VIETNAMESE-STYLE WHOLE FISH
Admittedly, this is a complex recipe. But Texas-by-way-of-New York chef John Tesar doesn’t take shortcuts. His restaurants pride themselves on prized pieces of protein, as showcased in this Vietnamese-inspired celebration of local seafood. Save it for next year’s Feast of the Seven Fishes—or consider it the courageous start of a new year. (You could also save the kitchen cleanup and head to Knife and Spoon in Orlando to try it from the chef himself.)
- 1 whole 2.5-pound fish, scaled, gutted, and deboned (such as red snapper)
- 1 Tbsp. canola oil
- 1 Tbsp. kaffir lime juice
- 6 chili pepper, sliced (such as bird’s eye, serrano, etc.)
- 6 knobs ginger, peeled and sliced
- 6 English cucumber, chopped
- 2 lbs. lemongrass, chopped and bruised
- 15 shallots, sliced
- 12 kafir lime leaves
- 3 knobs galanga, peeled and sliced
- 6 fresno chilis, sliced
- 2 heads garlic, cleaned and smashed
- 2 bottles fish sauce
- 2 quarts lime juice
- 1 quart water with 3 packs of palm sugar dissolved
- 2 cups soft herbs, chopped, including about 1.5 ounces stems (such as cilantro, parsley, etc.)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 quart Nuoc Cham
- 2-4 lbs. butter
- 1/4 Ultra-Tex 3 starch
- 1/2 Tbsp. Xanthan Gum
Combine all vegetables into large container and macerate by hand until well combined. Add fish sauce, water, palm sugar, and lime juice. Mix well. Steep for 24 hours.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and prepare an ice bath. Once the water is boiling, add the herbs and cook for about 15 seconds, until bright green. Quickly transfer to ice bath and let sit for 5 minutes until completely cool. Transfer herbs to a towel and dry. Transfer to a high-speed blender and add the oil. Puree untilsmooth. If the mixture feels too thick, add a bit more oil. Line a sieve with three layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter over a small bowl. Pour the oil into the sieve and let sit for a few hours, stirring occasionally. Do not press the oil through. Once done, transfer to a bottle and store in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Heat Nuoc Cham in a nonreactive sauce pan to a light simmer. Remove from heat, pour into large blender, and blend on high for 2-3 minutes. Add xantham gum and Ultra-Tex 3. Blend until emulsified into butter. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a 12-inch cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Add the canola oil and cook until it comes to a slight smoke. Add the whole fish, and sear on one side for 1 minute. Carefully flip the fish and add 2 Tbsp. emulsified butter. Once melted, carefully tilt the pan and baste the fish with the melted butter for 15 to 30 seconds. Place the pan into the oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the fish from the oven. Arrange on platter, generously garnish with more nuoc cham sauce, plus 2 Tbsp. herb oil and lime juice, then serve.
Recipe and photograph courtesy of chef John Tesar.
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