The Food Matters Project: Fish in Caramel Sauce with Tangy Fruit Salad and Rice

This post is part of the Food Matters Project, a cooking collaboration among participating bloggers. Each week, we will cook a recipe from Mark Bittman’s Food Matters Cookbook, which places an emphasis on mindful and sustainable eating. Follow along with us!

This week’s Food Matters recipe was for Fish Nuggets Braised in Rhubarb Sauce as selected by Camilla herself of Culinary Adventures with Camilla. She posted another delicious-looking rhubarb recipe just a few days ago, so I suspect she’s got a bundle of fresh stalks around. I, on the other hand, am not so lucky. Now, some of the folks over at Yahoo Answers (and other more legitimate sources including Bittman himself) insist frozen rhubarb is widely available, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the product in all my joyful days of food shopping. Maybe it’s a regional thing.

But an interesting fact the recipe title conceals is that in addition to a rhubarb sauce, it is also a Vietnamese caramel sauce commonly used for braising called nuoc mau. Since you heat the sugar to a very near-burnt state, the sauce is darker in color and more bitter than the cloyingly sweet ice cream topping. Nuoc mau is an art nearly all Vietnamese matriarchs have mastered. I will reveal to you that I am not the mother or grandmother of Vietnamese children. As such I have not mastered this sauce.

Making caramel can be a dangerous game and one that I like to play “better safe than sorry.”  Because of this hesitation, my sauce didn’t go quite far enough to toe the line between “rich, complex flavor” and “sticky, black mess,” so I ended up with a more mildly sweet braising liquid. I spiced it up with red pepper flakes rather than the Thai chile or jalapeno the recipe called for. I served the braised fish with plain (brown jasmine) rice as Bittman suggests and topped it with a fruit salad (recipe below) featuring a Granny Smith apple to in some small facet make up for the lack of tart rhubarb. Despite my unintentional changes, Food Matters helped me create a fresh, light and satisfying meal that I would definitely recommend.

For the original recipe, see page 454 of the Food Matters Cookbook, or get Camilla’s take at Culinary Adventures with Camilla, and check out other renditions at the Food Matters Project.

Jen Cantin is a new Philadelphia resident who graduated from Clark University in Worcester, Mass. with a degree in English and Journalism. She shares other (a)musings at Deep Fried Epiphany and dedicates this post to countries where more people eat the whole fish, head and all, no waste! She blames her culture for her inability to fathom personally completing this act.


Tangy Fruit Salad
Makes 3-4 cups


2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 Granny Smith apple, cut into large chunks
1 navel orange, cut into large chunks
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh cilantro, for garnish

With a fork, mix vinegar, lime juice and honey in a small bowl. Add the fruit and toss. Add salt and pepper and garnish with fresh cilantro.

Originally posted on Monday, April 9th, 2012

7 Responses to “The Food Matters Project: Fish in Caramel Sauce with Tangy Fruit Salad and Rice”

  1. Margarita

    April 9th, 2012

    Ooooh… I love the fruit salad as a side dish to your fish!

  2. Lexi

    April 9th, 2012

    Great side dish!

  3. Kristen

    April 9th, 2012

    I love that you made a fruit salsa instead! I chose not to make the caramel sauce either and used apricot jam instead. It was pretty tasty :)

  4. Camilla

    April 10th, 2012

    This looks fabulous! Ironically, I didn’t have any fresh rhubarb in time to make my dish. And did not, as you didn’t, find any frozen. But I have a bunch now and will make the dish again this week.

  5. Jen Cantin

    April 10th, 2012

    Thanks, everyone! Kristen, great idea! I have a jar in my fridge I’m looking to use up and I didn’t even think of that! Camilla, that’s so funny. Well your tart looks like a good use for the rhubarb you eventually tracked down.

  6. Lena

    April 10th, 2012

    I think I was too careful with the caramel sauce, too. I think I would have needed some more guidance from Mr. Bittman there. Now that I know how this technique/recipe is called I want to read up on it. And maybe try again some day.

  7. Good eating, good prices, REAL EVIDENCE | Deep Fried Epiphany

    June 12th, 2012

    [...] Fish in Caramel Sauce with Tangy Fruit Salad and Rice [...]

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