Finally, vendredi vietnamien returns! I’ve actually been cooking quite a bit lately despite the heat in August, but I’ve neglected my blog again recently because I haven’t been able to successfully take any decent pictures of the food I’ve made. Temperatures have already started to drop (8˚C this morning!!) and the sun is setting earlier these days, so there isn’t adequate natural lighting after 7ish for picture taking. And, since I do most of my cooking in the evenings, that makes it next to impossible to take any photos without artificial lighting.
It has also become increasingly annoying to type on my old laptop because of the QWERTY keyboard. Initially, when I started my job here, the French keyboard drove me nuts with many of the frequently used letters in different places and having to hold the shift key just to type a period or even numbers. I thought I would never be able to adapt, but after a couple of weeks, I got used to the keyboard. However, now when I use my laptop at home, my brain has to do some serious gymnastics to reorient itself in order to figure out how to type properly.
Though I still don’t have any great food photos to share (nor, did I ever have any before), I want to post something about nước mầu, or caramel sauce, that is often used in many Vietnamese dishes, particularly in those where the meats are braised or for marinating meats before grilling. When I was starting to learn how to cook Vietnamese dishes, the caramel sauce, to me, was like an enigma that only master chefs who are ninjas in the kitchen, such as grandmothers and mothers, knew how to make properly. While I was living in Texas, my grandmother would make the sauce for me, which I would bring back in jars from California. Sadly, my grandmother passed away several years ago and being thousands of miles away from my mom, I’ve had to figure out how to make the sauce myself.
This caramel sauce is an integral ingredient that gives many Vietnamese dishes their dark, amber color while balancing the degree of saltiness with its slightly bitter, sweetness (see my braised ginger chicken). After deciphering the mystery of nước mầu, I found that it is actually not very difficult to make. You just need to be patient and watch the pot like a hawk, as the sauce can go from a nice caramel color to burnt rather quickly.
80ml boiled water
Put the sugar in a pot over low to low-medium heat. It’s best to use a pot that is stainless steel or light-colored, so you can monitor the color of the sauce. The sugar will begin to melt and darken in color. Once it reaches a dark brown color and is bubbling, take it off of the stove and add the water. Be extremely careful at this point though, because the sauce will splatter and erupt like a volcano when you add the water. After the sauce has cooled, pour it into a mason jar. It should keep for a couple of months in the cupboard. NOTE: this sauce should not be used as a topping for sweets, such as ice cream, as it has a slightly bitter taste and doesn’t have quite same sweetness as the traditional caramel sauces you would find at ice cream parlors.