Vietnamese Fried Flounder “Boat” with Spicy Dipping Sauce [with Full Video]

One of my favorite things about the cooler autumn months is the prevalence of flounder in the Gulf of Mexico. My husband and I will either take our boat out and catch them at our favorite fishing hole, or we will take a canoe out into the grassy marshes in search of them while getting some exercise. Flounder is among the easiest fishes to cook and enjoy, and perhaps the most common preparation is frying. In Vietnam, flounder is commonly prepared fried whole (with the head on) and served as a family centerpiece dish, where each person flakes off some fish with their chopsticks and dips the sweet white flesh into spicy fish sauce.

Perfect fall day for flounder fishing

The Vietnamese are also known to be very resourceful, not wasting any part of the fish if they can help it. In this recipe, I prepare one of my favorite flounder dishes (fried, of course!) that is simple to prepare but looks very sophisticated when presented at the dinner table. An added perk is that none of the fish goes to waste because if you fry up the fish skeleton to a crisp, you can even eat it like chips. But if you’re not into eating crunchy bones, the fried flounder skeleton serves as a creative way to hold the crispy flounder nuggets. And what Vietnamese dish is complete without some spicy dipping sauce? The spicy, sweet, tangy, and salty fish dipping sauce perfectly complements the delicious flounder!

As in my other posts, I always emphasize the use of fresh ingredients. I truly believe the reason why people who are not fans of eating fish because they find the taste and smell too “fishy” is because the fish they are consuming has been dead and transported over many miles for quite some time. By the time the fish reaches them, the smell of ammonia has ruined the fish. Fresh fish should smell like the ocean and not overwhelmingly “fishy”. The flesh should be firm, the eyes should be bulging and shiny, and the inner gills should still be red. If you go to the fish market and see fish that wreaks of rot, the flesh is soft and smooshy, the eyes are sunken and dull, and the gills are brown or rusty red, stay clear away because that is bad fish. Just as fruits and vegetables taste their best during peak season and harvested locally, the same applies for seafood. If you can get freshly caught flounder for this recipe, it will taste amazing! Also, be sure to use new oil to fry the fish.

** Disclaimer: Please note that the highlighted links in this post are affiliate links, in which I will earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you) if you purchase through those links. I have purchased all the products I recommend with my own funds and have tested and used each product before I post. Please know that I only recommend products that I like and trust and genuinely believe would help my audience. Thank you for your support of my blog in this way!

Vietnamese Fried Flounder “Boat” with Spicy Dipping Sauce

Ingredients: (1 fish makes about 4 servings)

For the Fish:

  1. 1 very fresh flounder, approximately 2 pounds and 14-16″ in length
  2. All-purpose flour for dredging
  3. Salt and pepper to taste, or your choice of seafood seasoning
  4. Peanut oil for frying

For the Spicy Fish Dipping Sauce:

  1. 1/2 cup good quality fish sauce (I use either Red Boat or 3 Crabs Brand)
  2. 1 cup filtered hot water
  3. 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  4. 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (or rice vinegar if no limes available)
  5. 1 teaspoon freshly minced red chili peppers (more or less to desired spiciness)
  6. 1 teaspoon freshly minced garlic (more or less to taste)

Useful Equipment:

Directions:

1. If you are purchasing your flounder from the fish market, ask the fishmonger to descale both sides of the flounder and remove the guts and smaller fins. Cut out 2 large filets, one on each side of the flounder. You can opt to leave the skin on the fish or have it removed. Leave the skeleton intact with head and tail. If you are cleaning your own catch, then follow the same instructions.

Descaled and gutted flounder
Flounder separated into 2 large filets, one from each side. I kept the skin on the filets because I like eating the skin, but you can remove the skin from the filets before cutting into nuggets and frying. Leave the entire skeleton intact.

2. Take the filets and cut into 1 to 2″ chunks. Season the fish nuggets with black pepper and salt or with seafood seasoning. Set aside.

Cut the flounder filets into nuggets. Season with salt and black pepper.

3. Pour wok halfway full of fresh peanut oil and heat up to high.

4. Dredge the fish nuggets with all-purpose flour in a plastic or paper bag. Coat each piece well. There is no need to pre-dip the nuggets into an egg wash, unless you want a thicker coating.

