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Photo: Randy Mayor
There are no how-to photos or illustrations, but Nguyen's descriptions of method are precise, even charming. Caramel Sauce—bitter, very dark, and very different from Western caramel—involves the sugar going from "Champagne yellow to light tea to dark tea," then brownish red like "a big, bold red wine" until finally reaching "the color of black coffee or molasses." That Caramel Sauce, by the way, flavors two incredibly delicious dishes we tried: Catfish Simmered in Caramel Sauce—rich, unctuous, savory-sweet—and Grilled Pork with Rice Noodles and Herbs—shellacked chargrilled meat over a fresh noodle-herb salad. Many recipes are healthy, packed with fresh herbs and vegetables, but be mindful of all that sodium-heavy fish sauce.
GIVE THIS TO: Adventurous cooks who will benefit from Nguyen's detailed coaching. —Ann Taylor Pittman