 tsp (4 mL) hot red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) cracked black pepper
1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) fried shallots
2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped cilantro
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1. Pat salmon dry with paper towels. Place fish on a plate or in a dish. Evenly sprinkle with 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) sugar. Turn fish and sprinkle with another 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) sugar. Refrigerate, uncovered, at least 30 min.
2. When ready to cook, stir remaining tbsp (15 mL) sugar with maple syrup and water in a large frying pan (not non-stick) set over medium-high heat. As soon as it starts to bubble, stir in oil, fish sauce, pepper flakes and garlic. Reduce heat to medium. Add coated salmon. Sprinkle half of pepper over fish. Turn fish, then sprinkle with remaining pepper. Reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered and turning fish halfway through and stirring sauce often, until caramelized, 25 to 30 min.
3. Remove to warm plates and sprinkle with fried shallots, cilantro and green onion. Delicious with rice. (Actually, the rice is a must.)