Vietnamese scoop this up with banh da, a toasted rice cracker - a poppadum lookalike - that puffs out when held over hot coals. Remember to soak the onion, as unsoaked raw onion will be way too powerful and you’ll end up in tears. The secret to getting shallots crisp is to slice them well beforehand and then leave them spread out to dry a little, then slow-fry them with a dash of salt. Handy bags of ready-made crispy shallots can be bought from Oriental stores.
The night before, finely slice the onion or shallots into long slender petal-shaped pieces, then put in a bowl of cold water and leave covered and refrigerated to extract the oniony punch. Drain well before using. Cut the squid body open and lay it out flat, then make diagonal score marks across it. Drop it into a pan of boiling water, adding the rice vinegar, and gently bubble for about 15 minutes, or until tender (and past the rubbery stage). Drain and finely slice the flesh, knife blade angled, so you end up with slivers that look a bit like coconut shavings. Pound or grate the ginger with the chillies to make a paste. Toss the squid with the drained onion and the nuoc cham, then toss with the herbs and pile into bowls, blobbing over the ginger paste. Heavily rain with toasted crushed peanuts and crispy shallots.
© 2004 Alastair Hendy. All rights reserved.