* Cha Ca — Salmon in Tumeric and Dill Oil

Posted on September 10th, 2008 by Linda. Filed under Cilantro, Cuisine, Dill, Entree, Fish, Fish sauce, Galangal, Green onions, Herbs, Mint, Pork, Rau Ram, Salmon, Street Foods, Tumeric, Vietnamese.

This picture was taken eons ago on my first gen digital camera…before I got my VR lens and my D70.  But the memory of that meal at Cha Ca La Vong in Hanoi is still as vivid as ever.  You climb this steep stairs, or more aptly called, a ladder, to get to the second floor of this nondescript shop lot in the old town of Hanoi.  As immediately as you sit down, a charcoal stove appears, together with a variety of Asian herbs and a simmering pan of bright orange tumeric oil.  This was the most simple and memorable meal I had in Hanoi.  I was heady with the smell of turmeric, dill, rau ram and all the wonderful Vietnamese herbs and the sweet smell of fried fresh fish.  Or was it the carbon monoxide from the numerous charcoal stoves in the room that was making me giddy?  I have tried to reproduce the recipe based on that memorable meal sans charcoal.

Chef’s tip: Make sure you have everything mise-en-place before you start cooking. The cooking itself literally takes minutes.  Traditionally, the freshwater snakehead fish is used.  Catfish or tilapia is a good substitute.  I like it with the more fatty salmon.

And here’s an updated picture 10 years later.

3 inches of galangal – Thai ginger
2 Tablespoons water
2 Tablespoon fish sauce
3 Tablespoon tumeric powder
1 Tablespoon rice wine
1 Tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon grapeseed/ safflower oil

1 ½ lb fresh salmon (tilapia or catfish works well, too)

1 (4 oz) package of thin rice vermicelli, cooked and drained

8 approx. 2”X4” pieces of butter/green lettuce leaf, ribs removed
12 sprigs mint, chiffonade
1 bulb of fennel, thinly sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
½ bunch cilantro, tear into smaller sprigs
½ bunch of green onions, julienned, separate white from green
1 cup Rau Ram – polygonum (Vietnamese Mint), chiffonade
1 cup Fresh basil, chiffonade

1 lb dill, stemmed, cut into 3 inch strip
1 ½ cups of grapeseed/ safflower oil

Nuac Mam:
1 red chile, diced finely / 1 tablespoon Sri Racha sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 Tablespoons sugar
Juice of 1 lime
2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
4 Tablespoons water
2 Tablespoons fish sauce

½ cup roasted peanuts
2 limes, cut into wedges

Preparing the Fish:
1.    Grate galangal and mix with 2 tablespoons warm water, squeeze juice and discard solids.
2.    Whisk together marinade ingredients with galangal juice
3.    Cut salmon into 1 inch cubes and marinate fish for at least a half hour.
Preparing the vegetables and rice vermicelli:
4.    Bring a pot of water to boil.  Drop rice vermicelli in, bring to boil again. Cover for 15 minutes.  Drain and fluff.  Place in the middle of a large platter.
5.    Wash and clean all vegetables, spin to dry.
6.    Sliced fennel and onion finely. Place onions in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes.  Drain.
7.    Chiffonade herbs except dill. Set herbs and vegetables around the rice noodles on the platter.
Cooking the fish:
8.    Heat a cast iron pan or a wok on high heat
9.    Add oil and cook salmon till golden brown.
10.    Add the dill, cook for 1 minute.
11.    Toss in white part green onions.
12.    Ladle salmon over the rice noodles, sprinkle with ground peanuts.
Just before serving, toss together to mix in herbs and vegetables.
Preparing the nuoc mam dipping sauce:
13. Blend together all nuoc mam ingredients.
To serve:
14.    Serve with nuoc mam, cut lime and freshly cracked black pepper on the side.

Serves: 6

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One Response to “Cha Ca — Salmon in Tumeric and Dill Oil”

  1. Caroline Says:

    Thank you so much for this recipe. I was daunted by the amount of ingredients but it is soooo easy to prepare–and delicious. It really is one of those “Wow” dishes that you can’t believe, with every delectable bite, that you made this! I almost didn’t make the sauce but that would have been a huge mistake. It was all wonderful.

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