5. Season and dredge the flounder skeleton in the bag of flour. I recycle clean grocery bags for this because they are big enough to hold the entire skeleton. Set aside.

Dredge the entire fish skeleton in flour.

6. Place the floured fish skeleton carefully into the hot oil. If the entire fish doesn’t fit, fry the body first, and then fry the head and the tail sections last. Press the skeleton against the rounded wok bottom while frying to form a bowl shape in the fish. You can use your tongs to bend and shape the fish skeleton while frying. Once the skeleton “bowl” is crispy and golden brown, drain on paper towels and set aside.

7. Add the flounder nuggets to the hot oil and fry until they turn a deep golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

8. Place the fried flounder skeleton onto a plate and arrange the flounder nuggets into the “boat”.

Place fried flounder nuggets into the fish “boat”
Voila! Finished flounder masterpiece!

9. For the dipping sauce, dissolve the granulated sugar into the hot water. Next add the fish sauce to the sugar water. (If you have never worked with concentrated fish sauce (“nuoc mam”) before, a word of warning is that it smells like stinky butt. LOL! But once mixed with the lime juice and garlic, the smell eases up and the flavor is wonderful!) Once the diluted fish sauce has cooled down, add the lime juice/ vinegar, minced garlic, and chili peppers. Stir well and serve each diner a little bowl of fish sauce, so that they can dip their fried fish into the sauce. **If you absolutely do not like fish sauce, you can substitute your dipping sauce with soy sauce or sweet and sour sauce.

I hope you enjoyed reading this entry on a different way to prepare and present flounder. Thank you for stopping by! I hope all of you have a wonderful week ahead. If you would like to see more, please watch my YouTube video below:

For the video version of my story and recipe, please view my YouTube link. 🙂

How To Make Delicious Vietnamese Coffee and Make Starbucks Cry ‘Uncle’

I may be persecuted or even publicly flogged for saying this, but I dislike Starbucks coffee. I truly do. It’s expensive. It tastes burnt. Heck, it’s overpriced burnt coffee. There. I said it, so bite me. But before you go, please hear me out because I truly would love for you to try some great-tasting Vietnamese coffee if you haven’t already. Then maybe you’ll forgive my strong opinion of Starbucks.

Did you know that Vietnam is the world’s second largest producer of coffee and the world’s #1 producer of the “robusta” variety? If you don’t believe me, just Google it. See, I know my coffee because my people are major producers, for crying out loud! Just kidding. But in all seriousness, the Vietnamese love their coffee. They like to enjoy their cup of Joe nice and slow, and making the perfect cup is an art in itself.

Coffee was not always a thing in Vietnam. It was actually first introduced to the Vietnamese in the 1850’s by a French Catholic priest who brought over a single coffee arabica tree. Fast forward decades later, there are now many coffee farms that thrive in the lush highlands of Central Vietnam.

A coffee farm in the highlands of Da Lat, Vietnam
Fresh Robusta coffee beans

In the United States and other parts of the world, coffee is often accompanied by fresh milk or cream and sugar. Vietnamese coffee is distinctive in that it uses canned sweetened condensed milk. This is due mainly to the historical lack of dairy cattle and refrigeration. The sweetened condensed milk gives the coffee a unique sweet caramel flavor and velvety richness, a perfect complement to the strong roasted bitterness of the dark coffee. Perhaps the ultimate difference lies in the method of preparing Vietnamese coffee. Vietnamese coffee is a slow drip coffee using intentionally over-roasted beans. This creates a very thick, delightfully fragrant and strong brew. Instead of brewing the ground coffee beans in an electric machine, the ground beans are placed into a metal cup-like filter called a “phin,” sandwiched securely in a layer between 2 perforated stainless steel surfaces, and screwed into place. Boiling water is then poured into the metal filter cup, which then allows the coffee to drip slowly through the many tiny holes of the metal filter.

I remember my first trip back to Vietnam was in the summer of 1993. My family and I had escaped the Communists by boat in 1978, and we had not dared to dream of a day when we would be granted the opportunity to revisit the country we had fled. It was definitely an experience I will never forget. Unlike today when many Vietnamese Americans go back and forth on holiday to Vietnam (which is now a booming tourist locale), back in the early 1990’s there were fewer visiting ex-countrymen. Not only were the Communist policies still strict, but the cultural norms dictating the roles of men and women were also quite strict. The Vietnam of today is quite modern in both technology and social interactions. Women in Vietnam are striving to become more educated and self-reliant. However, back in 1993, women (especially those in the conservative countryside) were still expected to eat separately from the men, eat after the rest of the family was served, and be seen and not heard.

