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Catfish Two Ways – Canh Chua Ca and Ca Kho

21 Apr

I slipped into the comfort zone recently as, admittedly, I’ve been a bit overrun with twice weekly bootcamp and pool league on another night. Fortunately, I have only a couple of weeks left in the APA pool league, from which I plan to ‘retire’ after playoffs. As it happens, we’re currently in first place, meaning if we win the house we’ll continue on to Tri-Annuals or whatever tournament and I still have to be current. This is how they get me. Every time. Anyways, on to the food. Our dinner menu consisted of Canh Chua Ca (kahn chew-ah ka) Sour Fish Soup, and Ca Kho (ka k-oh) Caramel Fish.

Sweet and Sour Catfish Soup

Canh Chua Ca – Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup

Vietnamese Caramel Catfish and Cucumbers

Ca Kho – Caramel Catfish

Both recipes are in Andrea Nguyen’s cookbook, but I also referenced Wandering Chopstick’s soup recipe as he includes elephant ears – one of our favorite ingredients in the soup. More on that later.

For such complex flavors, there are actually very few ingredients. The soup is supposed to have a great tang with the tamarind base, layered with sweet and salty flavors all while being light and ‘bright’. Does that make any sense? It’s early, I’m watching F1 Bahrain and haven’t finished my coffee. Bear with me.

Ca Kho – Caramel Catfish

The recipe for the fish kho is nearly the same as for Ga Kho, caramel chicken, except it has black pepper, garlic and fatback. Sweet, sweet fatback. The catfish needs to marinate for 15 minutes before you start cooking, so prepare this first before you start chopping the veggies for the soup.

  • Catfish – have the fishmonger cut in 1″ steaks. next time I’m going boneless fillets. I can’t handle bones. 
  • Fatback – render oil and keep the cracklings in the dish
  • Scallions and garlic cloves
  • Brown Sugar
  • Black Pepper
  • Salt
  • Caramel Sauce (toldja you’d use this again – keep a container on hand!)
  • Fish Sauce

Mix the dry and wet ingredients in a bowl until they dissolve, then add the fish and toss well to coat. Set aside for 15 minutes.

Catfish marinating in caramel pepper sauce

Render the fatback and add the onion ends and garlic until fragrant. You can use another oil if you don’t have fatback on hand (which I did…). The fish needs some fat and oil to cool. The fatback gives the fish a really nice depth of flavor that I hadn’t had before. Very nice addition!

Fatback, onion, and garlic

Then add catfish and marinade to pan, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

catfish added to pan to cook

Next you add some water and cover again to continue simmering. The caramel sauce will start to develop as it bubbles away, but it thickens when you remove the lid to finish in the last 15. See what I mean? Wowzas. This smells ahmazing, too.

catfish in caramel sauce cooking

Serve immediately. With cucumbers of course. First dip captured – you have to sample the sauce, after all.

Tasting catfish caramel sauce with a cucumber

Canh Chua Ca – Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup

Ingredients for Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup or Canh Chua Ca

  • Water
  • Catfish – I purchased fillets for easier prep and tossed in the head from steaks used for the kho.
  • Tamarind Paste (many recommend making your own by steeping tamarind pulp, I found a concentrated version with only tamarind and water as the ingredients – blue canister in photo above)
  • Onion
  • Pineapple (I nabbed a fresh pineapple for this – so much better than canned and easy)
  • Okra – stemmed
  • Tomato – quartered, seeded and large chop
  • Bac Ha (Elephant Ears)
  • Bean sprouts
  • Fish Sauce
  • Sugar

The soup takes only 15 minutes or so to cook, so it’s best to get everything prepped while the kho is simmering away. Get it started at the last step when you remove the lid and let the sauce thicken.

These elephant ear stems are fantastic. My future mother-in-law grows this in her backyard, which I need to start doing. FreshWorld had the spongy stems pre-packaged. Here’s how you prepare them for the soup:

Get your trusty peeler ready –

Vegetable Peeler

This peeler pulls double duty with the julienne end.

Knick the edge of the stem to pull back the tough skin –

Elephant ear stem

Look at that spongy center!

Then you peel back the skin, just like a banana. It comes off easily and doesn’t strip the spongy flesh, which would happen if you used the peeler for the whole surface. Once peeled, slice diagonally and set aside to toss in soup.

Peeled and sliced elephant ear stems

You start the soup with water, tamarind concentrate, fish sauce, sugar, salt, sauteed onion and the fish head. Next goes the fish pieces and fresh pineapple to cook for a bit. A few minutes before serving, add the remaining vegetables until soft but not overdone. Pretty easy, huh?

It was tasty, but something was missing from the soup – we couldn’t tell if it needed more tamarind paste, sugar, fish sauce or just salt. Also it could have been that there were too many vegetables, which I normally wouldn’t think possible but it the broth was a bit thick.

Will have to consult my MIL and see what adjustments are needed.

In all, still a good meal!

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