Make Ahead

Chả Cá La Vong (Cha Ca)

March 13, 2021
1 Ratings
Photo by Paul B Kennedy
  • Prep time 25 minutes
  • Cook time 10 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

Cha: grilled (or fried), Ca: fish, La Vong: an ode to a former prime minister called La Vong, the Vietnamese pronunciation of Lu Wang.

To appreciate the complexity and beauty of Vietnam, you have to understand its cuisine. Cha Ca is a dish that used to be served to the troops and neighbors during French colonial rule. My recipe is inspired by its place of origin, its namesake, Cha Ca La Vong (14 Cha Ca Street) in Hanoi.

Cha Ca is unique to most dishes in Vietnam as it requires a two-part cooking process. It is typically prepared by partially grilling the fish and completing the dish tableside on a portable hotplate. If you happen to have a portable burner, it’s a great communal way to eat that also helps keep the food warm (move to hotplate before adding dill/spring onions). If not, it’s still a delicious meal that can be served both individually or family style, year round.
Paul B. Kennedy

What You'll Need
  • 6 ounces dry vermicelli rice noodles
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 2 tablespoons shallots, minced
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon galangal, fresh ground (1 inch fresh = 1 T fresh ground = 1 t ground) *don’t substitute ginger for galangal
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric, fresh ground (1 inch fresh = 1 T fresh ground = 1 t ground)
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon shrimp paste (optional)
  • FISH
  • 1.5 pounds fish, mild white, firm(monkfish, haddock, halibut, snapper, grouper, cod, tilapia, or catfish) cut into 1 1/2” pieces. Avoid flounder, swai, or sole as they may be too thin or too flaky.
  • 5 tablespoons water
  • 4 tablespoons lime juice, fresh squeezed
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Chile, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons cooking oil
  • rice flour or AP flour
  • salt & pepper
  • 14-16 sprigs spring onions cut into 1-2 inch pieces
  • 2 cups dill, coarsely chopped (thick stems removed)
  • 1/4 cup perilla leaves (whole), no stems
  • 1/4 cup mint leaves (whole), no stems
  • 1/4 cup Thai basil (whole), no stems
  • 1/4 cup roasted peanuts, skin off, unsalted
  1. Marinade: Place marinade ingredients into bowl or bag, making sure ingredients are mixed well. Add fish (1 ½ inch pieces), cover the dish or close the bag and place in the refrigerator 30 minutes – 45 minutes (no more, no less)
  2. Dipping sauce: Mix dipping sauce ingredients until sugar is dissolved. Set aside
  3. Boil vermicelli according to package. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
  4. Remove the fish from the marinade, placing the pieces on a paper towel, patting them dry.
  5. In a large nonstick pan (on the largest burner) add 3T cooking oil and heat over medium high, until the oil is shimmering, and you can smell the oil (before the smoking point).
  6. Quickly salt, pepper, then dredge the pieces in flour, shaking any loose flour off. Gently add fish to the pan with tongs. The oil should sizzle, not crackle. If it’s crackling, turn it down slightly. Cook until golden brown and cooked through (approx. 2-3 min per side or 4 -5 min total). Add the scallions and dill for about 30 seconds, remove from heat. Transfer to serving bowl.
  7. Serve family style for small or large groups: 1 bowl with vermicelli (room temp) 1 bowl with perilla, mint, thai basil leaves 1 bowl with fish, spring onions, dill 1 bowl with peanuts 1 bowl with dipping sauce
  8. Or plate and serve into four bowls: serve in the same order as listed above (vermicelli in the bowl first and drizzling dipping sauce on last)
  9. *Advanced Preparation Prepare marinade day before (do NOT add the fish until needed) Prepare dipping sauce up to 3 days before
  10. *Vegetarian option: Substitute firm tofu for fish Substitute fermented soybean paste for shrimp paste Substitute 50/50 pineapple juice/soy sauce for fish sauce

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