Hoi An is the cutest little town along the East coast of Vietnam. Lots of travelers pass through here hoping to score some inexpensive, perfectly tailored clothes to bring home. For that reason alone, I wished I’d stayed a few more days.
We had a free day to explore the town and spent the morning doing our own thing.
My friend wanted to check out a market while I went off to bike to the beach. I hadn’t considered to check the weather and biked 30 minutes in the pouring rain all the way down to the beach. After I’d paid a suspicious woman to look-after my bike, I walked to the beach to check out the scenery.
Quickly realized, you can see much when it’s raining.
Instead I walked along the coast where I stumbled upon several huts with kitchens attached to them. I sat down at one, chatted with a stranger and ate the best lunch of my entire life.
Either the food was actually that delicious or it was just one of those special days that I’ll keep in my mind forever. I was alone, in the middle of a rain storm, stumbling upon great food, and chatting with a complete stranger who spoke next to zero English.
Something about it felt magical and unmanufactured.
I did not have this Halibut with Lily Buds and Dried Shiitake Mushrooms in Vietnam. But I saw a picture in this book and thought it looked like a fancier version of what I had on the beach that day.
This is my favorite dish of Vietnam month so far. The depth of flavor is unlike anything I’ve eaten before and while the ingredients aren’t super common, they are worth searching for.
You will need a bamboo steamer for this dish. I’ve granted myself one new kitchen toy each month to experiment with and I am very very happy with this one. It’s not expensive and it’s something you can use over and over to steam meats, fish and dumplings.
Steaming gets a bad rep in the US because we link it with overly steamed veggies with no fat, salt or flavor. Not this.
Steaming the halibut in a puddle of savory, sweet sauce with mushrooms, lily buds and cellophane noodles will change your mind forever. Something mystical happens in this steamer basket. The fish is so delicate and the sauce is good enough to slurp with a spoon.
Perfect to serve with a pile of rice and your favorite veggies (like this). It’s impressive enough for a dinner party but easy enough to make any day of the week.
Halibut with Lily Buds and Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
(Start making 45 minutes before you want Halibut with Lily Buds and Dried Shiitake Mushrooms)
*There are some less-common ingredients in this dish. You can buy them at most Asian grocery stores or on Amazon in the links above. They are a fraction of the price in store than online but you’ll have tons of leftovers and they keep for quite a while. I would not leave any of these out, otherwise you will lose the incredible depth of flavor! For the fish, I only used 4 filets but you can easily fit 6.
Season the fish with pepper and set aside. Put the shiitake mushrooms and lily buds in two separate bowls and cover with hot water. Let them soak for 10-15 minutes so they get soft. Once soft, slice the mushrooms and cut the tough ends off the lily buds, set aside.
Place the cellophane noodles in a bowl and cover with hot water. Let soak for 12 minutes, drain and set aside.
Whisk together stock, soy sauce, sugar and water until sugar is dissolved.
Pour water into your wok or pot and set one tier of a two-tiered steamer in the wok. The bottom should not be touching the water. Bring water to boil.
Divide the mushrooms, lily buds, cellophane noodles and stock mixture between two rimmed dishes that will fit inside your steamer. Top with the ginger and divide the fish evenly. Drizzle one Tbsp shallot or canola oil evenly between all the fish.
Place a dish in each bamboo tier and cover tightly. Let steam for 6-8 minutes (I did 7) until the fish flakes evenly.
Top with more oil if you like, and scallions. Serve with Bok Choy and Shiitake Mushrooms and rice to soak up your excess sauce.