Turmeric Dill Fish (Cha Ca La Vong)

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Thien Long Restaurant is one of my favorite Vietnamese restaurants in San Jose.  Anytime out of towners visit and want Vietnamese food, we always take them here.  They have a huge menu full of delicious Vietnamese dishes, but the one dish I love eating and always order when I go there is the specialty, Cha Ca La Vong.

Cha Ca La Vong is a Ha Noi specialty.  Fish fillets are marinated with turmeric powder and other aromatic ingredients served on a bed of dill, onions, and peanuts.  At Thien Long Restaurant, the servers bring it to you on a metal plate sizzling hot with chafing fuel lit to continue cooking all the ingredients tableside. The sizzling sound of the plate and the fragrant smell of the fish and herbaceous smell of the cooked dill are fantastic. They also serve it with a plate of vermicelli noodles, spring roll wrappers, assorted herbs and vegetables, nuoc mam so you can eat the Cha Ca La Vong how you want to at the table. It is quite an experience!

During the shelter in place order, we haven’t been able to visit Thien Long Restaurant.  The girls were craving Cha Ca La Vong, so I researched many recipes and worked with the ingredients that were available to me.

Ingredients:

2 pounds cod fillets, or any flaky white fish, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus additional 2 tablespoons for frying
1 tablespoon rice flour
1 tablespoon galangal, finely minced
1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon green onions (white part), finely minced
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 green onions, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 bunch of dill, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1/2 cups roasted unsalted peanuts, for topping
1//4 cup fried shallots, for topping

Accompaniments:
vermicelli noodles
rice paper
red leaf lettuce
mint and perilla leaves
cucumber, sliced
fish sauce

Steps:

Prepare Marinade- Using a mortar and pestle, pound galangal, garlic, and green onions with some salt until it turns into a paste.  In a medium mixing bowl, add paste, fish sauce, yogurt, vegetable oil, rice flour, turmeric powder, and black pepper and mix well.

Marinade fish -Add fish to the marinade and gently mix to coat fish with the marinade.  Cover the bowl and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

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Fry fish – Heat a large non-stick skillet on medium to medium-high heat.  When the skillet is hot, add vegetable oil and fry fish for about 2-3 minutes a side and then set aside.  Repeat until all the fish is fried.  After all the fish is fried, add a little more oil to the skillet and stir fry yellow onion and green onions for about 3 minutes or until it softens.  Spread a layer of dill over the skillet and add the fish back on top.  Finally, top with fried shallots and peanuts and serve.

Tips:

  • I like to fry the fish first and keep warm in the oven, then finish off by cooking the veggies tableside on an induction stovetop and add the fish back for an interactive dining experience with family and friends.
  • You can eat with vermicelli noodles or create spring rolls and eat it that way.
  • I researched a lot of recipes that use shrimp paste in the marinade instead of fish sauce.  Since I’m not a huge fan of shrimp paste, I use only fish sauce.
  • So far I’ve tried this with cod and tilapia.  I love both and plan on trying catfish in the near future.
  • I experimented by roasting the fish instead of frying it and it fell apart on me.  Frying the fish holds it together better and doesn’t break apart.
  • If you do not have a mortar and a pestle, finely mince with a knife.  If you have a mortar and a pestle, roughly chop the galangal, garlic, and green onions and pound into a paste.

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