Cha Ca Thang Long is a famous dish popularized in Hanoi and is a favorite meal of ours. Although the name “cha ca” implies that it’s a fish paste, it’s actually small fillets of flaky white fish marinaded in turmeric and galangal, fried and served with generous topping of dill on a sizzling hot plate.
Hong got me a fajita skillet with a wooden serving tray as a gift a while back–probably as a hint that he wanted me to make this! But I don’t mind since I’ve always wanted one and I love this dish as well. The fragrant flavors of the turmeric and galangal marinaded fish and fresh dill goes so well together. This dish is a real crowd pleaser especially when you bring out the sizzling platter for all to enjoy.
• 1 lb of white fish fillets (traditionally catfish is used, but we prefer halibut or cod–but any meaty and flaky white fish will do)
• 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
• 1/4 teaspoon galangal powder (if not available at your Asian market, substitute ginger powder)
• 1 tbs minced garlic
• 1 tbs minced shallots
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon of fish sauce
• 4 tbs of olive oil
Combine olive oil, turmeric, galangal, garlic, shallots, salt, sugar, and fish sauce in large bowl and mix well. Cut the fish into smaller fillets and gently mix, and allow to marinade in the fridge for about 1 hour.
• 1 large red onion, sliced
• 1 cup of green onion cut about 1.5 inch segments
• 1 bunch of fresh dill coarsely chopped (thick stems removed)
• 1/4 cup of dry roasted peanuts, coarsely crushed
• 12 oz. bag of vermicelli noodles (boiled and drained)
• Fresh mints (rau thom), perilla (tia to), lettuce, Vietnamese balm (kinh gioi)
• Black sesame rice cracker (banh da)
Fermented Anchovy Sauce
• juice from approximately 3 limes
• 2 tablespoon of sugar
• 2 tablespoons of water
• 1 teaspoon of mam ruoc (fine shrimp paste)
• 1 teaspoon of minced garlic
• 1 teaspoon of chopped red chili or chili garlic paste
Traditionally this dish is dressed with a fermented shrimp paste sauce that is similar to mam nem (except without the crushed pineapples). This sauce is a bit more pungent (read stinky) than fish sauce but is prepared similar to nuoc mam dipping sauce. First start with the lime, sugar, and water making a bland lime-ade, then slowly add the shrimp paste, mix well and taste and adjust according to taste. The shrimp paste is much stronger then fish sauce so start small and slow. If you don’t care for this sauce and prefer nuoc mam dipping sauce, that’s not a problem at all.
Putting it all together…
Using the fajita skillet, saute the red and green onions with a bit of oil under medium low heat. At the same time have a separate non-stick skillet to cook the fish fillets about 3 minutes on each side until you get a nice golden opaque color and slight brown crust.
A minute or so before the fish is done, turn the fajita skillet to high and then place the cooked fillets on top of the sauteed onions and scallions. Remove from heat and generously top with fresh dill and roasted peanuts. Serve immediately with vermicelli noodles, fresh lettuce and herbs, black sesame rice crackers, and dress with your choice of dipping sauce.
Can you see the smoke and hear the sizzle?