In 1993 I visited my paternal hometown of Song Cau, an idyllic fishing village in the province of Phu Yen in the central part of South Vietnam. Having lived in the United States since I was 4 years old, everything about Vietnam, and particularly this small coastal village, was quite backwards. My highschool-aged cousin was taught math by word problems that involved subtracting how many American airplanes were shot out of the sky. She honestly thought the Earth was flat. I was appalled. These were only some of the blatant examples of how closed off these people were.

So back to how this story relates to Vietnamese coffee… Men in Vietnam, then and now, customarily go to a coffee shop every morning and lounge around for hours sipping coffee and smoking a cigarette or two with their buddies. Then maybe they go to work. Most women take care of the kids, tend to the housework, and go to work or to the market. They do not lounge around in coffee shops. At least in 1993 they did not have that liberty. My first taste of Vietnamese drip coffee was in a coffee shop. In Vietnam. Surrounded by men. And they stared disapprovingly at me like I had 3 heads and a tail. It was definitely not a place for proper young ladies at the time. Thanks to my unabashedly bold uncles and my father, who broke tradition and allowed me to join their circle, I was able to taste such a delightful concoction! Since then I have never gone back to drinking regular coffee on the weekends. I say “weekends” because Vietnamese drip coffee requires time and patience. It does not produce the quick convenience of a Keurig or Nespresso machine, but Vietnamese drip coffee by far exceeds the taste of these mediocre packaged coffees, and there are no environmentally hazardous plastic containers to discard. I promise the effort is worthwhile!

One of the many roadside cafes in Song Cau, Vietnam where I had my first sip of Vietnamese coffee
Fisherwomen bringing in their morning catch in Vinh Hien, Vietnam. I took this picture on my daily 3-mile walk to the market at 5:30 AM.
A woman peddling her daily wares to sell
Women at the fish market in Vinh Hien, Vietnam
If you look closely behind the lady squeezing fresh sugarcane juice, you can see the guys in the background enjoying their glasses of black Vietnamese coffee. People of all classes love their morning coffee!
Men enjoying their morning meal and camaraderie in Hue, Vietnam…where are all the women? Cooking and working, of course.
Nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. You can see the bright lights coming from the Trung Nguyen Legend coffee shop in the background. Their slogan beneath the shop name literally translates to “Coffee of the wealthy and happy.”

**For a full ASMR-style video tutorial, please watch my YouTube video that I’ve attached at the bottom of this post.

Vietnamese Coffee (“Cà Phê Sữa”), served Hot or Iced

Ingredients: (This recipe is for 1 serving)

– 1 full tablespoon of ground Vietnamese coffee or French roast

I use the following coffee brands and can vouch for their quality:

– 1 to 2 tablespoons Sweetened Condensed Milk. The Vietnamese use the Longevity Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk because it is less sweet, but you can use any store-bought brand.

-Boiled hot water

-Ice cubes for iced coffee (optional)

Useful Equipment/ Tools:

Vietnamese coffee filter phin, Long-spout tea kettle, Tall glass

Making Vietnamese coffee requires simple ingredients but also patience.

** Disclaimer: Please note that the highlighted links in this post are affiliate links, in which I will earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you) if you purchase through those links. I have purchased all the products I recommend with my own funds and have tested and used each product before I post. Please know that I only recommend products that I like and trust and genuinely believe would help my audience. Thank you for your support of my blog in this way!

Directions:

  1. Fill tea kettle with fresh water and bring to a boil. Set aside.
  2. Take your tall glass or coffee mug (choose one that has an opening that is not too large, so that the metal filter cup can rest on top of the mug) and fill it with 1 to 2 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk. You can add more or less to your taste. I like mine creamy, so I add 2 tablespoons to mine.
I like to watch the milk drip out of the can, but you can also just scoop out the sweetened condensed milk with a spoon. 🙂

3. Take the metal coffee filter (phin), remove the lid, and unscrew the top part from the cup body. Set the screwed part aside.

