The Cookbook Collector: Southeast Asian Flavors + Vietnamese Caramel Shrimp

April 23, 2012

Southeast Asian Flavors by Robert Danhi is part cookbook, part memoir, and part history lesson.  Danhi takes the reader through the cuisines of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore by describing "...not just a taste, but a look, smell, and feel for these four countries."  The first part of the book explores Southeast Asia's culinary identity by explaining it's history, geography, and of course, the food.  There is an entire chapter devoted to the Asian pantry.  Each ingredient is cataloged, not unlike an encyclopedia, with in-depth descriptions from common herbs to spices to the various forms of coconut found throughout the region. 

Interspersed between the pockets of knowledge and authentic recipes are 700 colored photos that connect the reader to the country through its food.  You are lured to Thailand with promises of spicy fish cakes, cool lemongrass cellophane noodles, and green papaya salad with long bean, limes, and peanuts.  Next, you are whisked away to Vietnam for a taste of golden coconut crepes, pho made with slices of beef and shaved onions, and caramel shrimp with black pepper and garlic.  Soon you are touring the islands of Singapore and Malaysia and eating your way through curry noodles in coconut broth and poached chicken with rice and ginger-garlic chili sauce.  Southeast Asian Flavors provides a basis of culinary knowledge for this region that is unmatched by any other resource.  It only takes reading a couple pages before you too become entranced by the magical cuisine of Southeast Asia.

Caramel Shrimp with Black Pepper and Garlic


1/4 lb. (113 g.) Pork belly or shoulder, small bite-size slices, about 1/8 inch (0.3 cm.) thick
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 Thai Bird Chili, minced
2 Tbsp. Fish sauce (nıÎc mƒm)
2 tsp. Granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. Vietnamese Caramel Sauce (pg. 248)
1/4 tsp. Coarsely ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. Water
1 lb. (454 g.) Medium shrimp, split down back and deveined with shell on
1/4 cup Chopped scallions


1. In a dry 2-quart (2 L.) pan over medium heat, cook pork, stirring often until it browns lightly and a few tablespoons of fat renders out, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and chilies; cook until aromatic, 30 seconds. Add fish sauce, sugar, caramel sauce, black pepper and water; bring to a boil. Add shrimp, toss to coat with sauce. Arrange them snugly. Cover, and place over low heat to simmer 3 minutes.

2. Remove cover; stir shrimp. Sauce should only come up about a half to three-quarters of the way up shrimp and be slightly thick. (If shrimp are fully cooked and sauce is too thin, transfer shrimp to serving bowl, cover to keep warm, and boil sauce rapidly to reduce and thicken; toss shrimp in reduced sauce.)

3. When sauce is the proper consistency, add the scallions, turn off heat, re-cover, and let rest for 30 seconds. Serve with steamed white rice.

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