This is my take on the Vietnamese classic Cha Ca La Vong. Cha Ca means grilled fish and “La Vong” was inspired by a local statue of Jiang Ziya, also known as Lu Wang (pronounced as La Vong in Vietnamese), the fisherman-turned-politician who symbolized the potential for patient, talented people.
I just love the combination of ingredients – fish that is flavoured with turmeric, lemon grass, tamarind and fish sauce and served with soft cold noodles, fresh and vibrant herbs and some crunchy peanuts. I used our local New Zealand fish warehou but any white fleshed firm fish like blue cod would work well.
750 – 800g of firm white fish like monk or warehou or ling fillets
1 heaped teaspoon turmeric powder
2 tablespoons crushed lemon grass (I used ground frozen lemon grass)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 tablespoon tamarind puree mixed with 3 tablespoons warm water
1 red chilli
50g rice flour
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
4 tablespoons vegetable oil for frying
8-9 spring onions
180g rice vermicelli noodles
50g roasted peanuts, chopped
25g mixed herbs leaves only (nasturtiums, mint, Vietnamese mint, coriander, and Thai sweet basil)
Vietnamese Dipping sauce (nuoc cham)
Cut the fish into 4 centimetre pieces. Put the first lot of turmeric, lemon grass, fish sauce, sugar, curry powder and chilli along with a tablespoon of water in a small spice grinder and blend to a smooth paste. Stir in the tamarind water and pour into a shallow dish. Add the pieces of fish, then turn them over to coat well, and leave to marinate for 1 hour.
Place noodles in a medium sized heat proof bowl and pour water from a freshly boiled jug of water onto the dried noodles. Let soak for 15 minutes. Drain and wash in plenty of cold water and drain again. Transfer to four serving bowls.
Put the peanuts in a small bowl, the mixed herbs (washed and prepared) into another bowl, and the nuoc cham into 4 separate dipping saucers.
Meanwhile, trim the spring onions and cut them into 4-5 centimetre lengths and keep them ready.
Mix the rice flour, turmeric and a good pinch of salt into a bowl. Scrape off any visible bits of lemon grass, etc. from the fish pieces and toss them around until well coated. Heat the oil in a medium sized frying pan, add the pieces of fish and shallow fry for about 5 minutes, turning now and then, until crisp, golden brown and cooked through. Add the spring onions to the pan and leave to cook for 1 minute until wilted.
Divide the fish pieces amongst the noodle bowls. Spoon the oil along with spring onions. Place a few salad leaves on top of the fish and sprinkle the peanuts. Drizzle the nuoc cham or advise your guests to dip their fish as they go along. Serves 4.
Vietnamese Dipping sauce or Nuoc cham
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon very finely chopped ginger
1 birds eye chilli, very finely chopped
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
Dissolve the sugar in two tablespoons water. Mix all other ingredients.