Dislocated Recipes for Success – Cha Ca La Vong – Simpson Wong


Cha Ca

A surprising Asian pairing of turmeric-galangal-ginger marinated fish with lots and lots of dill. This is the traditional recipe of a classic Hanoian dish. We’ve had a marvelous updated version at Madame Hien’s and another at Pizzas 4Ps (in pizza form).

Serves: 4

Timing: About 1 1/2 hours


2 two-inch pieces fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped (see note)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 inch fresh peeled ginger, chopped

2 inches fresh peeled galangal, chopped (or substitute ginger)

1 and 1/2 pounds skinless hake fillets, (or any firm-fleshed white fish of your choice) cut in 2-inch squares

¼ cup Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam)

3 tablespoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons chile flakes

⅓ cup lime juice

2 tablespoons sugar

4 ounces dried Vietnamese or Thai rice noodles (also called rice sticks)

1 head Bibb or Cos lettuce, rinsed, trimmed, core removed, sliced thinly

¼ cup canola oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 medium-large onion, sliced thin vertically

1 and 1/2 bunches scallions, trimmed and chopped

1 big bunch dill, stems discarded, fronds coarsely chopped – or add more

½ cup each cilantro leaves, mint leaves and Thai basil

¼ cup chopped roasted salted peanuts


1. Place the fresh turmeric, ground turmeric, ginger and galangal in a food processor or mini-chopper. Process until very fine, almost a paste. Transfer to a stainless-steel dish. Wash food processor immediately to prevent staining. Place the fish in a bowl. Rub mixture all over fish, remembering to wear gloves or plastic bags on your hands to avoid turmeric stains. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. Combine fish sauce, 2 tablespoons of the garlic, half the chile flakes, the lime juice, sugar and 1/2 cup cold water in a small bowl. Stir well. Refrigerate. Place noodles in another bowl, cover with warm water and set aside 10 minutes until softened.

3. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil, drain noodles and add to boiling water. Cook 1 minute, then drain.

4. Spread lettuce on a serving platter. Spread noodles over lettuce. Cover lightly with a sheet of foil or plastic wrap.

5. Place oil in a large nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet and heat to a high temperature. Add fish pieces. When seared on one side, 1 minute or so, turn to sear other side, sprinkle with salt and remaining chile flakes and cook through, another minute or two. Remove to another platter. Add onions to pan and reduce heat to medium. When onions start to brown, add remaining garlic, stir, and add scallions. Stir again. Tuck fish pieces back into the pan and add the dill. Cook about 1 minute, just enough to warm fish. Remove pan from heat.

6. Spread contents of the pan, including all the oil, on noodles. Scatter herbs on top, then toss on peanuts and fried shallots. Serve with sauce on the side.


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