4. Fill the cup with 1 tablespoon of ground coffee.

5. Screw on the middle part and twist until you can no longer make a full turn of the screw. However, don’t twist the lid on too tightly or the coffee will not be able to drip through the little holes. If you find that the coffee is blocked when you pour in the boiling water, just loosen the screw a bit.

6. Set the filter on top of your glass or cup, and fill the inside of the filter with boiling water. You can add more boiling water to the filter as the coffee drips for a lighter coffee.

7. The coffee will take some time to finish dripping through the filter. When it is completed, stir up the coffee and the sweetened condensed milk together well. You can drink it hot at this point, or you can pour it over ice and drink it cold, like they prefer it in Vietnam.

Slow, steady drips make a delicious rich coffee!
Stir up coffee well and drink hot, or pour over ice to drink cold.
Delicious iced coffee!

See how easy Vietnamese coffee is to make at home? I hope you give it a try. You deserve the best! Enjoy!

For the video tutorial of how to make Vietnamese coffee, please check out my YouTube channel:

Craving some really good coffee? Try making Vietnamese coffee at home! Easy and delicious!

Vietnamese Crab and Asparagus Soup– Bikini-Friendly!

At only 183 calories a bowl, this soup is definitely bikini-friendly!

One of my favorite Vietnamese dishes is Crab and Asparagus Soup because I love most anything with crabmeat.  The marriage of delicate crabmeat and silky asparagus truly is a match made in heaven.   If you’ve ever attended a Vietnamese wedding or a birthday party, then you’ve probably encountered and tasted this elegant crab and asparagus soup.  In Vietnam this soup, called “Súp cua măng tây,” is usually reserved for special occasions.  The asparagus was introduced to the Vietnamese when the French colonized Vietnam for over a century (from 1800’s to 1954).  The other ingredients in this dish are truly Vietnamese.  

    One of the blessings in my life is living on a canal near the bay during the weekends.  There is a wealth of seafood to be had, including fresh blue crabs.  Usually when I make this soup, I like to catch, cook, and peel my own crabs.  However, this time I’m using fresh store-bought Dungeness crabs because they were on sale at the market, and they are easier and faster to pick clean due to their large size and softer shells. Even though this soup looks and tastes fancy, it is very easy to make at home.  You can substitute canned crabmeat, asparagus, and quail eggs for the fresh versions if ingredients are not readily available or saving time is a factor, but like most things in life, fresh ingredients make the best tasting soup. 

     Add-ons, such as white fungus (I know, it sounds not so appetizing, right? It’s actually just a white type of mushroom) and quail eggs give the soup extra richness, texture, and nutritional value.  The white fungus, also called snow mushroom, resembles a sponge when dried.  You can buy this mushroom in the Asian grocery store in the dried foods section.  It is valued in Asia for making the skin youthful and bouncy due to its high hyaluronic acid and collagen content.  Snow mushrooms (which I’ll call them from here on out because white fungus just doesn’t sound that appealing) don’t really have a taste, but I like to chop them and add them to this soup because they have a slight crunchy texture…and, if they’re going to make me look younger in the process, then I’m all for it!  Let food be thy medicine, right?  

White Fungus/ Snow Mushroom

  As for the quail eggs, which are these cute little poppers of protein, they taste just like chicken eggs and add extra richness to this soup.  You can also find these eggs at the Asian market, and some of the gourmet grocery stores even carry them now.  They are about 3 to 4 times smaller than a chicken egg and come packaged in small cartons of 18 eggs.  

Quail eggs are so cute! 🙂

So now that I’ve hopefully convinced you to try to make this soup at home, let’s get started!  

**Disclaimer: Please note that the highlighted links in this post are affiliate links, in which I will earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you) if you purchase through those links. I have purchased all the products I recommend with my own funds and have tested and used each product before I post. Please know that I only recommend products that I like and trust and genuinely believe would help my audience. Thank you for your support of my blog in this way!

Vietnamese Crab and Asparagus Soup:

Ingredients:

– 2 dungeness crabs, 6 blue crabs (cooked and picked over), or 1 large can of pasteurized crabmeat

– 1 bunch fresh asparagus (white preferred for a monotone soup, but green is great as well)

– 1 dried snow mushroom, soaked overnight until rehydrated.

