Cha Ca Thang Long Recipe: Vietnamese Dill Fish with Turmeric

Cha Ca Thang Long Recipe: Vietnamese Dill Fish with Turmeric  Recipe

Chả cá thăng long is a pan-fried dill fish dish. Try saying that three times in a row! The yellow hue comes from aromatic turmeric powder. Unlike Indian and Middle-Eastern cooking, dill -called thì là in Vietnamese- is not a very common ingredient in Southern Vietnamese cooking save for a few seafood dishes. Dill has a unique fresh flavor; it's sautéed in the same pan where the fish was pan-fried, then mixed back with the turmeric fish. The moisture from the herbs keeps the fish from drying out.

My family is originally from Cầnthõ and Sàigòn (Southern Vietnam) but my mother took me to Hànội (Norththern Vietnam) when I was seventeen. This dill fish recipe originates from that region. That's why it's also known as chả cá Hànội. You also might find it as chả cá lã vọng on some Vietnamese restaurant menus. If you're looking for a healthy dish, a meal composed of fish and cold rice vermicelli noodles (called bún in Vietnamese), might be the perfect fix.

Ingredients

Yields: 6 servings

2 pounds catfish fillets
2 teaspoon onion powder
3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons Kosher salt, to taste
1 teaspoon grated palm sugar
3 cloves fresh garlic, crushed and finely minced
1 (1-inch) chunk fresh galangal (or ginger)
3 tablespoons diced shallots
1/3 cup all-purpose flour, as needed
½ teaspoon red chili powder
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (optional)
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 small onion, cut into thin wedges
½ cup green onions, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 bunch fresh dill, coarsely chopped
½ cup canola oil, as needed
¼ cup coarsely chopped peanuts, roasted
1 (16-ounce) package vermicelli rice noodles (bún in Vietnamese), cooked and cooled to room temperature
3 cups combined cilantro, Vietnamese mint (rau thơm), shredded cucumber and lettuce
3 fresh green chiles (optional), sliced
2 limes, cut into wedges
2 cups nước mắm dipping sauce


Directions

Prepping the galangal: Clean the chunk of galangal and remove any dirt. Peel the galangal root with the edge of a spoon, slice it and cut into julienne strips. Set aside.


Prepping the fish: Wash the fish and pat dry using paper towels. Cut the fillets into 1-½ inch thick rectangular sticks. Place in a shallow dish. Season the fish with onion powder, 2 cloves of garlic, turmeric powder, shallots, galangal, palm sugar and red chili powder. Toss well. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of oil. Marinate the fish for no more than 30 minutes.

Pat the fish dry one more time and remove any moisture. Season with Kosher salt. Mix well. Transfer a few fish sticks at a time onto a plate. Using a fine mesh strainer, sprinkle some flour (if used) over the fish sticks and shake off the excess flour.


Cooking the dill fish:

In a skillet, heat the oil and fry the remaining garlic until golden. Remove the garlic and set aside. Once the oil has a nice garlic flavor, gently shake the excess flour off each fish stick one more time. Place the fish in the oil, making sure the fish sticks don't touch each other. Jiggle the pan to make sure the fish does not stick to the bottom of the pan and that it's totally coated with oil. Cook for about 2-3 minutes (depending on the thickness of the steak) until lightly golden, flip each piece (I use chopsticks which I find easier to maneuver; you could use a slotted fish turner) and pan-fry the other side for another 2-3 minutes until crispy and lightly browned. Jiggle the pan again. Place the fish sticks on a paper towel. Repeat until all the sticks are used.

In the same skillet, add the green onions and onion wedges. Sauté until golden. Add half the amount of fresh dill, stir and cook for one minute until fragrant. Return the fish sticks and fried garlic to the skillet. Season with a drizzle of fish sauce. and cover with the remaining dill. Turn off the heat and sprinkle with peanuts.  Jiggle the pan to let all the flavors blend together. Adjust seasoning.

To check the "doneness", cut a fish stick in half; the color of the inside should be white and opaque.  If it's still clear to translucent, put it back in the skillet.


Assembly time:

In a bowl, combine the lettuce, Vietnamese herbs and cucumber. Toss well.

When you're ready to serve, place the greens in each individual bowl. Add the vermicelli noodles and top with the dill fish and a few slices of chile pepper (if used).

Serve warm with lime wedges, sliced green chiles and traditional Hanoi shrimp paste dipping sauce (mắm ruốc, which tastes very strong -I'll post the recipe over the weekend) or nước mắm on the side.

Traditionally, this dish is also served with black sesame dotted rice crackers.

Enjoy with a tall glass of chilled ginger and lemongrass drink.

Bon appétit!


Tips

The authentic recipe calls for snakehead fish, called cá lóc in Vietnamese. I used catfish, but really any flaky white fish will work, such as cod, halibut, basa fish or tilapia. The thickness of the flesh of the fish is approximate. The thinner it is, the faster it will cook. Don't get it too thin though (no less than 1-¼ inches); you want it crispy on the outside but still moist on the inside.

I prefer using Kosher salt for fish; the large surface area of each salt flake makes it very good for extracting moisture.

Dredging the fish in flour keeps the moisture in and makes a golden outer crust. Once you add the flour, fry the fish fillets right away. If you wait too long, the moisture from the fish make the coating become soggy.

If you can't find galangal, you could use double the amount of ginger. Galangal is whiter in color than regular ginger and it's much more flavorful.

All the ingredients listed above can be found in any Asian store.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on July 13, 2011.


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