Pan Fried Catfish Fillets (Bun Ca Chien)

Pan Fried Catfish Fillets (Bun Ca Chien) Recipe

Catfish is a very inexpensive piece of seafood that is widely available in Vietnam. I went to Vietnam 10 years ago and I remember all the seafood that we had. When we came to visit Cantho, the town where my mom was born, we had a lot of fried fish that was freshly caught from the Mekong River.

The dish is called bún cá chiên (litterally a cold rice vermicelli noodles with fried fish in Vietnamese) served with nước mắm (fermented fish sauce), fresh and pickled vegetables. This dish is ultra easy to make and is delicious.

This is a simple recipe but like all simple things, each detail really counts. It's a very healthy dish as well.



Yields: 6 servings

2 lbs catfish fillets
2 tsp kosher salt
3 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 tsp garlic, finely minced
7 Tbs canola oil
1 tsp butter
4 cloves garlic, halved


Wash the fish and pat dry with paper towel. Cut fish into 4 x 1 1/2 inch rectangular sticks. Place in a large shallow container. Season the fish with all the spices (salt, minced garlic and cayenne). Marinate the fish for no more than 30 minutes. Spread a tablespoon of oil evenly in the dish.

Lightly coat all the dish with flour using a mesh sifter / strainer. In a skillet, heat the oil and fry the garlic cloves. Remove the garlic and set aside. Once the oil has a nice garlicky flavor, add the butter over medium heat. Gently shake the excess flour off  each piece of fish. Get about half of the fish sticks in the skillet. Make 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 is totally coated with oil. Cook until lightly golden for about 2-3 minutes, flip each piece (I use chopsticks which I find easier to maneuver) and cook the other side for another 2-3 minutes until crispy lightly golden. Jiggle the pan again. Place the fish sticks on a paper towel. To check the "doneness", cut one fish stick in two.  The color of the meat should be white and opaque.  If it's still clear to translucent, put it back in the oil. Repeat with remaining uncooked fish sticks.

Place in a serving platter. In one plate, place thin rice vermicelli noodles. In another plate, add fresh vegetables like lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts, fresh coriander and mint, and pickled vegetables like carrots, baby shallots and turnips. Fill a bowl with nước mắm and another with crushed, salted peanuts. It's family style - everyone helps themselves to their own bowl, starting with the veggies, the noodles, and then finally the fish. Pour the nước mắm sauce, add the coriander and mint and sprinkle some peanuts to garnish. Lastly add sliced red bird chili if you like it spicy. To be eaten with chopsticks of course!

Bon appétit!


The thickness of the flesh of the fish is approximate. The thinner it is, the faster it'll cook. Don't get too thin though (no less than 1 1/4 inch), you want it cripy on the outside but still moist on the inside.

You can substitute catfish with any other whitefish.

I prefer using kosher salt for fish, the large surface area of each salt flake is very good to extract moisture.

I use canola oil, which is a very inexpensive oil and has a high smoking point. For example, don't use olive oil. You can use a peanut or almond oil to bring some flavor even though I'm not too keen on it.

If the smell of nước mắm is too strong for you, you can replace it with nước tương (vegetarian version with soy sauce).

I'll post the nước mắm, nước tương and vegetable pickles recipes later.

You can make bún thịt nướng with the same recipe above by replacing the fish with thinly sliced, barbecued beef on a stick. It's a favorite street food in Vietnam.

fried catfish

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on January 12, 2009.



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