I don’t often deep-fry, because it tends to make the whole house smell like oil. But this recipe looked fairly simple and different, so I thought I’d give it a try. This is cod (any white fish really, I just used cod b/c it was on sale when I went to the store today) tossed in rice flour and turmeric and deep-fried until golden brown. The fish is then topped with a lightly sauteed mixture of dill, mint, cilantro and peanuts, and drizzled with nuoc cham me dipping sauce. The fish was fried quickly and with very little flour coating, so it didn’t absorb much oil at all and came out very light-tasting.
Nuoc cham me dipping sauce is a recipe I found online – in other words, I’m not certain if it is very authentic or very common, but it tastes good! It uses tamarind as the sour component, instead of the lime juice and/or rice vinegar that is found in basic nuoc cham. Tamarind is a legume tree fruit, and can be purchased as small blocks of dried pulp in Asian or Latino markets. I first encountered tamarind when I was in Central America, where it is also a popular fruit. To make the nuoc cham me sauce, I soaked a small piece of pulp in boiling water for about 15 minutes until it was soft, then pressed the resulting liquid through a sieve. The other components of the sauce are the same as traditional nuoc cham – sugar, thai red pepper, and fish sauce. The tang of this sauce was a nice balance with the fish and herbs in this dish.
The book I got the fish recipe from, Authentic Vietnamese Cooking, called the dish Cha ca thang long translated as Hanoi fried fish with dill. From looking at other pictures of Cha ca thang long on the internet, I don’t think I used enough herbs! In Vietnamese cooking, herbs are more like a side salad than a garnish, used in very large quantities. It surprised me to learn that dill is commonly used in Vietnamese cooking, since it is not an herb that I’ve come across previously in Vietnamese restaurants or in any of my Asian food explorations. But that just goes to show that I am actually learning some things in my deeper explorations of Vietnamese cuisine! Here’s a photo from a friend of mine, Harold – who was in Hanoi recently. This looks to me like the same basic dish, except that the fish appears to be whole. Notice the large pieces of dill and scallion and the baguette on the side (see my previous post about French influences).