Make no mistake: This recipe barely approaches the complex flavors and even color in the classic, savory caramel sauce that shines up Vietnamese street food — the bitterness of burnt sugar, the salty-smooth punch of soy and fish sauces, the aromatics of garlic and sometimes lemon grass.

But even the most basic nuoc mau, or sugar-water caramel, takes close attention and a while to prepare, and we’ve got Dinner in Minutes to get on the table. So here, we are making a “light” version of the sauce that will enhance the natural sweetness of the fish, yet the overall taste is surprisingly piquant.

You can add green beans straight from the freezer, and they’ll become crisp-tender by the time the fish is done. Thicker-cut cod fillets yield nice, meaty chunks in this dish, and they tend to fall apart less than pieces cut from thin fillets. But either will taste good! Once you get the technique down, feel free to try it with chunks of chicken or pork.

Touches of crushed red pepper flakes and fresh mint add the right amount of zip.

Serve over rice; to gild this particular lily, you could place a runny-yolk fried egg on top.


12ouncesfrozen white-fish fillets, such as cod

1cupfrozen green beans

1large clove garlic

12large shallot


1tablespoonfish sauce

2tablespoonstoasted sesame oil


Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Fresh mint leaves, for garnish


Step 1

Unwrap the fillets and place in a bowl of tap water while you prep the other ingredients.

Cut each green bean lengthwise in half. Mince the garlic and shallot; together is okay.

Step 2

Whisk together the sugar, fish sauce and a tablespoon of the oil in a liquid measuring cup.

Step 3

Pat dry the fish, then cut it into chunks. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and shallot; stir for 1 minute, then add the fish sauce mixture.

Cook for 1 minute, or until the sugar has dissolved, then add the fish. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes, then add the green beans. Cook until they are just heated through, then remove from the heat.

Step 4

Squeeze the juice of the lime half into the pan. Season with a pinch of the crushed red pepper flakes, if using. Divide between wide, shallow bowls; tear some mint leaves over each portion and serve right away.

Adapted from a recipe at VietWorldKitchen.com.

Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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Calories: 420; Total Fat: 25 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 100 mg; Sodium: 800 mg; Carbohydrates: 14 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugars: 10 g; Protein: 34 g.