The first time I heard about Cha Ca La Vong, I was kind of grossed out. The combination of turmeric, pineapple and dill sounded about as tasty as orange juice and toothpaste. Then I had a bite and reconsidered. After 3 more bites, I was sold. Hooked. Smitten.
Justine, the chef who runs the kitchen where I work, gave me the lowdown on this crazy Vietnamese dish. She had the pleasure of touring Vietnam with her boss Charles Phan, owner of the Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco. Apparently in Hanoi, there is a street called Cha Ca La Vong, named after the original restaurant that created the dish. Now, the whole street is filled with restaurants that all sell the exact same dish - cha ca la vong.
Flaky white fish is bathed in a quick turmeric and fish sauce marinade after you whip up a frothy, spicy pineapple, turmeric, and lime sauce. After a quick sear on the fish, toss in scallions and dill, then serve the whole glorious golden mess over rice vermicelli.
This dish is fast. Like, crazy fast. And it will make you rethink anything you've ever wrinkled your nose at before trying it. Invest in some good quality Vietnamese fish sauce for this one.
Recipe adapted from the Slanted Door Cookbook by Charles Phan.
Cha Ca La Vong - Hanoi Fish with Turmeric, Pineapple and Dill
Prep Time: 20 min Cook Time: 10 min Total Time: 30 min
3 Tbs Vietnamese fish sauce or anchovy sauce
8 oz / 225 g diced fresh pineapple
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 Thai or serrano chile, stemmed and deseeded if you're watching the spice
1 Tbs sugar plus extra to taste
1 lb / 450 g cod or halibut
8 oz / 225 g dried rice vermicelli
4 Tbs canola oil
3 Tbs Vietnamese fish sauce
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 large bunch of scallions, ends trimmed, with white and light green parts cut into 2" lengths, then cut lengthwise into quarters
1 small bunch dill, fronds picked
handful of peanuts, chopped
Make the sauce: In a blender or mini food processor, combine all the sauce ingredients using juice of half a lime until smooth. Taste and add more sugar or lime juice as necessary.
Make the noodles and fish: Heat a medium saucepan of water to boiling.
While you're waiting, cut up the fish. Holding a sharp knife at a 45-degree angle, cut fish into slices about 1 1/4" thick. Combine oil, turmeric and fish sauce in a bowl, then add fish to coat. Marinate for 5-10 minutes.
Once water is boiling, add rice noodles and turn off the heat. Let sit for 5 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water, then hot water. Divide noodles among 4 bowls and top with a few spoonfuls of pineapple sauce.
Heat a large skillet over high heat until very hot, then add fish in a single layer. Cook for about 2 minutes, until lightly browned. Carefully flip fish and cook another minute. Add the scallions and dill and saute another 20 to 30 seconds, just until greens are wilted.
Divide fish among the 4 bowls. Garnish with peanuts and serve immediately, with extra pineapple sauce and any leftover lime wedges on the side.