They can’t all be winners

10 Jul

Long time no speak! Sorry about that, guys. Last Sunday marked two months to the Big Day and I must say, things are certainly gathering steam. Unfortunately that means less time for the grocery store, much less for the kitchen.

I did, however, attempt a dish this weekend I’ve been meaning to try. The bright yellow color and fragrant dill sounds like such a great combination I was really looking forward to Cha Ca Thang Long, Vietnamese fish with turmeric and dill.

Vietnamese Fish with Dill and Turmeric

The finished product. Neither of us touched the fine shrimp paste dipping sauce…

There is little consistency among the recipes I found online and in my trusty Andrea Nguyen tome. All include turmeric and dill, obviously, but some versions include mam ruoc (fine shrimp paste), others fish sauce, some salt. Andrea’s marinade was simpler and included sour cream, which after my preparation I think is a good bet to temper the saltiness.

Anyways, I essentially made my own hybrid recipe with inputs from Wandering Chopsticks, Ravenous Couple and Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. 

My marinade included the following:

  • Turmeric powder
  • Galangal powder (you can substitute fresh grated ginger or powdered)
  • Fish Sauce
  • Fine shrimp paste
  • Salt and sugar
  • Olive Oil

You combine these things and marinate the fish for an hour – don’t bother following my ratios, because it was all wrong. Next time I will be adding NO salt – it had way more than was necessary, and I’ll also be vigilant about marinating for only an hour. Mine stayed in the fridge for a couple of hours as I got distracted doing something for the wedding (I’m sure).

Ingredients for Vietnamese Turmeric and Dill fish

Isn’t this pretty? The color is gorgeous and it smelled amazing.

Marinated cod

Now here’s where it got weird. Several sites called for a dipping sauce made with limes and fine shrimp paste. Why the dish needs more pungent flavors, I have no idea. Anyhow, I did it following Wandering Chopsticks lead and mixed it up. See those fresh herbs from our garden? We have Thai Basil for days and it’s amazing, except that I haven’t been cooking as often. Anyone want to swing by for fresh herbs?

Dipping sauce and fresh herbs

See those Tabasco peppers? Yep. Those are from our garden, too.

Cooking the fish is super fast since it’s already in smaller pieces. The authentic way to prepare and serve has you finish the fish on a sizzling cast iron surface (think fajitas). I didn’t feel like breaking out the cast iron pots so just skipped this step.

Using a non-stick skillet or fry pan, heat up some olive oil and add the fish. Cook for a few minutes until the bottom is brown and fish cooked about half way through then flip. When the fish is almost fully cooked, add fresh chopped dill (about 1/2 a cup or more) and scallions (4-5  chopped) and cook a couple minutes more.

Fish with dill and scallions

The aromas are amazing…too bad the taste wasn’t as good.

The one great thing that came of this dish was the discovery of the sesame shrimp cakes that I love in restaurants. I went in to Phuoc Qua and asked the owners where they are – my description of “the crackers you eat with the baby clam appetizer” did the trick. They turned up these bad boys that have black sesame AND dried shrimps. All you do is pop them in the microwave for a couple of minutes and the magically puff and grow.

Black Sesame and Shrimp crackers

This one got a bit overcooked, but I learned for the next ones! Obviously I was hungry, snacking on the Nong Shim spicy Shrimp Crackers. Yum.

So there you have it. Serve with greens and herbs and rice. Maybe I’ll try this again soon, but the Mr. didn’t like the flavors even accounting for the ridiculous saltiness.

At least I got my shrimp crackers.

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