Ca Nuong Vietnamese Roasted Catfish

ca nuong roasted catfish

Ca nuong da don with hanh mo (scallion oil) was a grand surprise for our guests at our Foodbuzz 24 x 24 Spring Roll Party. Talk about a show stopper, a whole golden brown crispy catfish will surely grab everyone’s attention. We love the crispy skin and the moist meat inside marinated in a sea of ginger, shallots, garlic, and lemongrass. Top it off with a fragant hanh mo (scallion oil) and roasted peanuts you have an amazing presentation at the table. For a couple of the Thanksgivings, we even had whole roasted catfish instead of turkey.

The hardest part of this dish is cleaning the fish.  Fresh, live catfish is best because it has a fatty layer of skin that can stand up high temperature roasting.  If you don’t have access to live catfish, then previous frozen catfish will also work. Other fatty and meaty fishes such as salmon would also work great.  The catfish has a black outer layer of skin that needs to be cleaned off for best results–if you leave it on, you get a black roasted fish and the beautiful golden color just won’t show. Plus it’s a little more fishy smelling with the black skin on.

ca nuong
We’re fortunate that most of the markets in Little Saigon does this free of charge–just tell them to make the skin white and clean and butterfly the belly.  But if you don’t have the luxury, you can attempt to clean it at home–we’ve never done it ourselves but this is what the fish monger at the market does:  dip the catfish in boiling water for about 1 minute. Using a brillo pad, scrub off the black layer of the catfish.  When doing this, it’s helpful to have some good gloves to grip the fish.  Also, cut the fins and slit the belly and de gut it and butterfly it.  Yes, not terribly fun tasks but end result is worth it–at least, we hope to convince you it is.

ca nuong
The crispy skin is what our guests fight over. So to achieve this, you need to do three things–make vertical incisions about an inch or two apart just barely through the skin along the both sides of the fish–this relieves the tension on the skin when you roast–if you don’t do this, the skin will tear and rip.  The other key step is to use lots of honey.  Lather and bath the fish with lots of it to making the skin crispy and golden brown.  Finally, use a good nonstick roasting rack so that the fish is not swimming in it’s fatty juices.

The hardest part of making Vietnamese roasted catfish is prepping the fish, but once that’s done, it’s just a matter of marinading and following our simple tricks to make the skin crispy and meat moist. It’s not often we guarantee anything, but we guarantee you’ll impress your friends and family with ca nuong hanh mo and the end result will be quite similar to ours….

In case we don’t post again this week we want to wish all the fathers and father figures a Happy Father’s day–especially to our dads–our role models and heroes.

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Ca Nuong Mo Hanh Roasted Catfish with Scallion Oil

Ingredients:

3-5 lb catfish, cleaned white and butterflied

Marinade
2 tablespoon of fish sauce
2 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon of ginger
1 tablespoon of garlic
1 tablespoon of shallots
1 tablespoon of minced lemongrass
Additional 1/4 cup honey for lathering the fish

Toppings:
1 /4 cup of crushed roasted peanuts

Hanh Mo Scallion oil:
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 cup of chopped green onion
1/2 tbs minced ginger
1/2 tbs shallots
pinch salt

Accompaniments:
vermicelli noodles
rice paper
fresh herbs: mint, perilla, lettuce, basil, cucumbers, pickled carrots/daikon
nuoc mam cham or mam nem dipping sauce

Directions:

Combine all the ingredients in the marinade and mix well. The marinade does not need to be exact and we're very generous with our measurements with this dish. Pat dry your cleaned catfish and make the shallow slits along both sides of the body. Place fish in a large mixing bowl, generously lather it with about 1/4 cup of honey, both inside and out. Allow it to set for about 10 minutes or so and then slather on the marinade, making sure you work it in well, both on the body and inside the gut. Cover and allow to marinade in the fridge overnight or for at least 3-4 hrs.

While fish is marinating heat up the olive oil under low-medium heat and when hot, add the scallions, ginger, shallots, and pinch of salt and turn off heat. You don't want to cook it or fry it, just wilted and have the flavors infuse in the oil and set aside.

About 30 minutes before roasting, preheat oven for 400 degrees and remove the fish from the fridge to allow it to get close to room temperature. During this time, get your peanuts ready to roast and roast in a cookie tray for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and coarsely crush.

