Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Summery Vietnamese Noms Part 1: Chả cá

Our first meal in Hanoi
This week's 87 degree weather officially made Washington the hottest state in the nation which makes us only want to tell the weathermen to shut up so no one else moves up here and screws up traffic even further.

When it's warm, I like to eat something summery, fresh and cool. And from my last post, perhaps I have to eat something healthy.

Behold! Chả cá La Vong - also known as Vietnamese Tumeric fish with dill

We had some at the place in Hanoi where they charge at least six times as much as any other place because they are known for it. If you're in Hanoi, have some at either Chả cá La Vong or Chả cá Thanh Long which are the two most famous spots to grab this specialty.

The famous place... unassuming I know...

You cook it at your table in Vietnam

I've been making this dish a lot because it's really simple. In Ann terms, that means I can now make it without use of a measuring cup. It's a good eyeball recipe but I'll include some measurements for you.

 You need:

Fish & marinade:
  • 1 lb of white fish (traditionally, we use catfish but I've been mostly using sustainably caught cod. Any flaky white fish like cod, halibut or tilapia works)
  • 1 tablespoons of tumeric
  • 1/2 tablespoon of ginger powder (or galangal if you have it)
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 clove minced shallots
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon of fish sauce (nuoc mam)
  • Enough olive oil to coat the fish - about 1/4 cup but use more or less, depending upon your preference

Mix the ingredients sans fish in a big bowl until you have what looks like a thick yellow, chunky oil. If you're lazy with the mincing, you can just toss everything without the fish in a food processor.
Slice the fish in smaller portions; 2-3 oz cuts. Add the fish to the marinade and make sure everything is well combined but be careful not to mush the fish. Put it in the fridge and let it sit for a minimum of one hour but you can also let it sit longer or overnight in the fridge.

Everything else:
  • One onion - either red onion or sweet onion, sliced into half moons
  • A small bunch of green onions. Whites chopped in small rings, and dark green part chopped in wide rings
  • A bunch of fresh dill, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry-roasted unsalted peanuts, very slightly crushed
  • A box of vermicelli noodles (bún) - boiled and drained. (If you're eating healthy, I found brown rice maifun noodles from Whole Foods which are pretty yummy. If you're eating paleo, you can use zucchini noodles, kelp noodles or any substitute.)
  • Accompanying herbs: cilantro, mint, Thai basil, tia to
Nước chấm/dressing
  • 4 tablespoons cup nước mắm (fish sauce) but adjust to taste
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • Juice of two limes
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1-2 small garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1-2 tablespoons of mirin or rice vinegar
  • Chili garlic sauce or Sambal Oelek, to taste (not the same as Sriracha - it's a chunky cousin but still the Huy Fong rooster brand)              
Dissolve sugar with the hot water, add the rest of the ingredients and mix. Taste it and see if you'd like it spicier or fishier or more vinergary. Set aside.

Saute the onions in a large pan until they're soft and throw in the whites and the light green parts of the green onions. Add the fish and gently sear according to the thickness of the fish until you get a nice sear and the fish is cooked through but be careful not to overcook the fish. You want it to have a nice sear on the outside but still be soft on the inside. This is about 2-3 minutes on the first side and another 2 minutes once you flip the fish if you're using small portions of cod. Once you plate the fish, sprinkle generously with the dill, sprinkle the remaining green onion and roasted peanuts. Serve with noodles, herbs on the side and nước chấm. People can add as many herbs and sprinkle as much dressing as they'd like.

The finished product
  • I like freshly roasting the peanuts a bit because you get better flavor from the nuts. You can just stick them in the oven for a bit or move them around in a hot pan for a few seconds.
  • Some places (like Cha Ca La Vong) serves the fish cooked in the oil at the table or on a sizzling plate. This recipe uses a fajita platter so the dish is sizzling when it comes to you. I don't have a fajita platter or else I would have done the same.
  • You can also serve this dish and the nước chấm with quick pickled shredded carrots and daikon (or use jicama if you can't find daikon).
  • If you're eating paleo or trying to forgo sugar, you can skip it in the marinade. You might be able to use a little bit of sugar alternative like an agave syrup in the nuoc cham or splenda but try it out first to see if it tastes metallic or not. You can add additional rice vinegar and it might taste fine without any sweetener.
  • Traditionally this dish is served with a fermented shrimp paste but it's incredibly pungent and most people cannot take it. See this recipe if you want to try the shrimpy version.
  • I also made the dish and wrapped them in rice paper wrappers for a summer roll version of the dish. It was super delicious!
Cooked @ your table in Hanoi

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