Cooking | Magazine

Recipes: Three fast, flavorful takes on fish, chicken, and beef

Vietnamese turmeric fish with wilted herbs and peanuts, Cambodian beef salad, and slashed chicken deliver bold flavors without a lot of fuss.

Vietnamese turmeric fish with wilted herbs and peanuts.
Vietnamese turmeric fish with wilted herbs and peanuts.Connie Miller/of CB Creatives

Southeast Asian cooks rely on unique techniques and big-flavor ingredients — not lots of time — to get boldly flavored dinners on the table fast. In Cambodia, fish sauce and high heat make quick work of sliced beef short ribs for a hearty salad that combines cucumber, chilies, and peanuts for contrasting tastes and textures. In Vietnam, slashing skin-on chicken parts to the bone creates more surface area for a marinade of fish sauce, garlic, onion, sugar, salt, and black pepper that caramelizes in the oven.

And cornstarch and ground turmeric form a delicatecrust on tilapia fillets that are quickly sautéed and freshened with scallions, dill, and cilantro.


Vietnamese Turmeric Fish With Wilted Herbs and Peanuts

Makes 4 servings

This dish draws inspiration from a Hanoi restaurant, Cha Ca La Vong, renowned for its fishthe only item on the menu — seasoned with turmeric and dill.

We use tilapia fillets though other firm white fish, such as snapper or cod, would work well here, but you’ll need to increase the cooking time for fillets thicker than ½ inch.

Generous fresh herbs and a sauce of lime juice and fish sauce brighten the dish. Don’t overcook the herb mixture; transfer it to the platter with the fish as soon as the cilantro and dill are stirred in. To add spice, stir red pepper flakes into the sauce or offer sriracha at the table. Serve with thin rice noodles.

2 tablespoons white sugar

¼ cup lime juice

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1½ pounds tilapia fillets (about ½-inch thick), cut into 2-inch pieces, patted dry

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1/3 cup cornstarch

1½ teaspoons ground turmeric

6 tablespoons grape-seed or other neutral oil, divided

6 scallions, thinly sliced

¾ cup dry-roasted salted peanuts, roughly chopped

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro


½ cup chopped fresh dill

In a small bowl, stir together ¼ cup water, the sugar, lime juice, and fish sauce until the sugar dissolves. Set aside. Season the fish with salt and pepper. In a gallon zip-close bag, mix together the cornstarch, turmeric, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Add the fish, seal the bag, and shake to coat. Transfer to a plate, shaking off any excess coating.

In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of the oil and heat until beginning to smoke. Add half the fish and cook, flipping the fillets once, until golden and opaque throughout, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter. Repeat with 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil and the remaining fish.

Wipe out the skillet. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium until shimmering. Add the scallions and peanuts and cook until sizzling and fragrant, about 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the cilantro and dill, then immediately distribute the mixture over the fish. Serve with the lime fish sauce for drizzling.

Cambodian beef salad.
Cambodian beef salad.Connie Miller/of CB Creatives

Cambodian Beef Salad

Makes 4 servings

For this recipe, we prefer the meatiness and rich flavor of boneless short ribs, but if they’re not available, use flat iron steak instead. Rather than sear the beef and slice it after cooking, we slice it first, then cook it in a flavorful liquid that later becomes the salad dressing. So that the beef is easier to cut into evenly thin slices, freeze it uncovered for about 20 minutes, until partially frozen.


Don’t be alarmed if the amount of liquid for cooking the beef seems very scant — the meat quickly releases its own juices as it cooks. Keep the heat high and stir constantly so the slices cook evenly.

1½ pounds boneless beef short ribs, trimmed and sliced about 1/8-inch thick (see note)

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

¼ cup fish sauce

¼ cup lime juice, plus lime wedges to serve

3 tablespoons packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons peanut oil, preferably roasted, plus more to serve

½ small head red cabbage, finely shredded (about 4 cups)

½ English cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced on the diagonal

1 jalapeño chili, stemmed and sliced into thin rings

4 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

¼ cup roasted peanuts, chopped

In a medium bowl, toss the beef with ½ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. In a large saucepan, stir together the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, oil, and ¼ cup water. Bring to a simmer over high, then add the beef and cook, stirring constantly, until the meat is no longer pink, 2 to 3 minutes; the beef will release liquid as it cooks. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the cabbage, cucumber, and 3/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Toss the vegetables with your hands, rubbing in the salt, until they just begin to wilt. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beef to the bowl with the vegetables, then add the chili and scallions. Add ¼ cup of the beef cooking liquid and toss to combine. Taste and, if desired, toss in additional cooking liquid 1 tablespoon at a time until the salad is dressed to your liking. Transfer to a serving bowl, then top with the peanuts and drizzle with additional oil. Serve with lime wedges.


Slashed Chicken

Makes 4 servings

This recipe, from Vietnamese food authority and cookbook author Andrea Nguyen, is everything we love in a weeknight meal: quick, easy, and packing huge flavors. Thanks to the deep slashes in the chicken legs, the simple savory-sweet marinade flavors the meat throughout. The slashes also speed the cooking. Serve with jasmine rice and a simple cucumber or cabbage salad.

To keep the chicken juices from scorching the baking sheet, add a layer of salt to the sheet, then set the chicken on a wire rack. The salt will absorb drippings to prevent burning and simplify cleanup. Shake off excess marinade before cooking. A little left clinging to the chicken will caramelize beautifully, but too much creates steam and prevents browning.

4 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

½ medium yellow onion, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 teaspoons white sugar

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken leg quarters (about 3 pounds total), patted dry

In a food processor or blender, combine the garlic, onion, fish sauce, sugar, and 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Process until mostly smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl.


Using a sharp knife, cut four parallel slashes on each chicken leg, 2 on the thigh and 2 on the drumstick, slicing through the skin all the way to the bone. Flip each leg and repeat on the underside. Transfer to the marinade and toss to coat, rubbing it into the slashes. Let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes or cover and refrigerate overnight.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees with a rack in the middle. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spread 1 cup salt over it. Mist a wire rack with cooking spray, then set over the salt. Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off the excess, and arrange it skin up on the rack. Roast until well browned and the thickest part of the thigh reaches 175 degrees, 20 to 25 minutes.

Christopher Kimball is the founder of Milk Street, home to a magazine, school, and radio and television shows. Globe readers get 12 weeks of complete digital access, plus two issues of Milk Street print magazine, for just $1. Go to 177milkstreet.com/globe. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.