Thursday, March 7, 2013

Remember That Time We Couldn't Find the Fish Sauce?

Updated Linguini alle Vongole with Fish Sauce

Really, we couldn't find it.  We were making Pad Thai and we needed it. I looked for it.  I looked in the refrigerator on every shelf, I looked in several cabinets, some drawers, the freezer-just in case.  When I couldn't find it, I asked my roommate to look for it.  She looked in all of these places, too, to no avail!  I looked again, positive it was there, and then grabbed my keys, flew out the door, and went in search of a store that would have fish sauce-in Jacksonville. First stop was the co-op near my house.  They had all of the ingredients for Pad Thai except fish sauce. Bollucks.  
There is only good 1 Asian grocery store I've been able to find in Jacksonville, Florida.  There are several that make the claim, but just one that fits the bill.  It was closed. Side Note: If you ever find yourself in the position of needing a defining attribute for an Asian grocery store-check the number of different spring roll wrappers.  If there are less than 20 with dried seafood in them, you're at the PF Chang's version, not the realest of the deal we can get here in the states.
I ended up hitting a Publix (this isn't a real grocery store in my mind, either, but it's what we've got to work with) and bought the generic, Thai Kitchen fish sauce.  When I got back to the house, my roommate hopped up proudly holding the rogue bottle of fish sauce we had been hunting for earlier! The Buck assured me he had seen it in the fridge, but said nothing because he assumed that we weren't daft enough to have both  missed it. I felt foolish. Not the most exciting story, but the result was that we had two bottles of fish sauce.  
I don't know about you, but I don't need two bottles of fish sauce at a time. Or so I thought.  
Image 1
My favorite!  Try several brands
til you find the one you like best
The following day I spent the better portion of 2 hours daydreaming about things to do with my new-found abundance of fish sauce.  I looked online for suggestions but found very few that were inspiring (Oh, you mean I can use Thai fish sauce in Thai dipping sauce? Get out of here, I never knew that!) So I was left largely to my own devices.  I thought of hundreds of things to do, some crazy, some dull, some that would be just awful (Nuoc mam as an underlying flavor in a savory brownie, anyone?). At the end of the day as I was driving home, I was thinking of simpler things. I thought of the idea of trying linguine with clams, and adding fish sauce to the wine stock as the clams were boiling. It's a classic mix of flavors with a few twists.  The Fish sauce gives the traditional dish a hit of umami, and it was absolutely delicious.  

Updated Linguini alle Vongole with Fish Sauce
generously serves 1 as meal, or 2 as an entree with appropriate sides

120 grams of dry linguine
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced or pushed through a garlic press if you are lucky enough to have one
1/4 of an onion, in extremely thin slices (optional, I love onions but there are those who do not) 
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
6 clams of your choice, soaked, scrubbed and washed.
1/2 cup white wine (The wine really sets the tone for this dish, so pick one you know you like.  I personally like a good Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio) 

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  I like to use the time the water is boiling to mince the garlic, chop onions, and get my other ingredients measured and ready to go by the stove, plus-as we've discussed- any time wine is involved in the dish it's acceptable to indulge while cooking.  You can do the next bits two ways:
1) Wait for the pasta to finish and then begin the sauce (if you're alone, this is easiest)
2) Be bold and try to time the sauce to be done nearly at the same time as the pasta (if you have help, this involves them)
Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan on medium, and add the onions.  Saute for about a minute, and then add the garlic.  Turn the heat up and add the red pepper flakes and a generous pinch of sea salt. Stir just to mix in, and add the fish sauce.  It should boil upon contact with the pan, if it does not, continue to stir until the fish sauce boils and slightly reduces.  At that point, add your clams, and then pour the wine in and cover with a clear lid.  Boil until the clams open, occasionally shaking the pan about to be sure the juices mix in with your sauce.  **At this point, do not be alarmed if the sauce tastes too salty or too rich, it dilutes significantly when coating the pasta. Give it a chance to shine, and wait to salt until the very end!** 
The very last, perfect bite:)
Once the clams are open, tumble the pasta into the pan and stir about vigorously to mix.  Et Voila, you have a delicious take on a classic.  

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About Me

Jacksonville, Florida
Here's my story: I have resigned myself to the fact that I will remain in Jacksonville for another 2 years, biding my sweet time until my boyfriend completes his Coast Guard tour. Harumph. So, you might wonder, what does one do when they determine that they're willingly sacrificing their personal freedom in a flagrant defiance of all things they once felt defined their sense of self? Well, I am here to tell you. They mourn their past life in which food and culture played a significant role. They cry over the unavoidable truth that Jacksonville has about as much culinary charm as one might expect from a city that venerates "Salt Life" and believes Town Center is full of fine dining. Shudder. And then they cook. A lot. And write. A lot. Because they need an outlet. That's me- I need an outlet. And Cooking and Writing are IT. So while I wouldn't dream of telling anyone in person that I'm scared of the next 2 years, at least I can put it out there somewhere and get it off my chest. Phew! And at least I have someplace to document all of this cooking I'm doing now that I'm 1200 miles away from all of my favorite take out ;-) Silver linings abound.