Canh Chua Ca (Vietnamese Sweet and Sour Fish and Pineapple Soup)
Can chua cá literally means sour fish soup in Vietnamese.The composition of the soup is the Vietnamese equivalent of tom yum Thai soup. The sour flavor is from the kaffir lime leaf and tamarind powder and the sweetness is from the crushed pineapple.
Recently, I made this soup for our dinner guests. I served it with a side bowl of steamed jasmine rice. At the end of the meal, I was surprised to see all the bowls completely empty, given that the flavors are somewhat unusual. But they seemed to love it, so I'm guessing you might as well.
Yields: 84 stalks lemongrass
4 kaffir lime leaves, torn in 4
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 tsp sea salt, to taste
1 Tbs canola oil, use a neutral oil like peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 Tbs Tom-Yum paste
2 stalks bạc hà, see tips
2 whole fresh pineapples
3 Tbs tamarind powder
3 Tbs brown sugar, if necessary
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
2 cups bean sprouts
2 cups okra pods (optional), sliced in thirds
1 bunch enoki mushrooms
2 dozen straw mushrooms, quartered
15 oz snapper fish fillets
2 red Thai bird chili, cut in thirds
2 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 cup ngò gai, see tips
1/4 cup ngò om, see tips
Peel the pineapples. Slice into 1-inch chunks. In a food processor, blend one pineapple into a fine puree. Add about 2 tablespoons of water if necessary to get a smoother flow. Keep the second pineapple as is. Set aside.
Slice the bạc hà into thin pieces, cutting on the bias. Set aside.
Wash the lemongrass; cut each stalk into 2-inch pieces and bruise the pieces with a hammer.
In a 5-quart stockpot, bring 1-1/4 quarts of water and the vegetable broth to a boil. Add the kaffir lime, black peppercorns, pineapple puree and lemongrass. Cook for 30 minutes. Strain in a sieve. Discard the aromatics but keep one stalk of lemongrass and a few kaffir lime leaves for presentation in your soup tureen at the end. Pour the strained broth back into the stock pot.
In a small pan, heat 2 teaspoons of oil and add the straw mushrooms. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, then add the enoki mushrooms. Transfer to a plate and set aside. In the same pan, add the rest of the oil, add the chopped garlic and the chili pieces. Cook until slightly golden. Add the tom yum paste (click on the link for the recipe) and a ladle-ful of the broth. Pour all the contents of the saucepan into the big stock pot. The broth should be fragrant and properly seasoned.
Check for the sourness of the broth. Add the tamarind powder. Taste. Add the salt. Taste. Then finish with the sugar if necessary. The secret is to balance the sweetness and the saltiness. Be sure not to oversalt!
Bring the soup back to a boil then add all the mushrooms,okra (if using), tomatoes and bạc hà. After adding the ingredients, the broth may cool a bit. Let it come back to a boil for a last time, then add the fish. Cover for 5-8 minutes, then remove the pot from the stove.
Accompany the soup with a bowl of steamed jasmine rice. Each person spoons some rice into the bowl of canh chua.
The broth should be made in 3 steps, in this order, sour, salt and sweet. It's very important that you taste the broth at every single step to ensure a balance of flavors.
My decision in making canh chua usually depends on how sweet the pineapples from the market are. The key to a good broth is to use 2 fresh whole pineapples, one for the broth and one for serving in the soup. Make sure they are naturally extremely sweet so you don't have to add much more sugar to the broth. I usually add brown sugar or palm sugar to the broth if the pineapple isn't quite sweet enough.
If you red snapper isn't available, you can substitute another white fish like catfish.
You may never have heard of bạc hà before. It's the stem of the taro, a celery looking vegetable that has an inside similar to a sponge. It brings texture to the soup and absorbs all the flavors of the broth.You can find it in most Asian stores in downtown San Jose, California but if you can't find any, you can substitute a celery stalk, even though the texture is different.
Ngò gai, literally spiky herb in Vietnamese, is a strong cilantro-flavored herb that is traditionally served in the can chu soup. It's a love-it or hate-it kind of herb. My hubby Lulu is not a big fan of it, so I usually make a special bowl for him with finely chopped cilantro.
I didn't make the canh chua broth the traditional way. Usually it is made with fish stock which involves a lot of fish heads. I make it this way for 2 reasons: first, I'm a little squeamish at the idea of working with fish heads and secondly, I make a vegetarian broth so that the whole family gets to enjoy the soup. Red snapper fillets and shrimp are added at the end. It is as delicious.
With shrimp, it's called canh chua tôm. For the shrimp, lightly saute for 1-2 minutes 1 dozen shelled and de-veined shrimp in garlic (do NOT overcook) in small pan. Add about a ladle of broth. Set aside until you're ready to serve. If, like me, you're cooking for vegetarians as well, divide the broth into 2 pots and add the shrimp and fish to one of the pots. Add the combination of shrimp and fish to the broth at the last minute. Cover for 5-8 minutes and it's ready. Spoon the shrimp and flaky fish into each serving bowl.
For the veggie version, add fried tofu cubes.
You can add oyster or/and king mushrooms to the broth. I didn't because my husband's not so keen on these varieties.
We're very lucky to get the kaffir lime leaves from my garden. It's very useful and smells so nice. If you have the space to plant a kaffir lime tree, go for it, it's a good investment if you're into Asian cooking.
Lulu started to grow lemongrass last year for me. The stalks are slowly growing. I'm ecstatic about it because lemongrass tends to be (I think) pricey. Oh, did you know it's a great mosquito repellent?
Published By: on June 5, 2009.