Canh Ngot Recipe (Vietnamese Fish Soup)

Canh Ngot Recipe (Vietnamese Fish Soup) Recipe

My friend Hoa is an expert when it comes to buying the freshest, most delicious ingredients. I've probably said it in the past but I only cook seafood according to what's available at the market. She told me about this wonderful seafood market on Tully road in San Jose, and boy, was she right! Today I found freshly caught cá hồng, which translates to "red snapper". I made cá nấu canh ngót, a Vietnamese popular fish soup made with Chinese celery.

The texture of the soup is similar to canh chua the difference being that lemon juice is squeezed right in before eating the soup and no lemon or sour ingredients are added to the broth while cooking. You'll be amazed at how simple and easy this seafood soup is to make. The key to success is really just fresh ingredients. That's it!


Yields: 8 servings

1 whole red snapper (see tips)
2 (14-ounce) cans low-sodium chicken broth (or fish stock)
2 teaspoons salt (or more fish sauce), to taste
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 pound Chinese celery stalks
¼ cup fish sauce, to taste
8 green onions (white parts only), slightly bruised
1 teaspoon freshly grated palm sugar (optional), to taste
4 ripe grape tomatoes (medium size), cut into thin wedges
1 cup bean sprouts (optional)
1 green Thai bird chile, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1-½ teaspoons black peppercorns, freshly cracked
1-½ tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
2 lemons, freshly squeezed


Prepping the celery: Discard any badly-shaped leaves. Separate the stalks from the leaves. Trim the end of the stalks and cut into 3-inch pieces.

Prepping the fish:

Ask your fishmonger to prep the fish (clean and scale the fish but leave it whole). Wash the fish in salted water and pat dry using paper towels. Remove the head and the tail and cut the middle section in half, leaving the skin on. 

Prepping the canh (broth):

In a mortar and pestle, grind 2 cloves of garlic, the green chile and fish sauce into a coarse paste.

In a small pan, heat the oil and the onions and cook until caramelized. Transfer the onions to a deep saucepan, leaving as much oil as possible in the pan.

In the same deep saucepan, add 1 quart of water. Bring to a boil. Add the remaining garlic, the bruised green onions and the fish head (it's quite large so I cut it into thirds). Cook for about 15 minutes. Strain in a sieve. Discard the solids. Pour the broth into a stockpot. Add the green paste and the chicken stock (or fish stock). Bring to a boil.

Assembly time:

Once the liquid is boiling, add the 3 fish pieces (tail and 2 pieces from the middle section) and celery stalks. Regularly skim the impurities rising to the surface of the broth using a fine mesh strainer. Simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, the remaining green onions, celery leaves and cilantro. Let it come back to a  boil for a last time, cover and cook for 5-8 minutes.

Taste and adjust seasoning. Add salt and pepper. Taste again. Finish with palm sugar (if necessary, depending on the sweetness from the fish and caramelized onions). The secret is to balance the sweetness and the saltiness. Be sure not to over-salt! The broth should be fragrant and properly seasoned.

Remove the pot from the stove and transfer to a soup tureen. Separate the flaky fish into large chunks. Remove and discard the bones (if possible).

Drizzle with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Add bean sprouts (if you like) and more nước mắm (fish sauce) if necessary. It's ready! Serve immediately.

Accompany the soup with a bowl of steamed jasmine rice. Each person spoons some rice into the bowl of canh ngót.

Bon appétit!


If red snapper isn't available, you can substitute another white fish such as cod, bass or catfish.

The addition of caramelized onions to the broth prevents the soup from being tanh ("fishy") when the fish is added. It's a trick when cooking seafood or meat in broth.

Using the freshest ingredients is the key to make delicious canh ngót. I used freshly squeezed juice from lemons right off my tree!

My favorite fish sauce (nước mắm) is the Red Boat Fish Sauce brand. It's very flavorful and not overly salty.

All the ingredients listed above can be found in any Asian store. Chinese celery is called "rau cần tây" in Vietnamese.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on March 8, 2012.


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