Last New Year’s Eve, we dined at Tamarine in Palo Alto, which is just a few blocks from our house. Currently the city’s best restaurant, nouvelle Vietnamese Tamarine is just plain wonderful, as was our meal to usher in the ‘aughts. But most wonderful was the divine crudo starter, which combined lightness, flavor and subtlety with plate appeal in spades. It was just so good that I vowed to develop a recipe so I could make it at home. This turned out to be a relatively easy task. The proportions below of sauce to fish aren’t perfect but it doesn’t matter because the sauce can be used with other dishes — say, with light spring rolls. I didn’t include quantities of fish; buy the amount needed for the number of eaters and their degree of enthusiasm for crudo. As originally envisioned, this was a winter dish and the pomegranate seeds were nice in it. However, the short pomegranate season and the deliciousness and ease of preparation of the dish caused me to make up another iteration after pomegranate season ended, substituting diced strawberries. Like the pomegranate seeds, the berries added just the right touch of sweetness and tartness. Although less exotic than spicy microgreens, finely chopped cilantro tastes mighty good in this dish and is a fine alternative.
fresh pomegranate seeds (Whole Foods usually has them during the winter season; Trader Joe’s has them frequently)
micro greens with some punch, such as micro arugula, micro radish sprouts, etc.** (or) finely chopped cilantro
(optional) high-quality tangerine or blood orange oil (the kind based on olive oil), recommended: Dry Creek Olive Oil or DaVero Olive Oil
Nuoc Cham Sauce
This is my Frenchified version of a basic, much-used Vietnamese dipping sauce. It is incredibly versatile and tasty.
2 T brown sugar
4 T water
2 T Vietnamese fish sauce (Nuoc Nam) – use the Viet Huong Three Crabs brand, available at Oriental groceries like Nak’s
2T white vinegar
2-3 T fresh lime juice
2 T diced shallot
1 T peeled, finely diced ginger
Mix all ingredients together and stir or shake well to blend. It can also be mixed in a food processor. Can be refrigerated for quite a while.
* available regularly at Nak’s in Menlo Park (Wednesday and Friday) and sometimes at Nijiya Market in Mountain View. Another source is the fish guy at the South Palo Alto farmers market, who sells “local hamachi” for a great price compared to the flown-in-from-Japan offerings elsewhere. However, the freshness can be a little dicey; sniff it before buying. Hamachi is sometimes called yellowtail and it’s in the jack family. Domestic amberjack — like that sold at the farmers market — is almost the same.
** Whole Foods usually has various kinds of micro greens but a great (and only) place I’ve found for micro arugula is at the South Palo Alto farmers market
Slice the fish in relatively thin pieces (see photo above) and put on serving dish. Spoon some strained sauce (don’t include the pieces of shallot and ginger) on each piece and add a couple of drops of citrus oil on each piece if using. Decorate each piece with some pomegranate seeds and some micro greens or chopped cilantro. Then try to eat just one.