Recipe by Andrea Nguyen, Vietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True Fresh Flavors (page 205), copyright 2019
We often see rice noodle bowls topped with beef, pork, chicken or shrimp, but this unusual one with fish caught my eye. Tilapia is marinated in a mix of sour cream, anchovy paste, fish sauce, ginger and of course, turmeric. Sour cream, you say? It sounds strange, but, trust, Andrea Nguyen, queen of Vietnamese cooking—when the fish is broiled, the natural sugars in the sour cream start to caramelize and the marinade acts as an aromatic protective coating, keeping the fish moist and flaky. The result is so succulent and fragrant that once it comes out from under the broiler, it’s hard not to sneak a little piece for yourself (no one’s looking, we won’t tell).
Whilst the complete noodle bowl is well worth the assembly, the fish is so good that it makes a stunning main (we would keep the fish fillets whole and follow the same marinating and broiling instructions) all by itself. Serve the whole, broiled fillets with a simple salad dressed with lime juice and olive oil. Or, come summer, we can’t wait to serve these alongside thick slices of heirloom tomato topped with herbs and Red Boat Fish Salt.
- Asha Loupy, recipe editor
Time: 1 1/4 hours
- 2 pounds catfish or tilapia
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Pragati Turmeric
- 2 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger or galangal
- 1 1/2 tablespoons anchovy paste
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 2 tablespoons canola oil, plus 1/4 cup
- Brimming 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill fronds
- 3 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon anchovy paste
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 to 2 teaspoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar (optional)
- 2 Thai chilies, or 1 serrano chile, thinly sliced with seeds intact (optional)
- One 6- to 8-ounce package dried rice noodles (maifun), or one 10- to 12-ounce package dried rice cappellini or thin spaghetti
- Leaves from 1 head soft-leaf lettuce (such as butter or Boston), or 5 to 6 cups baby lettuce mix
- 1 small handful mint or basil sprigs, or combination
- 1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
- 1 cup plain or sesame rice crackers
Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Halve each fillet lengthwise (let the backbone indentation be your guide) and then cut each fillet half into “fish fingers” roughly 4 inches long and 1 inch wide. To obtain long pieces, you may have to cut the fish at an angle, crating trapazoid-shaped pieces. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the turmeric, ginger or galangal, anchovy paste, fish sauce, sour cream, and 2 tablespoons canola oil. Add the fish and use your hands or a silicone spatula to coat pieces evenly (insert something about hands and how to get turmeric off). Cover ans set aside to marinate while you ready the other components. Set the dill, green onions, and remaining 1/4 cup canola oil near the stove.
To make the dipping sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the anchovy paste, sugar, and lime juice, which will give you a pale purple mixture. Add the fish sauce and water to taste; if the sauce is a little bitter or sharp, add the vinegar, 1 teaspoon at a time. Then, add the chilies, stir, and set aside.
Position an oven rack about 4 inches from the broiler’s heat source and preheat the broiler for 20 minutes. Line a baking sheet with aluminium foil and set a rack inside.
To prep the accompaniments. In a pot of unsalted water, boil the noodles until chewy-tender; the cooking time depends on the noodle and brand. Drain, rinse with cool water and drain well for about 5 minutes. For easy serving, arrange the noodles as 2- to 3-inch nests on two plates or in low bowls. Place the noodles, lettuce, herbs, peanuts, dipping sauce, and rice crackers on the table. For each diner, set out a cereal bowl or small soup bowl, chopsticks (or a fork), and a spoon.
Arrange the fish pieces on the prepared rack, laying them flat, like a jigsaw puzzle. Broil for 8 minutes, until the fish is sizzling and a little brown; check after 5 minutes and rotate the pan if needed. Using chopsticks, tongs, or an offset spatula, delicately loosen and turn fish over, then broil for 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer the fish to one or two serving plates and blanket with the dill and green onions.
In a small saucepan, heat the remaining ¼ cup canola oil until faint wisps of smoke start rising. Pour the hot oil over the green onions and dill to sear and wilt them. Using two spoons, gently combine, and then place the fish on the table.
When ready to eat, diners should put some of each component in an individual bowl, tearing the lettuce and herbs into bite-sized pieces and breaking up the rice crackers. Dress with a small drizzle of sauce (wield chopsticks and spoon to mix) and gobble it up. Repeat until everything is gone.