This is probably one of the quickest and easiest Vietnamese fish dishes. The only requirement is to use flawless, very fresh catfish called “cá bông lau” in Vietnamese. Whenever I go to the Asian grocery stores, if I find fish with bright clear eyes and the skin looks shiny and clean, chances are I bring some seafood home. Also, most important, fresh fish should smell briny and pleasant.
The steps for preparing cá bông lau kho tộ are simple but crucial. First, soak the fish in vinegar; that way the fish texture will maintain a firm texture, even once it’s cooked. Then, frying onions and the use of red chili powder covers the fish-y flavor and lastly, braising the fish in a combination of soy sauce (not fish sauce) and coconut sauce will bring wonderful, lightly sweet flavor to the seafood dish.
1. Info for Ca Bong Lau Kho To (Vietnamese Claypot Catfish)
- Cook Time: 10 mins
- Total Time: 40 mins
- Servings: 6
- Calories: 397 kcal
2. Ingredients for Ca Bong Lau Kho To (Vietnamese Claypot Catfish)
- 6 catfish steaks
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon red chili powder
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- ¼ cup canola oil (or any neutral oil)
- ½ (12-ounce) can coconut soda (or water)
- ¾ cup soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- ¾ teaspoon mushroom seasoning salt (or regular salt)
- 1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
- 3 sprigs green onions, finely chopped
- Ask your fishmonger to prep 6 skinless catfish steaks. Rinse thoroughly under running water. Place them in a deep dish. Barely cover with water and add white vinegar. Mix well and let stand for about 10 minutes. In a frying pan, heat the oil. Add the onions and fry for 6-8 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a plate. In the same oil. Add the green onions and fry for 3-4 minutes until fragrant but not golden. Set aside. Discard the water from the fish. Pat dry using paper towels. Sprinkle with red chili powder. Add 1 clove garlic. Drizzle with a little onion-flavored oil. Marinate the fish for no more than 30 minutes. Transfer the remaining onion-flavored oil to a claypot or to the same frying pan. Add the other clove garlic. Once golden, add the soy sauce and coconut soda. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for 3-4 minutes. Once hot, place the pieces of fish. Sprinkle with mushroom seasoning salt. Return the fried onions and green onions. Cook over medium heat for 12 to 15 minutes until the fish absorbs the liquid. If there’s no more sauce before the fish is cooked, add ½ cup water. Bring back to a boil, then continue simmering uncovered. Sprinkle with sugar and black pepper. Gently toss the fish is the caramelized sauce. Be careful; it’s very delicate and flaky. Check the doneness of the fish (add another ½ cup of water and cook a bit longer if not fully cooked; I didn’t). The caramel-colored gravy should be thin. Remove from heat and serve right out of claypot. Garnish with green onions and black pepper. Serve with jasmine rice. Bon appétit!