Thursday, October 23, 2008

Canh Chua Ca: Vietnamese Sour Soup with Fish

As some of you are quite aware now, my mom has taught me everything I know about Vietnamese cooking. I started documenting our family recipes when I moved into my own apartment for college about 10 years ago, but I've only started seriously taking pictures of everything for this blog because time is short and well.. you know we don't live forever. Now I'm really enjoying bonding time while doing this with Ma, but I have to let you know that my mom is really getting a kick out of me blogging her food too.

For example, I was busy attending to R's diaper needs when Ma says (in Vietnamese of course), "Did you take a picture of the fish?" So I hurry and finish and run over to snap a picture (after washing my hands of course). Then when the finished bowl of canh chua was ready for a photo, she all of a sudden removes the ladle from the bowl and says, "Why you put this here? Take it out." In Vietnamese, I tell her i WANT it in there, so she puts it back. Then she moves the small rice bowls out from the background. I say, "Hey!" And she says, "Oh you want it there too? Why you have two or three different bowl types, at least use matching bowls." Aiya. I ended up not using that photo anyways because frankly the lighting in her house sucks (hinting for a Lowel EGO light unit for Christmas), so the final photo above is from the day after with take-out from Ma's house. Just for fun, below is the photo Ma was fussing about:

In Vietnamese, canh translates to soup, chua means sour, and ca means fish, so canh chua ca means sour soup with fish. Which fish to use? Tried and true in our family are red snapper (ca hong) and catfish (ca bong lau), catfish being the better choice of the two.

6-8 pounds of red snapper or catfish cut into about 1 to 1.5 inch steaks
8 quarts water
1 tablespoon rock sugar
half a pineapple, sliced into 1 inch wedges
1/3 pounds okra
3/4 pounds bac ha, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices diagonally crosswise
6-8 tomatoes, cut into eighths
1 pound bean sprouts
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup kaffir lime leaves
1/4 pounds ngo om, chopped
6 tablespoons fish sauce
7-8 tablespoons sugar
2 ounces tamarind soup base powder
oil for frying

First thing to do is fry the garlic lightly in oil and then add in the fish. Continue to fry the fish with the garlic until the fish loses its translucency, about five minutes. Remove the fish and set aside, and also collect the fried garlic and set aside because we'll be adding it to the soup later.

Get the pot of water boiling and add to it the rock sugar. This makes a lot of soup because we cook in bulk in our family, so feel free to adjust the amount unless you want to eat canh chua for a week. In the meantime, prepare all the veggies (bean sprouts, bac ha, okra, tomato).

This is what bac ha look like at the supermarket:

Usually found at Asian supermarkets, these are the stems of a plant related to the taro family. I looked up the English term for the plant and found that it's referred to as giant upright elephant ears (alocasia odora). To prepare these, you peel the outer skin until the spongy part remains. Just peel the edge a bit with your knife and use your hands to peel the rest off.

Slice up the pineapple and wash the okra:

Here's some of the ingredients that go into flavoring the soup. Tamarind soup base is a powder that adds sourness to the soup. You'll be using one and half bags of this powder. The leaves in the upperleft corner are the kaffir lime leaves which add its aroma to the soup. And at the bottom is the ngo om (rice paddy herb), which with its citrusy fragrance is essential in bringing out the flavor of the soup.

Chop up the ngo om:

Once the water is boiling, add to it the pineapple and fish. Bring to a boil again. Add the tomatoes, okra, bac ha, and bean sprouts. Bring again to a boil and then add in the tamarind, kaffir lime leaves, and ngo om.

Season with the fish sauce and sugar, and add in the fried garlic. Simmer for 20 minutes. Serve with rice and perhaps some meat dish.

So, are you making soups now that cooler weather is creeping back into our lives?


Twinkle said...

I love this soup, especially the variation that uses the bamboo shoots with the spicy chili oil.

Food For Tots said...

Tks for the link. I had added yours too in my blog. Your photography skill is fantastic! I luv ur photos!

My hubby n I luv Vietnamese food. Will learn more from ur Ma and u. Tks for sharing.

shavedicesundays said...

twinkle, i've never had canh chua ca with bamboo shoots before, but it sounds good as I love bamboo.

food for tots, i do love your creations as well, which is why I added you, and your photos are awesome.

Shayne said...

this looks like an odd combo of flavors yet yummy. my family love soups and world cuisine so this would be a great now adventure for us and we have not had a chance to really try Vietnamese food

shavedicesundays said...

Shayne, thanks for visiting my site. If you like sour, this would be the dish to try, and it really represents Viet homecooking at its best.

jcu said...

I am making this traditional vietnamese dish for my friends birthday along with some other favorite viet dishes he likes. Great write up. The idea of frying the fish is very smart, my buddy told me to do the same thing. The flavor of this soup is addicting with rice.

shavedicesundays said...

jcu, how did it go?

Leah said...

I just came across your blog and in just a few minutes of exploring, I'm absolutely inspired! A quick question about this soup...will tamarind pulp work instead of the powder? Can't wait to visit Chinatown (I live nearby in NYC) and get the groceries for this!

shavedicesundays said...

Leah, thanks for visiting. Yes, you can use tamarind pulp. Lucky you to live in NYC, so much food to explore!