Landing on Phu Quoc was a lovely surprise, largely underdeveloped and unspoilt, One reason for visiting would be the beautiful beaches but for me it was all about the fish sauce, cashews and fresh green pepper that the island is famous for.
The fish sauce is uniquely, dark and almost meaty rather than fishy, which is what I expected. The complexity comes from the specific type of anchovy they fish from the local waters, salting and barrel ageing. Drinking this liquid gold straight from the barrel was a unique experience and one that I will not forget quickly. Phu Quoc fish sauce is quite hard to find in Australia but Red Boat' Organic fish is available from good Asian grocers. There is no substitute.
120g fresh baby squid
2 limes, juice only
2 tbsp fish Phu Quoc sauce
2 red shallots peeled and thinly sliced
2 tbsp fresh green peppercorns
50g castor sugar
3 tbsp coconut water
1 chilli long, seeds removed
1 cm peeled young ginger, grated
1 small pomelo, peeled and pith removed
1/4 bunch garlic chives
1 small handful mint leaves
1 small handful coriander leaves
1 small handful Vietnamese balm
3 saw tooth coriander
1/4 cup cashew nuts
2 tbsp fried shallots
2 tbsp fried garlic
4 betal leaves
Clean the squid in cold running water, remove the squid tube from the head and legs. Remove the contents of the tube and rinse. Separate the head from the legs and discard the head. Divide the legs and slice the squid tube finely, drain and dry with paper towel and pop into the bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of limejuice, a dash of fish sauce and the thinly sliced shallots. Crush a few fresh peppercorns and stir into the squid and limejuice, stir and set aside.
To make the dressing place the remainder of the limejuice into a small bowl and add the castor sugar. Stir to dissolve. Add the coconut water, fish sauce, chilli, grated ginger, and remainder fresh green peppercorns.
Remove the segments carefully from the pomelo and pop into a bowl, add the herbs, cashew nuts, crispy shallots, garlic and the marinated squid, and toss all the ingredients together to combine.
Arrange the betal leaves onto a plate and place the ceviche salad on top, drench with the dressing and serve.
Tuna, cucumber rice paper rolls with peanut dipping sauce
300g tuna top quarter fillet
50g rice vermicelli
12 large (22 cm) round rice paper wrappers (banh trang)
12 mint leaves
12 Vietnamese mint leaves, washed and picked
12 purple shiso/perilla leaves, washed and picked
12 coriander pieces, washed and picked
1/4 of an iceberg lettuce, finely shredded
1 Lebanese cucumber, seeded and cut into strips
300g tuna, top quarter fillet, thinly sliced
Peanut Dipping Sauce (makes about 180 ml)
2 tbsp water
2 tblsp white sugar
1 small clove garlic, crushed/micro planed
1/2 to 1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 glove grated
juice of 1 lime
1/2 to 1 tblsp packaged satay sauce (used Jimmy's), to taste
2 tblsp chopped roasted peanuts
For the dipping sauce, place the sugar and water in a small saucepan over a medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat, stir in remaining ingredients and set aside to cool.
For the rolls, place the vermicelli in a medium sized heatproof bowl and cover with hot but not boiling water. Stand for 10 minutes or until tender, drain through a colander and transfer to a paper towel lined sieve to take up any excess water.
Place the herbs, shredded lettuce, and cucumber onto a plate and set aside.
Making one roll at a time, immerse a rice paper sheet in a bowl of warm water, then drain immediately.
On the bottom third of the wrapper, place the herbs. Snuggle a piece of tuna above the herbs, then top with lettuce, a few sticks of cucumber and finish with noodles.
Turn up the bottom of the wrapper to cover the filling, then carefully turn the two sides in, on top of the first fold and complete the rolling. Repeat with remaining wrappers and fillings, adding a sprinkle of crushed peanuts if desired.
Serve with the dipping sauce.
Vietnamese rice tacos
Vietnamese rice paper tacos were a revelation to me and totally delicious. What I didn't understand before I went to Vietnam is that rice paper come in many different forms. In this case you need thicker sheets, otherwise they will fall apart on the grill.
I also didn't realise that the “fresh is best rule” applies to rice paper sheets too. Often the rice paper we get in Australia is already considered old by many. So check the use by date and pick the freshest sheets you can find.
Peanut oil for cooking
200g ground pork
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 small piece of ginger, minced
1 garlic clove, crushed
50ml fish sauce
1 tbsp annatto oil (a red peppery oil)
8 thick rice paper sheets
1/2 cup water chestnuts, chopped
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
1/2 tbsp. dried
8 quail eggs
1 tbsp soft butter
2 tbsp hot Vietnamese chilli sauce or Sriracha
handful of shisho, coriander, water spinach, Vietnamese mint leaves, picked and washed
Pre heat the BBQ on high for 10 minutes (or use a portable charcoal clay grill)
Heat a good not stick frying pan over a high heat and add a dash of peanut oil. Add the mince to the pan and fry the pork for 3-4 minutes until lightly caramelized. Turn the heat down and add the shallot, ginger and garlic and stir fry for 30 seconds to release the flavours. Add a pinch of salt and a twist of pepper, a dash of fish sauce and the annatto oil. Stir and remove from the heat, place into a small bowl and set aside.
Place a tablespoon of the pork mixture onto the centre of the rice sheet, spread thinly out towards the edge and sprinkle with a few water chestnuts and spring onions and dried shrimp.
Crack two quail eggs onto the pork mince and stir to combine, it is not necessary to be too thorough. Place the rice paper sheet onto the bars of the BBQ and cook for 20 seconds or so, turn gently and continue to cook until the rice paper sheets being to blister, puff and char a little.
Turn again and smear for a little butter down the centre of the taco. Squeeze a think concentric circle of two of the chilli sauce over the taco, sprinkle liberally with the herbs. Gently fold the taco along the same line you spread the butter and serve.