– 1 carton fresh quail eggs (12-18 eggs), boiled.

– 6 quarts (1.5 gallons) of chicken stock

– 2 tablespoons chicken or mushroom seasoning

– 2 teaspoons fish sauce 

– 2 teaspoons sugar, or to taste

– 1/2 cup tapioca starch

– 1 cup cold water

– 2 beaten eggs, placed in separate bowl

– Sesame oil, add in few drops toward the end of cooking

– freshly chopped cilantro and green onions for garnish

– freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Equipment Used:

Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Round Dutch Oven, Zyliss Lobster Cracker, Global 7″ Vegetable Knife

Directions:

1.  If using live crabs, boil and remove the meat from the crabs.  Set aside.

2.  Wash asparagus and break off the hard woody bottom parts of the stalk. Asparagus will easily snap off at the partition of the woody part and the tender part. (See my YouTube video that is attached below this blog post)  Slice the asparagus into 1″ slices in a diagonal fashion.

3.  After soaking the snow mushroom in cold water for a couple hours until softened and expanded, remove from the water, shake off excess water, and chop into small pieces.

4.  If using canned quail eggs, rinse, drain, and set aside.  If using fresh quail eggs, boil the eggs for about 10 minutes and place all the eggs into a bowl of cold water.  Peel each egg while holding it submerged in the water.  This will help the shell to come off much easier and cleaner.

5.  In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of tapioca starch with 1 cup of cold water.  Mix well into a uniform slur.  This mixture will be used to thicken up the soup later.

6.  In another bowl, beat together 2 eggs.  Set aside.

7.  Bring chicken stock to a boil in a large stockpot.  If you want more chicken flavor, you can add more chicken powder (bouillon granules) or mushroom powder.  

8.  Add the lump crabmeat to the stock and cook at a steady simmer. This will draw out the sweetness of the crabmeat into the stock and give it a lot of great crab flavor. Allow the soup to simmer for 2 minutes before adding in 2 teaspoons of sugar.

9. Bring the soup back to a boil and add in the tapioca-water mixture that you prepared earlier. Give the soup a good stir while you add in the tapioca mixture. Keep stirring until the soup gets thicker. You want the consistency of a Chinese restaurant-style egg drop soup. If your soup is too thick, add in a little water to thin out. If you want the soup to be thicker, add more cornstarch to a bowl and mix with cold water, then add mixture to the boiling soup.

Add tapioca starch mixture and continuously stir soup until it becomes thick and viscous.

10. When the soup reaches the desired consistency (thick and viscous but still fluid), add in the beaten eggs in a gradual stream while constantly stirring to form beautiful egg ribbon strands (very much like egg drop soup). You can refer to my attached YouTube video below for a full tutorial.

11. Increase the heat and add in the cut asparagus. Cook until tender. Add in the chopped snow mushroom if using. Remember, the mushroom is optional. Much of Asian cuisine has to do with texture and mouthfeel. The added snow mushroom gives the soup a pleasant crunchy texture to contrast the silkiness of the cooked asparagus and tender crabmeat.

12. As the asparagus is cooking, add a few drops of fish sauce to the soup. This will add umami flavor to your soup. Don’t add too much fish sauce because it will overwhelm the delicate flavor of the soup. Add about 1/2 teaspoon only.

13. Continue simmering the soup until asparagus becomes tender and silky. At this point, bring the soup back up to a gentle boil and add in the peeled quail eggs. Again, this ingredient is also optional. Simmer the soup until all ingredients are well blended and smooth, about another 10 minutes.

14. When the soup is in its last couple minutes of cooking time, add in 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of sesame oil to the soup. This will impart a lovely flavor and aroma to the soup.

15. When the soup is done, ladle it out into bowls and sprinkle freshly ground black or white peppercorns, finely minced cilantro and green onions onto the soup.

Add finely minced cilantro and green onions for a delightfully fragrant and delicious soup!

This soup is wonderful for hot summer days as well as cold winter nights. Best of all, this soup is very low in calories and dense in nutrients. I hope you try out this elegant soup and enjoy it with family and friends!

** You can check out my full instructional video on how to make Vietnamese Crab and Asparagus Soup here: