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Grilled Fish Hanoi-Style with Rice Noodles and Herbs

This image courtesy of Marty Snortum

This dish is named after the restaurant in Hanoi that first popularized this method, Cha Ca la Vong. However, I learned this recipe from my friend Khai Binh, the chef of his family’s Dzoan Restaurant in Saigon. The original recipe calls for sour rice, a fermented concoction that takes several weeks to prepare, but plain yogurt works well. The classic method of serving this dish is to first grill the fish, then place it in a skillet on a tabletop burner and cook it again with dill and chives or scallions. Here, I recommend you grill or broil the fish in larger pieces and cut them bite-size, then sauté the dill, chives, and peanuts in oil and pour over the fish. Individual portions are then combined in a bowl with rice noodles, fresh herbs, and lettuces by each diner. Cha Ca is usually served along with a sweet dipping sauce and some sliced chiles.

NotesBasic Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (makes 2 cups)

(Nuoc Cham)

¾ cup warm water

3-4 tablespoons sugar

½ cup fish sauce

¼ cup lime juice or rice vinegar

2-3 Thai chiles, or 1-2 serrano chiles (red or green), thinly sliced

A requirement at every Vietnamese table, Nuoc Cham is used to season grilled and steamed meats, salad and fried rolls, vegetables and seafood. It is used in many recipes, too, but is always put on the table for each individual to dip as their taste dictates. This recipe has a distinct southern Vietnam influence with the addition of lime juice, water, and sugar. You may also use rice vinegar instead of all or part of the lime juice for a variation. In the central and northern regions, Nuoc Cham is often made using only the fish sauce and chiles, perhaps with just a touch of sugar.

For those of you who are challenged by the flavor of fish sauce, try substituting two-thirds of the fish sauce with soy sauce. The next time, try a little less soy and more fish sauce, and you will be ready for the real thing before long.

1. Mix the water and sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Combine with the rest of the ingredients and serve. This sauce is typically made fresh for each meal, but leftovers will keep several days in the refrigerator.

Serves6

Cooking Methodbroiling, grilling, sauteeing

CostModerate

Total Timeunder 1 hour

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, soy free, tree nut free

Mealdinner

Taste and Textureherby, hot & spicy, light, salty, umami

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons juice from fresh galangal or gingerroot, or 1 teaspoon dried galangal powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon Vietnamese shrimp paste, or 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 2 pounds catfish, halibut, tilapia, sea bass, or other mild yet firm fish fillets
  • 12-16 ounces dried vermicelli or other rice noodles
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped roasted peanuts
  • 2 cups chopped fresh dill tops (1½-inch pieces)
  • Dash of salt
  • Handful of chives, or 4 scallions (green parts only]
  • Fresh herbs (Asian basil, mint, cilantro, sorrel, Vietnamese coriander, etc.)
  • Tender lettuce leaves (butter, red or green leaf lettuce, etc.)
  • 1 cup Basic Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (see Notes) with 2 teaspoons sugar added

Instructions

  1. Combine all of the marinade ingredients and toss gently with the fish fillets. Set aside for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Grill the fish or broil until done, cut into bite-size pieces, and arrange on a platter; cover to keep warm.

  2. Cook the rice noodles until done and then rinse in cool water and set aside.

  3. Heat the oil in a skillet or wok and add the peanuts, dill, salt, and chives (cut into 3-inch lengths, then quarter lengthwise). Sauté until fragrant and hot, then pour over the cooked fish pieces. Serve with the noodles, herbs, lettuce, and dipping sauce for each diner to combine on his or her own bowl or plate.

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