Although this dish is found in different
parts of Vietnam, it is traditionally a northern dish and it is there, in
the highlands, that is best sampled. The eels are caught in the Red, Black
and Song Ma rivers, which contribute to the local name of this dish,
"three rivers eel". If you can't find eel, use mackerel. The fat rendered
from these fish melts into the caramel sauce, making it deliciously
velvety. It is usually served with noodles or steamed rice.
Raw cane sugar
Eel on the bone, cut into 2.5 cm thick chunks
Butternut squash, cut into bite-size chunks
Spring onions (scallions), cut into bite-size pieces
Sesame or vegetable oil
Fresh root ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
Chopped fresh coriander (cilantro), for garnishing
Put the sugar in a heavy pan or wok with
30 ml water.
Gently heat it until it turns golden.
Remove the pan form the heat and stir in
the soy sauce and nuoc mam with 120 ml water. Add the garlic, chilies,
star anise and peppercorns and return to the heat.
Add the eel chunks, squash and spring
onions, making sure the fish is well coated in the sauce, and season
with salt. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer for about 20
minutes to let the eel braise gently in the sauce and steam.
Meanwhile, heat a small wok, tip in the
oil and stir fry the ginger until crisp and golden.
Remove and drain on kitchen paper. When
the eel is nicely tender, arrange it on a serving dish, scatter the
crispy ginger over it, and garnish with a little fresh coriander.