Line a roasting pan with foil--we highly recommend using a nonstick roasting rack which allows the fat from the fish to drip away and keep the skin crispy, not soggy. Place fish on rack and in the middle rack of the oven. Roasting time will vary depending how big your fish is--but for 3 lb fish takes about 45 minutes. Bake until skin is mildy brown then during the last 5 minutes, turn the oven on broil for that extra dark golden crispy skin. But keep a watchful eye as you do not want the skin to burn. Remove from oven and carefully transfer to serving platter when fish has cooled slightly.

Top the fish with the generous amounts of scallion oil and roasted peanuts. The traditional way of enjoying this dish is in a rice paper roll-- serve it family style with vermicelli and fresh veggies and have guests make their own rolls. For guests that don't want to roll, they can have this dish as a noodle bowl instead.

Cooks Note: Other fatty and meaty fishes such as salmon would also work great.

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68 Responses to “Ca Nuong Vietnamese Roasted Catfish”

  1. 1

    blindhysteria — June 16, 2010 @ 8:09 am

    OMG that looks delicious. Definitely something I'd have to wait a few months to eat cuz I won't be able to even attempt this in my small Japanese apartment.

  2. 2

    5 Star Foodie — June 16, 2010 @ 1:18 pm

    The crispy crust with scallion oil and peanuts sounds awesome! Your scallion oil is sure a must try!

  3. 3

    Ravenous Couple — June 16, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

    blindhysteria and 5 star foodie: thanks! lately cat fish has been our favorite thing to roast.

  4. 4

    Lan — June 16, 2010 @ 3:29 pm

    you guys are AWESOME! I LOVE YOU!

  5. 5

    Connie — June 16, 2010 @ 3:43 pm

    Wow, wow, wow. I love catfish and yours looks absolutely gorgeous and mouthwatering. I love the presentation and flavors, I can taste the crispy skin just looking at the picture! Would so love to eat this right now…

  6. 6

    krissy @ thefoodaddicts.com — June 16, 2010 @ 6:53 pm

    good stuff, guys! so glad we were able to eat this at your party. my mom's been wanting to make this for the longest time, but she's not an oven-user, so i'm going to have to step in and make this for my familia soon! i like the last shot of the fish and bones!

  7. 7

    sweetmango — June 16, 2010 @ 7:27 pm

    I recently learn how to make Ca Nuong a few months ago. We have it at least once a month. It is healthy eating! :) I follow the same recipe like you posted but added bacon and shreded jicama on top of the fish.

    We like to get a small catfish about 3 lbs. The meat is prefect and tender. If you get one that is bigger the meat is tougher.

  8. 8

    Fresh Local and Best — June 16, 2010 @ 7:51 pm

    I like seeing that picture of the fish cleaned to the bone. I've never clean a cat fish, although have seen my mom do it plenty of times. She never used the method of quick blanching before scrubbing. I'm stunned with the clean white results. I ought to bring home a cat fish just to see if I can accomplish the same.

  9. 9

    TS of eatingclub vancouver — June 16, 2010 @ 9:05 pm

    I've never seen whole catfish here, even frozen. Hmm, maybe we should check out Vietnamese supermarkets. In any case, that removing of the black outer skin sounds like a lot of work! I wonder if the frozen ones come cleaned and white already.

  10. 10

    Ravenous Couple — June 16, 2010 @ 9:29 pm

    Lan: hope your family enjoys it. Send us questions on FB if you run into trouble!

    Krissy: Hope she likes it!

    Sweetmango: Wow, bacon and jicama topping sounds like a great variation!

    Christine: The whitened skin does make a difference. We get so pampered here in OC because the fish monger does it for free!

    TS: Yes, many Vietnamese markets do carry whole live catfish…whether they make it white or not is another issue. Not sure about frozen catfish.

  11. 11

    Jessica Lee Binder — June 16, 2010 @ 10:20 pm

    Nice! What a centerpiece – 3lb whole fish! I'll keep this in mind for a little party.

  12. 12

    Forager — June 17, 2010 @ 12:42 am

    Wow! I've never eaten catfish (not normally used in Chinese dishes) but this looks amazing and so tasty! I've never seen a catfish with the black skin taken off – they look so ghostly white!

  13. 13

    Ravenous Couple — June 17, 2010 @ 4:54 am

    Jessica: We actually had 2 3lb fish for a party of 5 and it was finished clean!

    Forager: yes, the catfish is so white and that helps with the golden brown color–you won't get that if you leave the black part on.

