Before we get to the cooking, I need to warn everyone about my utter inability to measure while I cook. I don’t mean that I don’t know how to use a measuring cup or spoon. I am perfectly capable of following recipes–packing brown sugar into measuring cups, leveling off a teaspoon of baking soda–but when I cook Vietnamese food, even when I am consulting a recipe, there are no measuring cups or spoons. I sprinkle/dash/squirt, taste, repeat, repeat, repeat. In this way, I’ve discovered that Vietnamese food is incredibly forgiving, allowing flavors to meld and rebalance during cooking and even at the table with an assortment of sauces, aromatic herbs and pickles.
I did not set out to cook like this. In fact, during my early 20’s when I first tried to make the food of my childhood, I consulted numerous cookbooks and adhered to every measurement. But things didn’t taste right. And so I learned to improvise, to tinker with the recipes and to trust my taste buds. Nowadays, I almost always use more fish sauce and less salt than most recipes, and often, I consult recipes just for the list of ingredients and ignore the quantities entirely.
All this means that I am very bad at writing recipes. With that in mind, recipes that I post here should not be taken too literally. If you have 3.4 lbs of oxtail when the recipe only calls for 3 lbs., don’t fret just throw it all in! And if you like fish sauce as much as I do, then by all means add more! But just keep in mind that I can take the heat better than most, so when I say that something is spicy, be forewarned.