Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Vietnamese Grilled Catfish with Noodles (Cha Ca)

Sometimes things just stick in your head until you finally have to make them. Such is the case with this dish. First I made this Sesame-Mac Nut-Coconut Crusted Opah and then I saw Sara's Vietnamese Pork and Noodles over at i like to cook. The two dishes made me think again of a favorite dish from a little place that I liked when I lived in Seattle and I have always thought about trying to make at home. The Noodle Ranch, in Belltown is a casual little place with different Asian noodle dishes and my favorite was the Cha Ca, a Vietnamese dish where a spicy catfish fillet is put on top of a bowl of noodles, lettuce, sprouts and herbs and is served with a spicy-sweet sauce to pour over it. It was so good--not too heavy, and a great combination of flavors and textures. Now that my craving was official, I decided to try to recreate it-not an easy feat as I hadn't eaten it in about 8 years and sometimes can't even remember what I ate for lunch yesterday. Anyway, I got most of the ingredients I thought were in it written down and then I remembered this little thing called Google (duh!) and did a Cha Ca search and guess what came up?  A recipe...at Sunset Magazine... from the chef of...Noodle Ranch in Seattle! Sweet! I was all set.

Notes from Sunset: At the Noodle Ranch in Seattle, head chef Nga Bui sets a hot, spicy fish fillet on a bed of rice noodles and greens for a light, refreshing meal in a bowl. Red curry powder can be found in the spice section of many supermarkets; if it's unavailable, use the more common yellow powder. The grilled fish can also be served with hot cooked rice or in a sandwich.

Grilled Catfish with Noodles (Cha Ca)
Chef Nga Bui, Noodle Ranch; Sunset Magazine March 2002
(Makes 6 Servings)

1/3 cup minced shallots
3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (nuoc mam or nam pla)
1 tablespoon red or yellow curry powder (see notes)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed or minced
6 boned, skinned catfish or tilapia fillets (about 6 oz. each)
About 2 tablespoons salad oil
4 cups bite-size pieces iceberg lettuce (8 oz.), rinsed and crisped
3 cups bean sprouts (6 to 8 oz.), rinsed
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, rinsed
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, rinsed
6 to 8 cups cooled Cooked Rice Noodles (about 1/8 in. wide)
1/2 cup chopped roasted, salted peanuts
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions (including tops)
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
About 1/2 cup Fried Shallots
About 1 1/2 cups Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

1. In a small bowl, mix minced shallots, fish sauce, curry powder, ginger, turmeric, cayenne, and garlic. Rinse fish and pat dry. Rub shallot mixture all over fillets and stack in a bowl. Cover and chill 30 minutes or up to 1 day.

2. Brush both sides of fillets lightly with oil. Place fish on a grill 4 to 6 inches above a solid bed of hot coals or over high heat on a gas grill (you can hold your hand at grill level only 2 to 3 seconds); cover gas grill. Cook fish, turning once, until barely opaque but still moist-looking in center of thickest part (cut to test), 4 to 8 minutes total. Serve hot or cool.

3. Meanwhile, divide lettuce, bean sprouts, mint, and cilantro among six deep, wide bowls. Mound noodles equally over vegetables and herbs.

4. Lay a grilled fish fillet on each mound of noodles. Sprinkle peanuts, green onions, dill, and Fried Shallots equally over the top. Serve with Vietnamese Dipping Sauce to drizzle over portions to taste.


Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)
(Makes about 1 cup)

1/2 cup Asian Fish Sauce (nuoc mam or nam pla)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup lime juice
2 Tbsp sugar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons minced hot red chili such as Thai, Serrano, jalapeno or Asian red chili paste

Mix all ingredients together. You can make up to one day ahead; cover and chill

Notes/Results: Delicious--just like I remembered. I'm not sure why I never tried to make it before now. I love the spicy fish with the cooling noodles; the dill, mint and cilantro add a lot of flavor and the crunch from the peanuts and fried shallots is a nice contrast. The dipping sauce is tangy and spicy and would be perfect for spring rolls too. I did make some changes based on what I had on hand; I used Pad-Thai rice noodles which are a bit thicker than the narrower ones used in the dish. I didn't have any iceberg lettuce, but I did have some purple cabbage so I used that instead, and some sunflower sprouts in place of bean sprouts (not really a fan of the old bean sprout). I did use catfish for this round, and cooked it in my grill pan. Not a catfish fan? Tilapia or another fish would be fine and the spices would work well on chicken or tofu too. This is the perfect meal in a bowl and even with a lot of ingredients, it goes together easily. A definite keeper recipe and I will be playing with the different components, trying it with local fish, etc. 


  1. that is so cool how the recipe from the restaurant that you love was online! it looks and sounds delicious!

  2. Mmm, I love the Vietnamese flavours, and I am all over that sauce. I have never had catfish, not popular in Canada I guess, but I love tilapia. You will have to make me this when I visit!

  3. I should not peruse on an empty stomach...because now it's rumbling. It's a beautiful presentation and the flavors elements sound out of this world!!

  4. The internet is quite an amazing thing. I often can't imagine what we did without it. There would have been no blogs!

    Fish is always stuck in my head, more so than any meat. Everyone seems to be going vietnamese these days (you, Pam) and all the dishes look so beautiful, it makes me realize how I'm missing out!

  5. This looks really good. How wonderful you were able to find the recipe on-line.

  6. Despite the intimidating number of ingredients (23 different ones I think), they are things usually in my table of condiments or readily available, so I think I will have to assemble them soon to make this awesome looking dish. Yum. yum.

  7. The recipes you come up with always sound so flavorful!

  8. With our Southern background, it's somewhat rare that catfish makes its way onto plates other than fried. Great variation. We'll have to keep this in mind.

  9. i love grilled catfish - this looks so tasty!

  10. Oh my gosh! You know I am soooo making this!


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