Today I am sharing with you one of the most famous soup in Vietnamese family meals, “Canh Chua Cá.” It is always eaten with cooked rice with or without other side dish. This dish can be made with shrimp or chicken and it is name by the main protein source of the dish. Canh Chua “Cá” is made with fish. Canh Chua “Tôm” is made with shrimp. Canh Chua “Gà” is made with chicken. “Chua” means sour taste is produced by using a combination of pineapple, tomato and tamarind pulp or some sour leaves likes “La Gang”, “La bo”, young tamarind leaves or young/green tamarind.
This dish is the main reason for me to start the blog. Five years ago, my son got accepted to the Bridge Year Program at Princeton University. He went to Ghana with four other students to learn and volunteer in local community service. He missed home cooked meals so bad that he wanted to learn how to cook and this is the first dish he made oversea with mom’s instruction by phone and email. When I asked him how it tasted, he told me “It tasted like home”
In Vietnam, freshwater fish likes Cá lóc ” Snakehead fish” and Cá Bông Lau “Basa” is popular for this soup but any wild seawater white fish can be used. I found salmon flavor is a little overwhelmed but they are good too. We are blessed with American Shad here in Oregon. They are bony with a delicate flavor. I use a whole shad to make a pot of soup here but in Vietnam, we bought a whole fish about 1-2 lb and used the head and tail for soup and the trunk was used to deep fried or braised to feed the whole family of 4-5 people in a day. More people, add more water and adjust taste with sugar, tamarind, and fish sauce. No, I am not kidding.
Vietnamese kids can eat bony fish by themselves unless when they are really young. Is it amazing, isn’t it?
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 1b American Shad , or trout, or steelhead/salmon head and tail, scales/gills removed, cleansed
1 medium pineapple, peeled, cored, eyes removed (brown prickly pines), cut in small cubes
2 large tomatoes, cut each into 6 wedges
2 ribs of celery, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices on the bias
1 package (2-3 pieces) Bac ha, peeled, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices on the bias
1 package (3/4-1 lb) of okra, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices on the bias or 1 inch pieces
2 Tablespoon tamarind pulp (seedless)
1 tsp kosher salt or 1/2 tsp table salt
1 tablespoon sugar plus extra for taste
5 Tablespoon fish sauce, divided
2 Red Thai chili, seeded and thinly sliced
2.5 liter water about (10 cups)
1/2 lb bean sprout, washed
A small bunch of Cilantro, sawtooth, rice paddy herbs, washed, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Cook rice to serve
Extra fish sauce, lime juice and chili pepper to serve
- Heating oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add garlic, shallot, stir until fragrant. Add pineapple, stir a few minutes to coat them with oil. Sprinkle sugar, salt over pineapple, stir well. Add tomato, stir to mix tomato with pineapple. Add water and bring to a boil. Add fish and bring it back to a boil again. Then reduce heat to gently simmer, add 3 tablespoon fish sauce, tamarind pulp, chili pepper. Cover, simmer about 20-30 minutes. Taste and add more sugar or fish sauce if needed. It should taste a little salty like soup with a hint of sweetness and sour.
- Add okra, bac ha, celery, mix well. Continue gently boiling until veggies are tender and crisp (feel a crunch when bite it ) a few more minutes. Add herbs, bean sprout, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Remove from heat.
- Transfer the fish into a plater. Laddle veggies and broth in the large serving bowl, serve with cooked rice in a multiple course meal. A small bowl of pure fish sauce with thinly sliced red chili and lime juice is use to dip the fish.