This recipe is inspired by a fantastic restaurant in Houston called Hu`ynh, which played a special role in my development as an eater and as a cook. By the time I started going to eat there, I’d already converted from being the guy who always asks for the peanut sauce at Vietnamese restaurants to asking for nu’ó’c châm. The next step in my journey was at Hu`ynh, where I finally realized that the previously unidentifiable flavor that made their char-grilled short ribs so damn delicious was the same ingredient I’d started to warm up to as a dipping sauce: fish sauce.
It was a pretty big moment for me as a cook. It was the first time that the possibilities of fish sauce—as an ingredient that you cook with, rather than just a condiment—opened up to me. Suddenly, I was tasting fish sauce in everything: in soups and stews, in marinades, and on sandwiches. It dawned on me that Houston food tastes like fish sauce.
Here, fish sauce shows up in two places: in the marinade for the grilled short ribs and in the form of nu’ó’c châm, for dipping. As a marinade, fish sauce imparts a salty layer of seasoning as well as depth of flavor. I happen to believe that fish sauce goes with any protein, from fish to meat, so don’t be shy about how you use it.
These short ribs make a great interactive dish; pull it out for your next dinner with friends. They might be timid at first when you ask them to build their own lettuce wraps, but they’ll get over it pretty quickly when they realize how fun and delicious the whole process is. I call the ribs meat “chips” because they form these snackable bite-size pieces of meat that I can devour as though they were chips.
Oh, and I should say one more thing: this recipe isn’t exactly the Hu`ynh version. When I asked Cindy Dang, the owner, for the recipe, she said, “Only if you marry my sister.”—Chris Shepherd
Reprinted with permission from Cook Like a Local by Chris Shepherd & Kaitlyn Goalen, copyright © 2019. Photographs by Julie Soefer. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.