Sunday, May 31, 2015

Hanoi Pan-Fried Fish with Turmeric and Dill (Chả Cá)...

Chả Cá is Northern Vietnam Hanoi's most beloved dish. There is actually an entire street named after it, riddled with restaurants serving only this specialty fare. Curious to try Northern Vietnamese cuisine, I first came across this gorgeous and perfumey fish dish over a decade ago at Hanoi Three Seasons in the heart of Toronto's East Chinatown. They've since opened a second location in Leslieville. I grew up with friends who were from South Vietnam and I was accustomed to eating their range of gloriously fresh and intoxicating food; venturing into their neighbouring North was only a matter of time and this rare restaurant find piqued my interest and taste buds immensely. When the owner recommended I try their signature pan-fried fish with turmeric and dill I was instantly hooked. This rich aromatic traditional dish combines turmeric and fish sauce to marinate the fish, that is seared with lots of dill and green onions, served over a bed of thin rice noodles. Seasoned fish sauce, bean sprouts, herbs, sliced chilies and crunchy peanuts adds texture and more pow to a super flavourful dish. Inspired to make it for my family finally, I consulted a few amazing Vietnamese cookbooks and borrowed a little here and there to come up with my own version. You can buy fish fillets frozen or fresh-- you don't need to work it from whole like I did. I used yogurt for a moist tasting fish, but if you prefer a more seared fish, omit it from ingredients.

Visiting the Southern parts of Vietnam in 2004 with my husband and father-in-law. Eating delicious food, people watching, riding on the back of motorbikes and visiting the markets filled our days with wonderful sights, sounds, smells that can only be Vietnam's distinct seductive charm. 

Hanoi Pan-Fried Fish with Turmeric and Dill (Chả Cá)
Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 lb. boneless firm fish fillets, with skin-on (red snapper, rock fish or catfish are good options)
4 green onions, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-inch knob fresh galangal, skin peeled and chopped
1 Tbsp. ground turmeric
1/2 cup plain yogurt (omit if you prefer a seared fish)
3 Tbsp. fish sauce
1/2 tsp. shrimp paste
1 Tbsp. sugar
4 Tbsp. cooking oil, divided
1/2 bunch dill, thick stems removed, roughly chopped and divided
1/2 lemon
1 package vermicelli, cooked according to package instructions
bean sprouts
cilantro and rau ram
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
3/4 cup Nước mắm cham (see note below)

NOTE: To make Nước mắm cham:  i) Dissolve 1/4 cup granulated sugar in 1/3 cup boiling water; ii) Mix in 3 Tbsp. fish sauce and 3 Tbsp. white vinegar or fresh lime juice; leave to cool; iii) To season, add 2 finely chopped garlic cloves and 1 tsp. of Vietnamese chili sauce (sambal oelek) or 1 finely chopped Thai or hot red chili to taste.

I like to chill the fish sauce mixture until ready to serve.

If you are filleting a whole fish (you can get it gutted and cleaned at the supermarket), run the knife (best to use a boning knife) down the spine to the tail in a gentle slicing - not sawing - action, working the blade between the spine and the flesh. Repeat until the fillet begins to come away - lift the fillet to see where you're working. Repeat on other side to achieve two nice fillets. I took it a step further as I wanted to eat the rest of the fish- fried. I worked with two whole rose fish (a rock fish species)-- lopped off the head on one for its skeleton, and kept the head and the other fish skeleton intact to freeze for a future fish broth. Their breast areas with pectoral fins were dissected as well for frying.

When filleting, slice close against the bone to render the maximum meat.

Slice the fillets into several bite-size pieces.

Chop the green onion whites, reserving the green parts. Place into a bowl with garlic and galangal and with the handle end of a chef's knife or cleaver, pound to a paste. If you have a mortar and pestle, the more easier this is to do or grind into a paste with your food processor. Make a mixture with the green onion paste, turmeric, yogurt, fish sauce, shrimp paste, sugar and 2 Tbsp. oil to coat the fish. Gently mix 1/3 of chopped dill with fish. Cover and marinate for one hour.

While the fish was marinating, I began to fry the fish. I salted then coated the fin pieces and the beheaded fish skeleton in 3/4 cup potato starch, shaking off the excess and shallow-fried them in hot oil in skillet with a cup or so of cooking oil (oil is ready when a skewer inserted in the centre emits bubbles shooting up its sides). Both sides were fried until golden brown- crispy, then drained on paper towels before being plated to serve. Extra kosher salt was sprinkled on top. Succulent meat bits, cartilage, blubber and crispy fins to enjoy!!

Deep-fried fish heaven! No waste!

Finely shred the green onion parts. Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet or pan over medium heat; removing excess marinade, pan-fry the fish fillets about two minutes on both sides (discard marinade). Squeeze lemon into the pan, add some of the dill and green onions, gently toss and cook until fish is cooked through for about a minute more.

Let the dill and green onions cook until wilted.

Divide the noodles into serving bowls and top with the fish. Serve up the remaining bean sprouts, green onions, herbs (dill, cilantro and rau ram), peanuts and nước mắm cham for the family and guests to help themselves.

There we have it- a delightful classic Northern Vietnamese fish dish for a Sunday family dinner and crispy bones to go with it too!

Just love these work, play and rest images.
Photo Credits: Real Vietnamese Cooking by Lister and Pohl

Still riding Vietnam's simplicity and sophisticated food inspirations... up next, Fried Shrimp Mousse on Sugarcane or Lemongrass...

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