Vietnamese Braised Catfish in Fish Sauce (Ca Kho)
Cá kho literally translates to "braised fish". I cooked catfish steaks in a caramel fish sauce and let simmer until the delicate, flaky fish became an opaque white color for this fairly common Vietnamese dish.
Yields: 6 servings6 catfish steaks
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 onion, finely chopped
¼ cup canola oil (or any neutral oil)
2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste (click on the link for the recipe)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon mushroom seasoning salt (or regular salt)
6 tablespoons nước mắm (fish sauce), to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
8 sprigs cilantro, for garnish
Prepping the catfish steaks: Ask your fishmonger to prep 6 catfish steaks. Make sure they still have the skin on. Carefully pick out all bones (pin and belly) using tweezers. Rinse thoroughly under running water. Place them in a deep dish. Barely cover with water and add lemon juice. Mix well and let stand for about 5 minutes.
Discard the water. Pat dry using paper towels. Sprinkle with red chili powder. Drizzle with a little oil. Marinate the fish for no more than 30 minutes.
Searing the fish:
Use a wok with its matching lid. Add 3 tablespoons of canola oil. Once the oil is hot, add the onions. Cook the onions for about 8 minutes until soft and nicely golden. Leaving as much oil as possible in the pan, transfer to a platter. Set aside.
Pat the fish dry one more time. Using a brush, lightly coat the catfish with oil. In the same pan, add the minced garlic and cook until golden. Add the ginger garlic paste and cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Place the fish steaks. Pan-sear for a minute; flip the fish and sear the other side for an additional minute. Transfer the fish to a platter. Set aside.
Making caramel: In the pan, dissolve the sugar with 1 tablespoon water over high heat. It's important to carefully watch the sugar; as soon as the edges of the pan start caramelizing (about 2-3 minutes), immediately lower the heat to medium-low. Gently jiggle the pan in circles. Don't let the sugar get dark brown or you'll get a burnt taste. When all the sugar is an amber color, remove from the heat, pause for about a minute (be careful of splattering when liquid is added), then slowly add the fish sauce, stirring constantly.
Braising the fish:
Add the catfish to the caramel. Add the fried onions. Add water, just enough to barely cover the fish. Bring to a boil, then lower to a gentle simmer for about 15 minutes, depending on the size of the fish. Keep stirring every now and then (delicately flipping the fish occasionally and adding more sugar juice as it evaporates). Be careful; it's very delicate and flaky. Season with mushroom seasoning salt.
Check the doneness of the fish (add another ½ cup of water and cook a bit longer if not fully cooked). The caramel-colored gravy should be thin. Season with more mushroom seasoning salt and black pepper. Cook for an additional 10 minutes over low-heat. Check doneness. Transfer to a serving platter.
Serve with jasmine rice.
Mushroom seasoning salt brings a very distinct, earthy flavor to the caramel sauce. You can find it at gourmet specialty stores or in most Korean stores. I buy mine at Marina Foods -10122 Bandley Drive -Cupertino, CA 95014.
All the ingredients listed above can be found in Asian stores.Published By: on May 1, 2012.