I fell in love with Chả Cá Lã Vọng back home in Vietnam, and now regularly make this pungent dish using Seattle’s local catch. Chả Cá Lã Vọng hails from a Hanoi street formerly called Chả Cá where, according to oral history, a home cook named Lã Vọng invented the dish. Cá lăng, a type of catfish native to Southeast Asia, is typically used because its meat is firm and has an alluring natural sweetness. The dish is savory—with hints of fish sauce and shrimp paste—as well as fragrant and ever so slightly sour due to mẻ, a fermented rice mixture commonly used in northern Vietnam to add a deep dimension of flavor.

Vietnam has over 2,000 miles of coastline and its cuisine showcases the wealth of local seafood—varying types of fish, shellfish, and snails are fried, braised, grilled, steamed, slow-cooked, and creatively incorporated into daily diets. Seattle, the town I now call home, also enjoys a rich variety of local seafood; my Chả Cá Lã Vọng recipe below uses lingcod, a fish native to the North American west coast.


(serves 4)

For the marinade:

1 teaspoon turmeric
3 cloves of garlic
1 large shallot
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1-inch piece fresh ginger
½ teaspoon lemon juice (a substitute for mẻ unless you can find it at a local Vietnamese grocery store)
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon shrimp paste (optional)

For the sauce:

2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 Thai chili
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice

For the dish:

1 pound of lingcod, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 large bunch of dill, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 onion, sliced into strips
1 bunch of green onion, cut into 2-inch pieces
A handful of peanuts
Thin rice noodles
Fresh vegetables and herbs such as lettuce, Thai basil, cilantro, and radish

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To make the marinade: Use a garlic press to mince garlic, shallot, and ginger, or chop everything well by hand. Mix this trio of aromatics with turmeric, lemon juice (or mẻ) and fish sauce to form a paste; add olive oil and stir. Add fish and marinate for at least two hours.

To make the sauce: Use a pestle and mortar to crush garlic and chili together into a paste, or mince well on a chopping board. Add fish sauce and sugar and mix well to dissolve the sugar. Add water and lemon juice. A perfect dipping sauce should be well balanced with savory, sweet, and lightly sour flavors. Set sauce aside.

To assemble the dish: Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat with. Add onions and dill and sautée for about one minute, until fragrant but not too soft.

Move the onion and dill mixture to the edge of the skillet to form a large well in the middle. If the pan seems dry, add ½ tablespoon of olive oil. Add pieces of fish to the middle of the skillet and let each side crisp up for about 3-4 minutes per side.

Cook rice noodles per package instructions. Assemble plate with noodles and fish topped with onions and dill. Add a ladle of sauce and top with peanuts and fresh herbs.