What is life without sauces? It would be a very sad, bland thing indeed to go through life without the rich, savory goodnesses we pour over our food or dip our food into.
I'd like to say this article is about the French Mother Sauces but it isn't. Not yet. That article is still en route.
No, this is about two dipping sauces that go spectacularly with the eggrolls we learned how to make in my article Eggrolls for Alysse.
In the Thompson household, an eggroll feed requires the making of no less than two sauces. I love Vietnamese fish while Michael is partial to homemade hot sweet-and-sour sauce.
Your first, virginal taste of Vietnamese fish sauce is one of those moments when your Vietnamese friends act very innocent knowing your reaction to that first taste will hand them a big laugh.
I remember when Loan introduced me to it. She and her mother were having a huge eggroll making day and feeding me nibbles. The fish sauce was offered in a nonchalant spirit of, "Here, try this."
Then they watched my face, waiting for the inevitable grimace then laughed themselves silly.
There's nothing quite like fish sauce in the American culinary repertoire. It's basically rotten fish juice. All right, all right. It's the liquid from fish. usually anchovies, fermented in salt. The ancient Romans had something similar they called "garum" that my food-writer-inspiration M. F. K. Fisher mentioned in her books.
Once you get past the, shall we say, fragrance of rotten-ass fish and dare to gingerly place a single drop on your tongue, the first taste is shocking. The second taste, mesmerizing. By the third taste, if you make it that far, you're addicted and will crave fish sauce 'til the end of your days.
Life without fish sauce is like life without butterflies. Boring. Dull. Drab.
Me? I like it straight outta the bottle.
My Vietnamese friends liked to doctor their fish sauce with freshly minced garlic, lime juice, sugar and chilis. The perfect recipe: sweet, salty, sour and hot! Perfectly balanced. Heaven on an eggroll.
Now Michael's partial to sweet-and-sour sauce. Not that pathetic, pineapple-juice based stuff in the bottle. This is the real stuff. Well, "real" as in "the stuff Americans expect in Asian restaurants." He likes it. I like it. Don't knock it.
This recipe is catalogued in my head under the category "surprising." We Americans tend to underestimate the amount of vinegar the rest of the world uses in their recipes...and I mean as a seasoning in everyday food, not just limited to coleslaw. Not just pickle recipes.
This recipe has plenty of vinegar balanced by sugar. Let it barely simmer for a long time so it can thicken slightly. If your burners get too hot, as mine do, consider preparing it in a bain-marie (double-boiler.)
It's the kind of recipe you can throw together on a wing and a prayer when you have a yen for frozen eggrolls at 2 a.m. after...oh, nevermind. Just be careful with the chili garlic sauce. The last batch I made sans measuring was so spicy it made Michael cough...but it also brought up a glob of his lung protein. Thank God for small mercies.
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I dislike cooking but since I'm obliged do it, the result must be spectacular or it's a waste of time and effort. That's why I seek out the best dishes and culinary techniques to test and perfect before sharing them with you!