There were no cookbooks in our house growing up, and my mom never consulted a recipe to make her meals of Chinese, Vietnamese, and American-inspired dishes. My mom passed before I became interested in cooking, so I never got to apprentice alongside her in the kitchen.
What she did pass along was the ritual of home-cooked family dinners every single weeknight.
Watercress soup, braised pork belly with egg, kai-lan with oyster sauce...all served family-style with a big pot full of steamed rice. There was nothing better than the slurry of cooked egg yolk and salty-sweet caramel sauce from the braised pork belly.
When I’m homesick, I make this catfish version to satiate the craving. It’s traditionally made in a claypot but works just as well without.
- Christina, San Francisco
Coat and marinate 6–8 one-inch catfish steaks in the following for a half hour or more:
- 1 tbsp chopped green onion (white part only)
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp chopped ginger
- 3–4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 1⁄2 tbsp of sugar
- 1 tsp chili peppers, chopped (optional)
- Salt and pepper
- Make a caramel sauce by reducing about 2 tbsp of sugar or brown sugar in 1⁄4 cup of water at a rolling simmer, stirring until dark brown. Set aside.
- Heat a few glugs of cooking oil on high heat in a large thick-bottomed pan. Add the fish in one layer and brown on both sides (the centers will still be uncooked).
- Add in the rest of the marinade liquid and the caramel sauce. Once that boils, reduce heat to low, cover with a lid, and simmer for 30–40 minutes. The dish is done when the sauce is thickened, and the fish steaks are a rich brown color.
- Toss in some more chopped green onions and whole red chili peppers toward the end of cooking for garnish.
- Serve family-style with steamed jasmine rice, a seasonal vegetable stir-fried with garlic, and a brothy soup of your choice.
This piece appears in Finding What Feeds Us: Rituals & Recipes for Living Well After Loss.