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.
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.
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.
Ca Nuong Mo Hanh Roasted Catfish with Scallion Oil
3-5 lb catfish, cleaned white and butterflied
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
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
fresh herbs: mint, perilla, lettuce, basil, cucumbers, pickled carrots/daikon
nuoc mam cham or mam nem dipping sauce
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.