Hanoi's cool autumn weather calls for comfort food and the capital's crispy fish noodles fit the bill perfectly: fried fish, a rich dipping sauce, and aromatic broth awaken taste buds.
This recipe serves about 5 to 6 people, takes approximately 90 minutes to prepare, and provides around 2,620 calories.
- 1 large tilapia fish (1 - 1.2 kilogram)
- 1 onion
- 1 piece of ginger
- 2/3 pineapple
- Half a jicama
- Half a carrot
- Half a radish (optional)
- 3 tomatoes
- Vegetables and herbs: water dropwort, taro stems, dill, scallions
- Vermicelli noodles
- Fish sauce, salt, vinegar, stock powder, pepper, lime, chili, sugar
- Cooking oil or lard
a. Prepare the fish:
- Begin by cleaning the tilapia. Remove the black lining wall on the belly and rub it with lime or wine, along with crushed ginger, to eliminate any fishy odor. Rinse thoroughly and allow it to drain.
- Use a sharp knife to fillet the fish and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Place the fish fillets in a dry spot to allow them to dry, ensuring they crisp up beautifully when fried and minimize oil splatter.
- Soak the fish head and bones in diluted salt water, then grill them with ginger and half an onion to enhance the broth's clarity and color. This step also removes any residual fishy odor. You can opt to crush the bones after grilling to enhance the aromatic profile of the broth, although it will make the broth slightly cloudy.
b. Prepare the herbs and vegetables
- Peel the pineapple, remove the eyes, cut it into bite-sized pieces, and reserve half for simmering in the broth. The other half is used for decoration.
- Peel and thinly slice the taro stems. Submerge the slices in a mild saltwater solution, followed by a brief blanching. After blanching, transfer the slices to ice-cold water to maintain their crispness and prevent itchiness.
- Trim away the roots of the water dropwort, wash the leaves thoroughly, and then chop them into pieces to release their fragrant essential oils.
- Wash the tomatoes, then chop them into pieces.
- Wash the dill and scallions, allow them to dry. Remove their roots and set them aside. Then finely chop the herbs into small pieces.
c. Prepare the dipping sauce
- Create the dipping sauce by mixing fish sauce, sugar, vinegar, chili sauce, and filtered water in a 1:1:1:1/2:3 ratio.
- Cook it over low heat until slightly thickened, then let it cool.
- Add minced or crushed garlic, chili, and ginger, and adjust the seasoning to taste. You can also add dill for added aroma.
2. Cooking process
a. Frying the fish
- Under low heat, add cooking oil to your frying pan and allow it to heat. To check if it’s ready, dip the tip of a chopstick into the oil. If it bubbles, it’s at the right temperature.
- Divide the fish fillets into batches, placing them in the pan without overlapping. Avoid turning them over initially to maintain a stable cooking temperature.
- Allow the fish to cook for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the underside turns golden brown and has a crispy texture.
- Gently separate the fillets, then flip them over to fry the other side until it, too, achieves a golden look.
- Towards the end, you can increase the heat for a moment to enhance the crispiness of the exterior.
- Once the fish is cooked, remove it from the pan and place it on oil absorbing cooking paper to absorb any excess oil. Alternatively, you can place the fried fish upright in a thin basket.
- The final product is crispy and golden fish, without using turmeric powder or deep-frying. The inside should retain its sweetness and moisture.
b. Cooking the broth
- Begin by boiling an ample amount of water and then simmer the fish bones and grilled fish heads, along with onions and grilled ginger.
- Add pineapple, jicama, carrots, and optional radishes into the broth with a pinch of salt.
- Allow it to simmer over low heat, keeping the lid ajar, and skimming off any foam to maintain clarity.
- After about 30 minutes, add dill and scallion roots to enhance the aroma and eliminate any lingering odors.
- Afterward, strain the broth to remove any residue.
- Season it to your liking with fish sauce, salt, and vinegar. For a finishing touch, add half a teaspoon of fish sauce and a pinch of sugar to enhance the overall sweetness.
- When you're ready to serve, add sliced pineapple, tomatoes, taro stems, and water dropwort, and bring the broth back to a gentle boil.
- Garnish your bowls with scallions and dill, and serve alongside the noodles and fish.
- Serve the fried fish fillets alongside a bowl of dipping sauce, a plate of vermicelli noodles, and a bowl of the broth.
- When enjoying this dish, dip the fried fish into the sauce and combine it with vermicelli, vegetables, and the soup to savor all the flavors.
- The fried fish should exhibit a crispy exterior, while maintaining a tender and moist interior with a natural sweetness.
- The dipping sauce should achieve a harmonious balance of sour, spicy, salty, and sweet flavors.
- The soup should feature a sweet, flavorful broth, accompanied by crispy water dropwort.
- Look for fresh fish with clear eyes, red gills, iridescent scales, and strong swimming.
- Slice the fish fillet into pieces that are 8-10 centimeters long and about 3 centimeters thick, ensuring they are thoroughly dry before frying.
- For a clear and flavorful fish bone broth, always boil the water before adding the grilled (or fried) fish bones. Keep the heat low and occasionally skim off any foam.
- Depending on the season, you can adapt the vegetable selection to include options like mustard greens, water dropwort, or taro stems.
- Make sure to add chopped or crushed garlic, chili, and ginger to the dipping sauce after it has cooled down. This step enhances the flavors, giving the sauce a delightful aftertaste when eaten with the fried fish.