Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Experimental Treat: Basa Fillets and Sticky Rice

A few weekends ago, as I recovered from switching between nights and days, I felt up to cooking and decided to try something new to me but very old to Viet Nam: sticky rice and steamed fish.

I love "glutinous" rice and have loved it since childhood. It's stickier than jasmine rice due to a higher amount of amylopectin, not gluten, and it's prepared in any number of ways, both savory and sweet. I've had it dyed red (wedding colors) with plums, white topped with peanuts and sugar, the famous "mango and sticky rice" way of Thai restaurants, and as a portable pocket stuffed with mushrooms, green onions, and select meat. However, it has always failed me when I've tried to make it. Traditionally, it's soaked for hours and then steamed. I've tried shortcuts with rice cookers and saucepans, to no avail. It always comes out burned at the bottom, soggy at the middle, and too hard and uncooked on top. EW. Perfect sticky rice, in my mind, should be firm but not hard, clear, and well hydrated. The solution was to finally use the wok that Sunny'd gotten me last fall, along with accompanying bamboo steamer, line them with banana leaves, and steam. Perfecto! Sticky rice for a side to the main course, and then mango and sticky rice for dessert.

To top it off, I ran across a fish I hadn't heard of at the organic market I shop at. "Basa from Vietnam" was the title. A quick wikipedia search showed that it's a catfish analogue that Mississippi Delta farmers are offended by because it's taken up quite a percentage of the domestic catfish market, so the lobbied to have it labeled as "basa" instead. They've got a point. I'm not really convinced that there are significant numbers of aquafarms in Vietnam that would hold up to US inspections. However, I slapped the fillet on a banana leaf, drizzled it with sesame oil and some ginger, and steamed it, and it came out perfectly. Yum.


1. On Food and Cooking, the ultimate food science reference
2. Wikipedia on Basa