Bowl of Sweet Sour Fish Soup
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Sweet Sour Fish Soup
  -   Canh Chua Ca
8 cups  
1-3/4 hrs  
This soup is very popular in Vietnam, and for good reason, it is unique and delicious. It's pretty much standardized with little difference among authentic recipes, and is always made with Vietnamese catfish. While there are some special ingredients, it is pretty easy to make.



Viet Catfish (1)
Tamarind Pulp (2)
Okra (3)
Lemongrass stalk (4)  
Pineapple chunks
Colocasia Stem (5)
Thai Chili (6)
Palm Sugar (7)
Fish Sauce (8)
Bean Sprouts, mung
-- Garnish
Ngo Om (9)
Fried Shallots (10)
Prep   -  (1 hr - includes 15 minutes to fillet catfish)
  1. Fillet CATFISH and cut into largish pieces.
  2. Prepare TAMARIND paste as needed (see Note-2).
  3. Scald TOMATOES 1 minute in boiling water. Peel and cut into chunks about 3/4 inches.
  4. Tumble OKRA in 2 T Vinegar and keep them wet with the vinegar for 20 minutes or more (this helps them hold together). Rinse and cut into 3/4 inch segments.
  5. Peel off tough outer leaves of LEMON GRASS. Cut off the hard root end and strike the bottom 5 inches lightly with the smooth side of your kitchen mallet to crack it, but not hard enough so it falls apart. Cut the bottom 5 inches into 2-1/2 inch lengths.
  6. Cut PINEAPPLE into pieces about 1/4 inch thick and 3/4 inch square.
  7. Peel COLOCASIA STEMS with a sharp vegetable peeler and cut diagonally into 1 inch lengths.
  8. Cut SHALLOTS in half lengthwise, slice thin and chop small. Crush GARLIC and chop small. Stem CHILI and slice thin crosswise. Mix all.
  9. Crush PALM SUGAR.
  10. Chop NGO OM fairly small for Garnish.
Run   -   (45 min)
  1. In your soup pot, combine Tamarind Paste and Shallot mix. Fry over moderate heat for about 1 minute.
  2. Stir in Catfish and tumble for about 3 minutes until evenly coated. This is a sort of hot marinade. Remove with tongs and set aside. Catfish will not be fully cooked at this time.
  3. Stir in Water, Tomatoes, Pineapple and Lemon Grass. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  4. Stir in Catfish, Fish Sauce, Okra and Palm Sugar. Simmer for about 3 minutes or until catfish is cooked through.
  5. Stir in Colocasia Stems and Bean Sprouts. Turn off the heat.
  6. Serve hot garnished with Ngo Om and Fried Shallots. For buffet service I just stir in the Ngo Om and forget about the Fried Shallots - well, most of the time I forget about the fried shallots.
  1. Vietnamese Catfish:   [Basa, Swai, Tra] Weight is for chunks the size you want in your soup. Preferably this will be skin-on. The frozen fillets sold here are insipid in taste due to the darker meat under the skin being removed. In Vietnam, bone-in cross cut segments are used, but I generally need the chunks smaller for buffet service. For this recipe I bought a gutted and headless 2-1/2 pound frozen Swai and filleted it. The belly of this fish is very fatty and not used in dishes of this sort so the ribcage is cut from the backbone and removed. If necessary, the somewhat more earthy flavored American Channel Cat can be used. For details see our Vietnamese Catfish and Catfish pages.
  2. Tamarind:   Soaking pulp from a block provides the best flavor. Use 3 T from the block, chop it, add hot water to just cover and let it sit 20 minutes. Force it through a wire strainer until only fibers remain, and scrape the paste off the outside of the strainer. Second best is 3 T from a jar of concentrate. For details and method, see our Tamarind Page.
  3. Okra:   Select medium size or smaller Okras, because larger ones tend to be fibrous.
  4. Lemon Grass:   An essential for Southeast Asian cuisines, these tough grass stems are now widely available in North America in markets that serve an East or Southeast Asian community. I've even seen them in some Korean markets. For details see our Lemon Grass page.
  5. Colocasia Stem:   [Taro Stem] These are available in most Asian markets, at least around here. Not actually Taro, but closely related. For details see our Colocasia Stems page.
  6. Thai Chili:   One good hot Thai chili should be enough for most people. I have used two, but consider that to be the maximum for this soup, more would distract.
  7. Palm Sugar:   If you don't have this flavorful sugar, use another amber sugar such as Turbinado. Note that I have cut the amount of sugar in half from the pattern recipes, and this soup is still right on the edge of being too sweet for Western tastes.
  8. Fish Sauce:   This clear liquid is as essential to Southeast Asian cuisine as it was to Imperial Rome. If your are unfamiliar with it, see our Fish Sauce - Introduction page.
  9. Ngo Om:   [Rice Paddy Herb] This unique herb can be found in the fresh herbs section of markets serving a Southeast Asian community. For details see our Ngo Om page.
  10. Fried Shallots:   This is a really good garnish, but it takes time and attention, and it's only good for a couple of days. I usually settle for just the Ngo Om, but if you want the shallots, see our recipe Fried Shallots.
  11. U.S. measure: t=teaspoon, T=Tablespoon, c=cup, qt=quart, oz=ounce, #=pound, cl=clove in=inch, ar=as required tt=to taste
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