  14. 14

    sijeleng — June 17, 2010 @ 6:05 am

    Thanks for posting this. I'll have to see if they'll skin it at the local market. I've known people to skin catfish by nailing the head to a plank and then stripping the skin with pliers; the technique you describe, especially having the fish mongers do it, sounds much less gruesome. Fantastic looking dish!

  15. 15

    WizzyTheStick — June 18, 2010 @ 1:18 am

    this sounds delicious. Catfish is not popular here so I may not find it. What other fish could I use as a substitute?

  16. 16

    Kung Food Panda — June 18, 2010 @ 10:20 am

    Oh ya, that looks effing delicious!!

  17. 17

    Tricia — June 18, 2010 @ 7:49 pm

    I had this once when I was living in LA. That' catfish cost us $60!!!

    Can't wait to try this at home!I bet my family will love this!

  18. 18

    Ravenous Couple — June 18, 2010 @ 8:52 pm

    sijeling: yes, we've read about that nail on the plank, but the brillo pad seems more humane.. :)

    wizzythestick: if catfish isn't avaiable, choose a meaty white fish that can with stand roasting.

    KFP: Thanks!

    Tricia: Ca nuong is much cheaper to make at home..let us know how it goes!

  19. 19

    Tiny Urban Kitchen — June 20, 2010 @ 4:34 am

    Wow, I am soooo impressed. I have never cooked a whole fish before, but man, seeing your fish makes me think it might be worth it to try it at home!

  20. 20

    vincent — June 21, 2010 @ 7:34 pm

    Tried this over the weekend for fathers day. OMG the marinade and scallion oil really made it stand out. Everyone was loving it. Thanks guys

  21. 21

    Ravenous Couple — June 21, 2010 @ 7:51 pm

    Jen: would a Sous vide whole fish work?! ;)

    Vincent: Yah!! So glad your family enjoyed this dish for father's day!

  22. 22

    Jen Cheung — June 22, 2010 @ 12:41 am

    hello there :)
    stumble upon your blog! lovely blog you have here. Found you on foodbuzz :) Will be dropping by more often! Feel free to save me on your blogroll :) Happy summer!

    Jen

  23. 23

    Justin — June 22, 2010 @ 11:02 am

    wow, that's am incredible-looking dish. what's funny to me is that i don't think i've ever seen a whole, raw catfish like that, even though i've bought catfish plenty of times before and cooked with it. but it's usually cut into small pieces in my local fish markets, for using in things like soups or deep-frying it. (i LOVE deep-fried catfish with hot sauce.)

  24. 24

    Bonnibella — June 23, 2010 @ 1:51 am

    Amazing! I was always scared to attempt this. However, your techniques makes it so simple.

  25. 25

    nikkipolani — June 27, 2010 @ 10:58 pm

    My mom made this last night with your instructions and it came out fantastic. Definitely will make again. Thank you!

  26. 26

    TofuCustard — July 18, 2010 @ 6:28 am

    My mum and me just made this tonight! It came out so delicious, my mum thought it would be to sweet from all that honey but she was wrong! :) We're definitely gonna use the marinade with different types of fish for ca nuong.

  27. 27

    Anonymous — January 7, 2011 @ 6:28 am

    Is vinegar used for a crispy skin

  28. 28

    Ravenous Couple — January 7, 2011 @ 10:56 pm

    @anonymous: we found the best way is combination of honey and high broil at the end for crispy skin.

  29. 29

    clare — April 27, 2011 @ 12:15 am

    do you slice the fish in vertical halves before marinating? or after its been grilled?

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — April 27th, 2011 @ 8:46 am

      Yes, make the vertical slits before marinating–the slits are important because it allows the fish to expand so that the skin doesn’t tear apart during cooking.

  30. 30

    Jack Smith — May 11, 2011 @ 5:30 am

    Your thorough explanations and clear photos are one of the many reasons I love your recipes. The two of you are easy to talk with and have been very helpful. I have become more creative lately with my recipes because your ingredients and techniques inspire me to take chances.

    I also love the fact that you include your parents, and discuss the history of your dishes. Keep up the great work.

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — May 11th, 2011 @ 7:19 am

      thank you so much, do let us know how these recipes go for you and show it off on our fb page

  31. 31

    Ngoc — May 14, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

    Love it! Thanks so much for many yummy recipes!

