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Vietnamese Seafood Stew in a Clay Pot

Vietnamese Seafood Stew in a Clay Pot
Julie O'Hara for NPR /

In Vietnam, we adopted the motto, "If it's in a clay pot, it's going to be good." Simple to put together, the flavors of this stew develop as it simmers slowly in the oven. Vietnamese cooks often use caramel syrup to sweeten dishes like this, but I find that oyster sauce, a deeply flavored, sweet condiment, works just as well without the hassle of making caramel. Any earthenware baking dish can be used here, but an oven-safe Dutch oven or heavy skillet will also work. This recipe does not call for salt because the broth, fish sauce and oyster sauce contain enough salt to season the dish, but taste the finished stew and add seasoning if you wish. Serve with steamed white rice.

Makes 4 servings

1 1/2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil

3 to 4 large shallots, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)

3 to 4 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)

1 to 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1/4 cup fish sauce

3 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

1 pound skinless tilapia fillets, or other firm white fish such as cod or catfish

16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 (15-ounce) can straw mushrooms, drained

2 large beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 8 wedges each

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

5 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

2 small, hot chilies such as Thai or serrano, thinly sliced (about 2 tablespoons), for serving

4 lime wedges for serving

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over low heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and very lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring continuously for 2 minutes more. Transfer to a 10-inch round, 11-inch-by-17-inch rectangular (or similar size) clay or earthenware baking dish.

Add 1 cup of the chicken broth, fish sauce, oyster sauce and sugar to the baking dish. Stir gently to combine. Add the fish fillets, shrimp, mushrooms and tomatoes to the baking dish (don't worry if the ingredients nearly fill the entire pot). Season with black pepper to taste. The seafood should be mostly submerged in the liquid, so add a bit more chicken broth if needed.

Bake for 1 hour, gently stirring once about halfway through the cooking time. Sprinkle with scallions and cilantro and serve the stew family-style in its baking dish. Offer sliced chilies and lime wedges at the table and accompany with steamed white rice.

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