Cha Ca Fish with Fresh Dill, Hanoi Style
Imagine a dish so inviting and delicious that it earns a place on the map of a city, and so appealing that it supports a family-run restaurant from one century into the next through decades of war and times of hardship, right on into the new millennium. That legendary dish is Hanoi’s cha ca, made with chunks of freshwater fish seasoned with galanga (a member of the ginger family) and garlic, colored with turmeric to a warm golden hue, and grilled over charcoal for a smoky note. Then it is fried up with handfuls of fresh dill on a tabletop stove and served over thin rice noodles, shredded lettuce, chopped peanuts, and nuoc cham. Customers flock to Cha Ca La Vong, located on Hanoi’s Cha Ca Street, just to feast on this unique and venerable dish at its source. My streamlined version of cha ca gives you a delicious, aromatic, and gorgeous dish so appealing you will want to make it often, and so easy that you can do just that. You can also omit accompaniments, sprinkle with the chopped peanuts, and serve cha ca ha noi as a main dish.
Total Timeunder 30 minutes
Make Ahead RecipeYes
One Pot MealYes
Recipe Coursemain course
Dietary Considerationmain course
Five Ingredients or LessYes
Taste and Texturecrisp, herby, nutty, savory, spiced, tangy
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger or fresh or frozen galanga
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 pound firm-fleshed fish fillets, such as catfish, monkfish, or tilapia
- ½ pound thin, dried rice noodles, softened in warm water for at least 15 minutes, or angel hair pasta
- 3 cup shredded lettuce leaves, such as Boston, Bibb or oak leaf
- 1 cup fresh mint, cilantro, or Asian basil leaves
- ½ cup chopped roasted and salted peanuts
- Double recipe Everyday Dipping Sauce
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 cups coarsely chopped fresh dill
- 5 green onions, trimmed, white part chopped, and green part cut into 2-inch lengths
To marinate the fish: in a medium bowl, combine the fish sauce, oil, ginger, turmeric, and salt and stir to mix well. Cut the fish into big bite-sized chunks (2 or 3 inches square) and add them to the bowl, tossing to coat well. Set aside while you prepare the noodles and other accompaniments, or cover and chill to marinate for up to 1 day.
To cook the rice noodles: bring a medium saucepan of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Drain the soaked noodles well, drop them into the boiling water, and immediately remove from the heat. Let stand for 10 minutes, drain well, and set aside in a medium bowl. (If using angel hair pasta, cook in boiling salted water until tender but still firm, drain well, and set aside). Prepare the accompaniments so that you can serve the fish at once.
To cook the fish: place the oil, dill, and green onions by the stove. Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until a bit of dill sizzles when it hits the pan. Add the fish to the pan and cook on one side for about 2 minutes. Gently turn and let the fish cook for another minute. Add the dill and green onions to the pan and cook for another minute, tossing gently to wilt the herbs. Transfer to a serving platter.
To serve this dish the classic small-bowl way, start each guest off with a small bowl holding a portion of each accompaniment: noodles, lettuce, and a few leaves of mint, cilantro, or Asian basil. Top with a piece or two of fish with dill and green onions, sprinkle with chopped peanuts, and drizzle with a spoonful of Everyday Dipping Sauce. Invite your guests to continue serving themselves in this way.
To serve the big-noodle-bowl way, divide the accompaniments, fish, dill, and green onions among 4 big noodle bowls or pasta plates. Season each bowl with Everyday Dipping Sauce and invite each guest to toss with chopsticks or a fork and spoon, and enjoy.
2006 Nancie McDermott