  32. 32

    jujubefruit — November 10, 2011 @ 1:05 am

    awesome recipe and tips. thank-you.

  33. 33

    Mindy Nguyen — December 3, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

    Hi! I love your website, I just wanted to add that it would be a nice touch if this recipe included a sauce recipe also. Thanks for posting these recipes, they are much easier to follow than my mother’s lol

  34. 34

    enokii — December 9, 2011 @ 7:03 pm

    I was wondering which fishmonger in the OC do you get your catfish for this recipe from? I really want to try this for the coming holiday but I am worried I won’t be able to achieve the white skin effect. If the fishmonger is willing to do it for me so much the better.

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — December 12th, 2011 @ 5:52 pm

      you can go to most asian markets in little saigon (saigon city, abc etc) and they’ll do this for you. good luck!

  35. 35

    iilenglengii — December 26, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

    I’m a long time reader of your blog and have tried several fantastic recipes, but this was by far the best. The fish came out perfectly and was delicious. I added fried garlic to the scallion oil and everyone loved it. Thanks for the awesome recipes!

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — December 29th, 2011 @ 7:03 pm

      we’re so glad, thank you for letting us know and post photos on our fb page for us to drool over!

  36. 36

    tien — January 2, 2012 @ 12:29 pm

    great recipe , sooo goood just had it last night haha

  37. 37

    juan — January 6, 2012 @ 3:03 pm

    I have tried making this recipe before, after having the fish at FAVORI with fellow students from LB State. I failed miserably. The fish tasted good, but what makes this dish is the crackling like texture of the skin. My fish was soggy and wet, as I did not follow the technique described in your recipe. After taking some family to favori less than a week ago I thought I would try again.

    Do you dry the fish after it has beed marinated? Do you give it a second rub down of honey right before roasting? I want to make sure I can replicate the crunchy texture.

    For those of you who have not had the pleasure eating this dish. The best way to descrbe the texture of the skin is creme brulee crust.

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — January 9th, 2012 @ 3:06 pm

      drying the skin would probably help. yes, we do rub it with the marinade even during the roast. let use know how it goes!

  38. 38

    Mai — January 10, 2012 @ 7:04 pm

    I just made this dish and sadly it did not turn out as I expected. I followed the directions faithfully yet I ended up with rubbery skin and tough meat. I’m trying to figure out what I did wrong.

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — January 10th, 2012 @ 7:14 pm

      sorry to hear that. sometimes the quality of the catfish matters, did you get yours fresh or frozen?

  39. 39

    Mai — January 10, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

    When you say fresh, do you mean live? I think mine may have previously been frozen. The catfish comes in boxes and are placed on display on a bed of ice. I am definitely going to try this recipe again.

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — January 10th, 2012 @ 7:25 pm

      yes, definitely live–we’ve tried it once w/ frozen and it turned out bad so we never used frozen.

  40. 40

    Mai — January 10, 2012 @ 7:27 pm

    Another question, when you say butterfly the catfish, do you mean to slit it down the belly so the entire body lies flat like a sting ray?

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — January 10th, 2012 @ 7:29 pm

      yes, just like in the photo. The fish butcher can do it for you, think it also involves snapping some bones.

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — January 10th, 2012 @ 7:30 pm

      this is so that it cooks more evenly and not one part of the fish is thicker/closer to the heat than the rest

  41. 41

    Mai — January 10, 2012 @ 7:34 pm

    Ohh gotcha. that’s what I had them do. Thanks for the responses!

  42. 42

    Tolan Tran — January 23, 2012 @ 5:39 am

    My mom this but would stuff it with beanthread noodles, earwood mushrooms,shitake mushrooms,galanga,dried scallions, and some ground pork. I never attempted to ask for this recipe , and didn’t know honey was in it, Is that anoter dish entirely?

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — January 23rd, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

      stuffing it is one variation that some people do and it’s delicious

  43. 43

    Sarah — January 23, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

    So I’ve tried this recipe a couple of times now following directions to a T and optimistic that I’ll end up with crispy skin, but somehow mine ends up similar to previous posters with tough or rubbery skin. The meat inside is moist and delicious though. I am using a live fish and so I can’t figure out what the problem might be. Have any other readers had success and can share tips?

