The most amazing dish you’ll ever eat in your entire life 🙂 Eat the one that started it all at PokPok.
- Mission: Turmeric Catfish “Cha Ca La Vong” (adapted from Nguyen, 2006, p. 226)
- Cuisine: Vietnamese
- Level: Advanced
- Toolkit: Wok or large frying pan, baking pan, tin foil, mortar & pestle, knives and cutting board
- Time: 2 hours 45 minutes (45 minutes cooking, 2 hours waiting)
- You’ll feed: 4 grateful ninjas
The fish & marinade
- 1 lb catfish fillets
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 1 ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1 ¼ tsp galangal powder (or 1 piece dried galangal)
- 1 TB fine shrimp sauce
Tangy sweet shrimp sauce (optional)
- 3 limes (6 TB fresh lime juice)
- 1 TB rice vinegar
- 1 TB fine shrimp sauce
- 3 TB fish sauce
- 2 ½ TB honey
- ¼ cup water
- 2 Thai chilis
Vegetable garnish plate
- 2 heads soft leaf lettuce
- 1 small English cucumber
- ½ bunch cilantro
- ½ bunch mint
- ½ bunch Vietnamese balm
All the rest
- 7 oz dried rice vermicelli
- ½ cup dill tops
- 3 green onions, finely chopped
- ½ cup roasted peanuts
- ½ inch fresh turmeric root, grated or finely minced
- ¼ cup peanut oil + 1 TB
Marinate the fish
If the galangal is not already powdered, crush it with the mortar and pestle. Combine the galangal powder with the turmeric, sour cream, and shrimp sauce: this is your marinade.
Wash the catfish fillets in cold water and pat dry. Cut the fillets into 2 ½ cm wide ‘fingers’. Cover the fingers with the marinade and refrigerate in an airtight container for 2 hours or overnight.
Prepare the tangy sweet shrimp sauce
Combine the lime juice, rice vinegar, shrimp sauce, fish sauce, water and honey and mix well. Finely slice the Thai chilis and add them to the sauce, careful not to touch the exposed flesh and seeds with your fingers very much! Set the sauce in the refrigerator until it’s time to nom.
Prepare the vegetable plate
Wash and dry all the vegetables. Separate the leaves of lettuce from the heads. Thinly slice the cucumbers. Arrange the lettuce and cucumbers on a plate alongside the fresh cilantro, mint, and Vietnamese balm. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until it’s time to nom.
Cook the noodles
Set your oven to broil, and preheat for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to package instructions.
Cook the fish
Place the marinated catfish fingers on a baking sheet lined with tin foil (reserve the extra marinade). Broil on the top rack for 8 minutes, flipping halfway through.
Remove the fingers from the oven and place in a serving dish. Heap the dill and green onions on top.
Heat ¼ cup peanut oil over medium high heat in the wok. Add the fresh turmeric root and fry for 30 seconds. Carefully pour the hot oil over the catfish and green toppings in the serving dish.
Sauce it up
This is my twist on the original recipe: heat 1 TB of peanut oil in the wok over medium high heat. Add the remaining marinade and stir about 30 seconds. Serve alongside the catfish fingers.
Serve the catfish with rice noodles, vegetable plate, and the marinade and/or the tangy sweet shrimp sauce dipping sauces. Eaters can make wraps with the lettuce leaves, or combine noodles with herbs and dipping sauces and eat with chopsticks. I like to do both in the same sitting. Enjoy! 🙂 🙂
Nguyen, A. (2006). Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors. New York: Ten Speed Press.