I'm not sure what took me so long to finally blog my recipe for Cha Ca Thang Long (Vietnamese Hanoi-Style Turmeric Fish with Dill). I like to think that I was trying to perfect it as I've made this numerous times before settling on this version.
The recipe and restaurant recommendation requests from family and friends motivated me to start the blog, but this dish was how I discovered food blogs in the first place as I searched for a recipe.
It wasn't that I was feeling particularly nostalgic for Hanoi as much as I was thinking of that summer in general. As I said, I didn't really get into this dish until I ate at the famous Cha Ca La Vong in Hanoi. I had eaten it before in America, but eating cha ca at the restaurant that invented the dish, which is so famous that the street is named after the restaurant, was a whole 'nother experience. Sure it cost 10 times more than what I normally paid for a meal in Vietnam, but some things needed to be experienced. Even if it's just once.
Cooking with dill is a uniquely Northern Vietnamese ingredient. The unfamiliarity of this herb to most Vietnamese makes this dish less popular than it could be. It was hard for me to disassociate dill from pickles, but once I did, it became a lovely foil for fish. Sure I've had dill with salmon, but dill in Vietnamese cooking, especially in such copious amounts, was a new one for me.
Since that long ago day, I've tried to recreate the recipe many times, tweaking ingredients here or there. I've settled on sturgeon as the perfect fish for this as it closely resembles the taste and texture of ca loc (Vietnamese snakehead fish). Restaurants in Little Saigon have substituted with catfish or tilapia, but those fish are softer and tend to fall apart more. Obviously, go with whichever white fish you can find, but firmer is best.
I tried to make it healthier with less oil, but at Cha Ca La Vong, the pan easily had an inch of oil and once the turmeric fish and dill hit the sizzling oil, it released the most tantalizing fragrance. Dill is used generously in this dish. Treat it like a vegetable, not a garnish. The restaurants here seem to have toned down that aspect and the less oil and dill as a garnish just didn't satisfy me.
Lastly, I'm not a fan of galangal. After several attempts at incorporating it into the recipe, I just decided to omit and am much happier for it. I use grated ginger and its juice, and that settles much better with my palate. Substitute as you see fit.
And I'm serious about the oil. Use olive oil and be generous. There's just something about how the turmeric in the fish combines with the dill, with lots of oil to release those fragrances, that really makes the dish. Obviously you can try it with less oil, but you'll come around. Trust me.
Cha Ca Thang Long (Vietnamese Hanoi-Style Turmeric Fish with Dill)
2 lbs sturgeon or other white fish
1 2-inch knob of ginger, grated
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce)
1 tsp Mam Ruoc (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste)
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp turmeric
Generous drizzle of olive oil
2 bunches scallions, chopped into 2-inch pieces, white parts sliced in half length-wise
2 bunches dill, chopped into 2-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, smashed
For dipping sauce:
1 tblsp Mam Ruoc (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large lime or small lemon, juiced
1 chopped chili pepper or 2 tsp chili sauce
1 tsp sugar
Crushed or whole salted and roasted peanuts
Bun (Vietnamese rice vermicelli noodles)
Herb platter of rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), tia to (Vietnamese perilla), etc.
Prepare 2 lbs of sturgeon or any other firm-fleshed white fish of your choice. Cut into 1- by 2-inch pieces. Set aside.
Grate a 2-inch knob of ginger. Set aside.
In a bowl, add 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce), 1 tsp Mam Ruoc (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste), 1 tsp ground black pepper, 1 tsp sugar, and 2 tsp turmeric. Add the grated ginger and fish, mix thoroughly to marinate. Set aside.
Ooh. Look at that pretty turmeric color.
Prepare the dipping sauce by adding 1 tblsp mam ruoc, 2 cloves minced garlic, the juice of 1 large lime or small lemon, 1 chopped chili pepper or 2 tsp chili sauce, and 1 tsp sugar. Set aside.
Prepare the green onions and dill by cutting them into 2-inch segments. Slice the green onions in half lengthwise at the thick white parts. Wash and set aside.
Toast and lightly grind about 1/4 cup of toasted peanuts. Set aside.
Boil the rice vermicelli noodles and set aside.
Now you're ready to cook!
In a large sauce pan on medium-high heat, add a generous drizzle of olive oil. Generous! Add a few cloves of smashed garlic.
Toss in the fish and let them cook, flipping over halfway.
When the fish look almost done, add in the dill and green onions.
Saute until the onions and dill have just softened.
If there's more than one person, have plates and bowls of the rice noodles, crushed peanuts, and dipping sauce on hand. People can then add ingredients in whichever portion they wish.
Or do the same even if you are eating for one. Lay the noodles in a bowl, top with the fish and dill mixture, spoon the dipping sauce and crushed peanuts on top.
Toss and eat.
My other Vietnamese fish recipes:
Ca Bong Lau Nuong voi Mo Hanh (Vietnamese Roasted Catfish with Scallion Oil)
Ca Chien Sot Ca Chua (Vietnamese Fried Fish with Tomato Sauce)
Ca Hap Gung Hanh (Vietnamese Steamed Fish with Ginger and Scallions)
Ca Kho To (Vietnamese Braised Catfish in a Claypot)
Canh Chua Ca (Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup)
Who else made cha ca Thang Long?
Nikki Polani used her mother's method of cooking the fish in smaller batches with less oil.
1 year ago today, borscht redux.
2 years ago today, Fried Rice with Chinese Sausage, Mixed Frozen Vegetables, and Eggs.