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Apr 2, 2007 03:12 PM

Help with Vietnamese-style Recipe

I am in the middle of making a recipe from this month's Gourmet and have just found an error between the ingredient list and the instructions.

The name of the dish is Panfried Tofu with Asian Caramel Sauce.

The sauce is made with carmelized sugar, garlic, ginger, water, soy sauce, and rice vinegar.

The ingrendient list calls for 1/3 C. basil leaves and 1/3 C. mint leaves. In the instructions, it says to top the dish with the sauce, CILANTRO, mint, and shallots.

Would the correct ingredient be basil or cilantro?


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  1. either one would be good (and reasonably authentic), esp if it's Holy Basil, or Thai Basil

    1. Vietnamese: I would assume cilantro. As pitu says, however, either would be good.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        Thanks for your quick responses. Amazingly, I just heard back from Gourmet (I sent them an email to tell them about the error).

        They said basil is the correct ingredient - although I agree that either would probably be good.

        1. re: sbaker

          Interesting that Gourmet thinks basil & mint would go in a dish with vietnamese caramel sauce. Neither I nor my mom would ever think it does, but cilantro would be an automatic sprinkling in such a dish. Basil & mint would be more commonly used in salads or cold dishes (or a noodle soup), while cilantro more common in sauteed, braised, stewed dishes. Also, basil & mint would be more common in dishes where fish sauce is the primary sauce (again, such as salads, fresh spring rolls, any wraps with rice paper). But in the end, use what you think you'd like, don't worry too much about being authentic or true to the cuisine, as long as you think it's tasty.

      2. Since these seem to be ingredients that will top the dish, I'd agree that either or both would be just fine. To make it taste more authentic to Vietnamese or Thai cuisine, I would add Thai basil if I had it, but would probably leave out regular Italian basil.

        1. They used both in Vietnamese cooking. The point about Vietnamese cooking is using fresh and seasonal ingredients. So they'll use whichever is fresh that day. The basil we get here is probably not the same in Vietnam, where the basils are more smaller and sharper in taste like thai basil or lemon basil. But cilantro is the same everywhere. Use whichever you can find at the market. Freshness is the key to any Vietnamese dish.

          1. Your post also made me think about the Vietnamese caramel sauce. Did your version turn out easily? Anyone know of an easy Vietnamese caramel sauce to make? I tried once and it took a long time and it hardened into a candy as it cooled when I set it aside for awhile to focus on other cooking.

            3 Replies
            1. re: singleguychef

              My mom's version is fairly easy if you have a sense of what the color should be at the critical stage (the moment you remove from heat & before you add the water). My mom's version does not have fish sauce (which I've seen on recipes on the internet), it's just sugar & water, since she uses fish sauce as a separate ingredient if the dish calls for it.

              Below I've copied & pasted the caramel sauce portion of my post/recipe for Claypot Catfish. One of these days I'll get hubby to take pictures of each stage of the process while I make a batch.

              Vietnamese Caramel Sauce
              Makes about 2 cups, enough for many months of use

              1 cup sugar
              1.5 cups hot water

              In a stainless steel saucepan (NOT nonstick), melt sugar over high heat. When melted, stir continuously until light golden brown (the same color as if making caramel for crème caramel). Turn heat to low. Keep stirring as it boils. Let it boil past the vigorous stage, until the bubbles subside. When the color changes from “dark chocolate-brown” to “strong coffee-brown” with a reddish tinge at the edges, remove from heat and cool 10-15 seconds (you can leave your burner on).

              Slowly add hot water (hot from the tap is ok) and stand aside carefully as the melted sugar explodes into many bubbles. Place back over burner and turn to medium high. The mixture will be a sticky clumpy mass, so stir well until the clump dissolves. When the sauce returns to a boil, turn off heat and set aside until completely cool (do NOT add hot caramel sauce to cool ingredients, it will seize up and ruin the sauce).

              1. re: Alice Patis

                Thanks Alice for the sauce recipe. I'll give it a try, but I have to say, I'm still suspicious of how the hot sugar turned caramel doesn't harden when the water is added. And it sounds like the sugar bubbling will really ruin your pot. Most recipes I saw says low heat. But you know, I want to try and master it so I'm going to give your technique description a try. Fingers crossed! :)

                1. re: singleguychef

                  After it's off heat & the water is added, the violent bubbling happens for just a few seconds, then the caramel hardens, but that's ok because it will soften & liquify after you stir it over heat again. And that's medium high on a cheap home stove (not a Bluestar UltraNova burner or anything like that). Actually the last time I made it, I put it back over medium-lowish heat and it took forever for the solid mass to dissolve/liquify so I turned it up. So you can put it back on medium-low if you're hesistant about superhot sugar, it will just seem like it's never going to dissolve, but don't worry with enough heat it will.