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — January 28th, 2012 @ 4:51 pm

      hi sarah, sorry to hear the skin didn’t turn out right. some readers report great success and others not so. we’re not sure but for us the best success is high heat and combination of marinating laquering the skin w/ the honey marinade during cooking…

  44. 44

    T&T — April 16, 2012 @ 8:01 am

    To get the catfish to white skin use warm water and half cup of vinegar in the sink fill it to the top of the catfish for about 5-10 minutes after that use the sponge to clean it.

  45. 45

    Casey — June 13, 2012 @ 10:03 pm

    Thank you for your site! The marinade for this was perfect, will look forward to trying your other recipes! Also, lovely, lovely photos- thank you! :)

  46. 46

    Christine Chuong — June 21, 2012 @ 8:53 pm

    Just the past weekend I made Ca Nuong, following your recipe,when my in-laws came from Japan and it turned out awesome! They were really enjoyed the meal and very impressed with our Vietnamese cuisine. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe with all of us:)

  47. 47

    Asian Food Lovers Gift Guide — December 3, 2012 @ 8:01 am

    [...] and deliciously healthy. It’s our go to snack or appetizer in a multi-course meal such as ca nuong or nem nuong cuon. A rice paper dipping tray such as New Star International fits the bill [...]

  48. 48

    Bktarch — December 14, 2012 @ 3:05 pm

    I used freshwater whitebass. 2 small ones about 1.5 lb each. Followed the instructions but the skin didnt crisp :(

  49. 49

    Loan — December 28, 2012 @ 11:12 am

    going to make this dish again tonite to bring to our friend’s house. first time I made it, everyone in the family LOVE it. we are Vietnamese and live in San Jose and I’ve tried a lot of ca nuong around here and i must say your recipe is far beyond delicious. Thanks so much for sharing great recipes!!! I’ll check out your website more often for others.

  50. 50

    john — January 20, 2013 @ 9:28 pm

    I have tried and failed to get the skin crispy. The fish taste great, but the skin is rubbery. Have tried all previous recommendations taking off muck, drying the skin, using fresh catfish, glazing with honey, etc. I even found another recipe that calls for using a mixture of egg, hoisin, butter, and honey for the glaze to broil the fish, with no luck. I have come to the conclusion that in order to get the skin crispy the fish must be fried. Broiling the fish creates steam under the skin making it impossible to crisp. Maybe It needs to be finished off in the broiler to stick on the coating. Or maybe they laquer on the honey at the end and drop back in the hot oil. I am going to keep on experimenting, but can you give me any direction? The skin makes the dish, cannot rest until I get it right.

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — January 24th, 2013 @ 4:14 pm

      are you using a rack? it’s important to render the fat from the skin and let juices flow away from the fish. granted it may never be as crispy as the restaurants, but shoudlnt’ really be rubbery.

  51. 51

    john — January 27, 2013 @ 2:50 pm

    I tried again. I found out the catfish I was buying was previously frozen, even though they were telling me it was fresh. I went to a store that had live catfish with better results. The skin was crispier, but not like the restaurant. I bought a couple of fish to experiment, and found the skin gets crispier if you completely dry the fish and not use the marinade while you broil. I didn’t use a rack, but will try that next. The fish started having a closer resemblance to the restaurant version. I will continue to experiment. Maybe the restaurants have a special oven.

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — January 29th, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

      yes, fresh vs. previously frozen makes a big difference. also, you’re right, the dryer the skin, the better for browning and crisping. a rack will keep the skin dry as the fat and juices will fall away.

  52. 52

    Phuc — March 21, 2014 @ 7:49 pm

    YOU ROCK!!!

    NOTE : I am a single guy who cooks pasta like once a month.

    Followed your recipe and the fish came out pretty spectacular. Made it for my visiting parents and brothers. They devoured it and asked if my girlfriend showed how to cook this dish. Told them I had some help from friends in the OC. :-)

    A few things I did notice that I would like to pass along. Always get fresh fish! I went and got fresh live catfish and had it cleaned. Man the meat was firm and sweet. I have to attribute it to the freshness of the fish. Secondly, I did get a larger fish (5.5 lbs). Even though the skin was crunchy it was kind of rubbery. I think this might be because the fish was larger and possibly older hence the tough skin. Yes I had the skin whitened. Next time will probably try and get two smaller fish instead of one big fish. I hope this info helps others.

    Thanks again for a great recipe. :-)

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — March 23rd, 2014 @ 8:45 pm

      thanks for the feedback! all your tips are spot on. We prefer medium size fishes as its easier to handle too.

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