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Ca Nuong – Roasted Rainbow Trout, Vietnamese Style

Posted May 09 2009 11:24pm

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It’s my birthday today, so I won’t be cooking this weekend!  Before I trek off to my birthday weekend o’ fun in the sun, here’s a dinner I want to share with you that I made a couple nights ago.  I’ll post pics of my birthday food later on after the weekend…

When Phong and I were in Vietnam, we went to Cha Ca La Vong, a more than 100-year old restaurant in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, famous solely for their sputteringly hot fried fish topped with dill and flavored with turmeric.  And since it was featured in Food & Wine Magazine, Andrew Zimmern’s show (even though it wasn’t one of his gross eats), and listed as one of the 1000 Places To see Before You Die, we figured our trip would not be complete if we had not taken a xich-lo and gone there for dinner (such tourists, I know).

Growing up, my mom would make roasted fish (cá, in Vietnamese) all the time, and one of the most important things to master wasn’t the fish, it was the nuoc cham, the fish sauce flavored with lime juice, garlic, sugar, and fresh-cut chili peppers that perfectly marries savory, sour, sweet, and spicy all into one.  I was her apprentice in the kitchen, and relegated to making the nuoc cham for parties and stuff.  While dating my now-husband-then-boyfriend, my mother-in-law even put me to the test to make it for one of her parties.  Thank goodness, I passed – as she says, your nuoc cham can either make or break a meal.  :)

Here’s my recipe for roasted fish topped with dill and all the fixings that go with it.  At Cha Ca La Vong, they serve the fish with a lot of oil – here, a touch of olive oil would do before sending it into the oven, and I roast it instead of fry it.  Also, I like to use rainbow trout – it has tender white flesh but also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids if you’re getting tired of salmon, mackerel, or sardines.  And honestly, the nuoc cham at Cha Ca La Vong was more fish sauce than anything else, and I thought it was a bit vinegar-y for my taste.  I think you’ll like mine – I learned from the best.

Ca Nuong – Roasted Rainbow Trout, Vietnamese Style

serves about 4

For the roasted fish:

2 whole cleaned rainbow trouts, about 2.25 lbs

2 1/2 tsp sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

1/2 lemon

1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped

1 Tbsp olive oi

l 2 Tbsp roasted peanuts, run in the food processor for about 3 pulses until roughly chopped

1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro

For the nuoc cham chua ngot (sweet-and-sour drizzling sauce – makes about 1/2 cup):

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Juice of 1 + 1/2 limes

2 Tbsp granulated sugar

2 1/2 Tbsp cold water

1 Tbsp fish sauce (the Vietnamese Three-Crabs brand, or Hieu Ba Con Cua, is the best)

1 Thai bird chili (add another if you can take the heat!)

Serve with:

Cold or warm rice vermicelli

1 head of lettuce, chopped (can be romaine, red leaf, or green lettuce lettuce)

1 cup  thinly sliced carrots

Sliced cucumbers, bean sprouts, or whatever veggies you have on hand

Ground peanuts, optional

Preparation:

1.  For the fish, preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Line a roasting pan with foil, and place the fish on the foil.  Sprinkle the sea salt on all sides of the fish, and sprinkle a little inside the fish where it’s cut.  Do the same with the black pepper.  Squeeze about 1/2 lemon all over both fish as well as the insides.  Then add the dill to the tops and insides of the fish.  Drizzle olive oil over the tops and insides of the fish.  Bake the fish for about 20 minutes, until the meat is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.  When the fish is done and ready to serve, top with the chopped peanuts and cilantro.

2.  For the nuoc cham chua ngot, stir all ingredients together, and add extra lime juice, sugar, water, or fish sauce to taste.

3.  Pull it all together: Serve the fish, whole, and eat it family-style.  Set out small bowls for everyone, and individuals can help themselves to a little bit of veggies, top with a little bit of noodles, some fish, and drizzle with a spoonful of nuoc cham to their liking.

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