I didn’t grow up eating chả cá thăng long. Truth be told, my family genuinely dislikes the dish. There’s something about the unfamiliar and assertive flavor of fresh dill that makes everyone from my mother to my aunts and uncles utter the words: không biết ăn, which literally means, “I don’t know how to eat,” but in actuality is a polite turn of phrase for rejecting an offering.
It wasn’t until I visited Hanoi while living as an expat in Vietnam nearly a decade ago that this dish came into my life. A northern Vietnamese specialty comprised of turmeric-marinated fish fillets served in a sizzling skillet table-side along with heaps of dill and scallions, chả cá thăng long is somehow both familiar and novel, and in spite of what my family believes, totally ngon (delicious).
This weekend’s heat wave inspired me to get into the kitchen to make something light and bright—this dish fit the bill. I started with two pounds of halibut marinated in fish sauce, ground turmeric, garlic, ginger, shallots, black pepper, and a bit of dill. After carefully pan-frying the fillets, I combined them with bunches of scallions and dill that had been wilted in vegetable oil.
The fish and herbs were served over vermicelli rice noodles with crushed peanuts, herbs, and plenty of nước chấm. It was the perfect antidote to 104-degree temps.
For fish marinade
- 2 pounds firm white fish, cut into 2 inch pieces
- 6 tablespoons Vietnamese fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
- 5 garlic cloves
- Fresh ginger (2-inch knob)
- 2 shallots
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh dill
For fish preparation
- Vegetable oil
- 2 bunches scallions, sliced into 2 inch segments
- 2 bunches dill, stems removed
To prepare the marinade, combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulverize until the garlic, ginger, and shallots are finely minced. Pour the marinade over the fish fillets and let sit in the refrigerator for no more than 1-2 hours (marinating longer will make the fish taste too salty).
To prepare the fish, coat the bottom of a non-stick frying pan with vegetable oil. Heat the oil on medium-high and pan-fry the fish, 3-4 minutes on each side, until evenly browned. Drain the cooked fish on paper towels. Work in batches to cook the remaining fish, adding more oil as needed.
Next, coat the bottom of a stainless steel skillet with vegetable oil. Add the scallions and dill and sauté until completely cooked through, approximately 5-7 minutes.
Add the cooked fish fillets to the scallion-dill mixture and gently combine.
Serve immediately over vermicelli rice noodles with crushed peanuts, herbs, and plenty of nước chấm.