Saturday, September 18, 2010

Bun' cha ca' (Vietnamese fish and noodle dish)

This recipe is from Thuy, Tin's mom.  It's quite easy, healthy, and above all, tasty.  A lot of the dishes we order at Vietnamese restaurants are somewhat heavy - either in a creamy sauce or friend.  But in this dish, the catfish is in a light marinade and grilled, and the flavors come from herbs and nuoc mam', the typical fish sauce based dipping sauce.  Most of the ingredients should be available at a well-stocked grocery store - the King Soopers near us has everything except the galangal.  Galangal is a root that looks like ginger, but is not as spicy.
There are 5 components to the dish: rice noodles, grilled catfish, sauteed onions and dill, and finally the toppings: nuoc mam' and peanuts.  First, here is the full list of ingredients, separated out by component.  This is about the right amount for 6 people.

1 package thin rice noodles (vermicelli, something that looks like this, 1 pound or 500 g)

4 fillets of catfish (catfish seems to vary dramatically in size, you want about 2 pounds for 6 people)
1 t. turmeric
1/2 inch grated or finely minced galangal (if you can't find any, you could use a smaller amount of ginger or a squeeze of lemon or lime juice - it'll be a little different but that's okay) 
1 T. olive oil

1 large yellow onion
1 large bunch fresh dill

1 T. lemon juice
2 T. sugar
2 T. concentrated nuoc mam' (we have the brand second from the left in this photo)
4 T. water

Roasted unsalted peanuts, slightly crushed

1.  Start with the catfish: slice the fillets into pieces that are about 1.5 - 2 inches by 4 - 5 inches... this doesn't need to be exact, but try to make the pieces relatively uniform so they cook evenly.
2.  Place the fish in a zip-lock bag with the turmeric, galangal and olive oil and marinate for 1 hour.
3.  While it's marinating, cut up the onions and dill, prepare the nuoc mam', and put a pot of water on the stove to boil for the noodles.   Slice the onion very thinly, and set aside.  Separate the fronds of the dill from the thick stems and slice into 1 inch pieces; set aside separately.
4.  For the nuoc mam', combine the lemon juice, sugar, concentrated nuoc mam', and water in jar and shake.
5.  Cook the rice noodles according to the package directions.
6.  Heat a little olive oil, and sautee the onions until they are softened.  Add the dill and stir for about a minute more, allowing the dill to wilt.
7.  Pre-heat a grill (or broiler), and once the catfish is done marinating, place the pieces on the grill and watch closely.  Depending on how thick the pieces are and how hot your grill is, it may only take a few minutes per side.
8.  Serve!  Put some noodles in your bowl, followed by a piece of fish (or two), veggies, peanuts, and a few spoonfuls of nuoc mam'.

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