I spend a lot of time with recipes, usually writing, photographing or testing them. Like reading anything consistently, the work becomes familiar and you start to pick up on its patterns — in the case of recipes, that tends to mean similar cooking methods or ingredients. I had a record-scratch moment the other day as I came across a recipe for Vietnamese shrimp that started out by making a dark caramel. Step 1: Almost burn a pot of sugar. Huh?!
Turns out, lots of Vietnamese dishes — which are known for big, bold flavors — build their sauce or marinade from a dark caramel foundation. When I say “dark caramel,” shutter out those visions of some sensual portion of a dreamy indulgent confection. We’re talking almost-burnt sugar that is cooked so long it loses its sweetness and transforms into an enriching base that soaks up savory flavors like a sponge. It’s in that almost-burnt moment, my friends, when greatness happens.
So, as you start to prepare this dish and begin with a whole bunch of honey going into a bowl, ignore that inner record scratch. Go with it and watch as the glaze reduces, bubbles and thickens its way toward that luxe caramel base. Sure it’s a bit different, but be not afraid. You’re doing it right.