À la nage, a French term meaning “swimming in,” refers to the technique used to prepare barramundi fillets (Asian sea bass). Poached in a coconut-milk sauce with Thai basil, lemongrass, lime peel, and cilantro, the fish is garnished with cilantro sprigs, green onions, fried shallots, and dried rose petals. Served with garlic bok choy and rice, this dish expresses French colonial influences in Vietnamese cuisine in a modern context.


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
  • 2 cups fish or vegetable stock
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 (2-inch) strips lime peel (from 1 lime)
  • 1 (2-inch) knob peeled fresh ginger, thinly sliced
  • 4 tablespoons lemongrass, cut into 3-inch lengths and bruised with blunt side of knife
  • 3 sprigs fresh cilantro (use more of the stem)
  • 3 sprigs Thai basil (use both stem and leaf)


  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons water


  • 4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless barramundi (Asian sea bass) fillets


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 5 heads bok choy, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ cup water


  • Green onion, thinly sliced
  • Dried rose petals
  • Fried shallots
  • Cilantro sprigs

Serves 4

1. In a large, straight-sided sauté pan, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until vegetables are softened and shallots are translucent, about 2 minutes.

2. Add coconut milk, stock, fish sauce, lime peel, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro sprigs, and basil sprigs. Let steep over low heat. Turn off and let sit overnight. Strain the master sauce and set aside 1 cup of coconut sauce in another small pot for plating.

3. Note that the coconut sauce for poaching the fish and the sauce to plate it with are different. Thicken one reserved cup of coconut sauce with a slurry made by whisking the cornstarch and water together until smooth, then whisking the slurry into the sauce. Place back on the stove and simmer until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Place the poaching liquid and the plating sauce in two separate heat-holding containers.

4. Prepare the bok choy: Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the vegetable oil, garlic, and bok choy. Stir to sauté. Season the bok choy with salt and pepper, then turn the heat to high and add the water. Keep sautéing until the bok choy is soft and bright green.

5. Place the fish in the poaching liquid for about 5 minutes, or until the internal temperature registers 135°.

6. Place about 3 ounces of the thickened coconut sauce on a large dinner plate. Set the garlic bok choy carefully in the middle of the sauce.

7. Place the fish over the bok choy. Garnish with thinly sliced green onion, cilantro sprigs, fried shallots, and dried rose petals.

This recipe originally appeared in Putting Culture on the Table by Patricia West-Barker.