Goodbye honeymoon bliss, hello stark reality. Following 12 days of carefree honeymooning Spain where everyday was an culinary adventure, the first thing we craved after a grueling trans-Atlantic and cross country flight back to Los Angeles was something homey, simple, and soupy. We expected a warmer welcome, but was greeted with cold, heavy rain, and even hail upon our return. To top it off, we were both feeling a bit under the weather so a therapeutic and comforting bowl of cháo (rice porridge or congee) was the first thing we made as soon as the jetlag wore off.
There are many different versions of cháo, but the most common are cháo gà (chicken), cháo lòng (pig offal/innards), and cháo cá (fish). Just as there are many varieties, there are just as many ways to make cháo. Some make a plan plain thick bland porridge and then add different types of broth and toppings. We present a very traditional southern way of making cháo cá, made famous in the Mekong delta region, known for its abudance of fish and sea life and floating markets.
You can use any type of firm white flesh fish, however the traditional fish used in the Mekong is cá lóc, the snakehead fish. We prefer using a whole fish (we used stripe bass. Also if you have frozen shrimp shells saved, use those too) to make stock, however fish filets are acceptable as well. The easy way would be to cut the fish into bite size pieces and add that to the porridge to cook, however the traditional way of making fish stock and sauteeing the flesh in garlic makes for a deeper and more soulful flavor and totally worth the extra effort.
This is our entry to Delicious Vietnam a blogging event to celebrate Vietnamese cuisine. This month’s event is hosted by the lovely couple, Ginger and Scotch at the eponymous blog Ginger and Scotch. Visit their blog for the complete round up!
Chao Ca Vietnamese Fish Porridge
Yield: 6 servings
1 cup jasmine long grain rice, rinsed and drained
1.5 liters or 6 cups of water
1.5 lb whole firm white fish such as snapper, stripe bass, cod, gutted and cleaned
1.5 ts kosher salt
2 large knob of peeled ginger divided: 1 sliced in chunks and crushed, the remainder thinly julienned
3 shallots (2 whole and 1 sliced thin)
3 cloves of minced garlic
1 medium onion peeled and quartered
2 tbs olive oil
quality fish sauce (such as Red Boat)
1/2 cup chopped green onion and cilatro
fresh cracked pepper
bean sprouts (optional)
Wash rice, drain in strainer or small holed collander, and set aside to dry.
In stock pot, bring to boil the whole fish, crushed ginger, whole shallots, onions along with 1.5 ts of salt. Boil about 5-8 minutes, or until the flesh is cooked. Carefully remove the fish and allow to cool. Reduce heat to medium low.
Meanwhile, in nonstick pan with heat on low, heat the olive oil and thinly sliced shallots along with the rice until its color becomes opaque and just slightly browned. Add the browned rice and shallots to the broth and continue to cook under medium heat, stirring occasionally.
Peel away the flesh of the fish and return the head, bones, and tail to the stock. Break up the flesh in chunks and season with a few dashes of fish sauce and pepper. Heat up another 1 tablespoon olive oil in same nonstick pan used to brown the rice and add minced garlic. When fragrant, quickly saute the fish chunks for a few minutes and season to taste.
By now, the rice should bloom and look like porridge. We enjoy a thick but not too thick porridge. You can add more water to thin it out if you like. Remove the remainder of the fish as well as ginger, onions, and shallots. Return the sauteed fish to the porridge and season to taste with salt or fish sauce.
Serve in soup bowls and garnish with green onions/cilantro, fried shallots, julienned ginger, and fresh cracked pepper. Top with fresh bean sprouts and enjoy!