Vu Dai Village’s braised fish, a winter delicacy with vibrant color and robust flavor, features fermented crab paste and lime juice for a distinctive taste.
Vu Dai Village’s braised fish in Ha Nam Province is a cherished specialty for reunions and festive occasions. The village often makes the dish in large number for sale ahead of the Lunar New Year (Tet) holiday. It is bought by Vietnamese across the country as a holiday specialty, and is also exported.
This recipe serves about 4 to 5 people, takes approximately 3 to 4 hours to prepare, and provides around 2,200 calories in total.
– 800 – 900 grams of black carp
– 200 grams of pork belly
– 45 ml of fermented crab paste
– Galangal, ginger, scallions, chili
– Fish sauce, salt, sugar, stock powder, MSG, pepper, lime
a. Prepare the fish
– Remove scales, gut and clean the fish thoroughly.
– Rub the fish with salt and lemon to eliminate any undesirable odor. Several methods exist to eliminate the fishy odor when preparing fish, including rubbing with lime and salt, washing with rice water, using wine, and incorporating crushed ginger.
– It is recommended to rub the fish again with a bit of sea salt to enhance the fish’s firmness and flavor. The technique is mentioned as a secret used by the people of Vu Dai Village.
Thick pieces of fish are used to ensure a satisfying bite when enjoying it. Photo by VnExpress/Bui Thuy
b. Prepare fermented crab paste
– After cleaning the crabs, manually pound them and filter to extract the juice.
– Mix the juice with salt, thinh – powdered grilled rice, galangal, dried kumquat skins, and shallots, then transfer the blend into a sealed ceramic jar, placing it next to a wood stove.
– Allow the mixture to ferment for approximately 7 days, during which time it develops a characteristic aroma. The longer the crab sauce is stored, the more fragrant and delightful it becomes.
c. Prepare the spices
– Slice half of the galangal to line the pot’s bottom, and pound the remaining half for marinade.
– Wash the ginger and slice it.
– Extract the lime juice, a crucial component for removing any fishy odor and ensuring the tenderness of the braised fish, even its bones.
The spices comprise a diverse range of ingredients, creating a visually appealing blend. Photo by VnExpress/Bui Thuy
– Combine the following ingredients to season the fish:
3 tablespoons of fermented crab paste (45 ml)
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
2 to 3 tablespoons of caramel sauce
2 tablespoons of lime juice
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of pepper
1/2 teaspoon of MSG or stock powder
– Ensure thorough mixing and allow the fish to marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes to absorb the flavors.
– For enhanced taste, a longer marinade time is recommended, especially if braising for an extended period.
The marinated fish. Photo by VnExpress/Bui Thuy
3. Cooking process
The distinctive aspect of Vu Dai Village’s braised fish lies in the specific cooking equipment used: a clay pot with a lid, and longan wood. The pot should be cured by boiling in hot water for durability.
The preparation is intricate, taking up to 12 hours to achieve firm, soft, flavorful fish pieces that are edible, even with bones. While these tools might not be readily available, you can recreate this recipe at home using standard cooking equipment by following the process:
– To ensure the fish doesn’t stick to the pot, line the bottom with galangal and ginger before placing the fish on top. For larger quantities, alternate layers of fish and crushed galangal for easy serving.
– Meat is added later for a rich taste while keeping the pieces intact.
When preparing the braised fish at home, the dish can undergo a double cooking process to closely emulate the traditional taste.
a. First braising:
– Boil the fish pot on high heat for 3-4 minutes to allow the fish to absorb flavor.
– Add boiling water until the sauce evenly covers the fish’s surface. It’s crucial to use boiling water to prevent any fishy scent.
– Reduce heat to low, open the lid, and simmer, seasoning accordingly.
– After 40 – 45 minutes, turn off the stove, allowing the fish meat to become more firm.
b. Second braising:
– Heat the fish over low heat.
– Add pork belly, occasionally tilting or using a spoon to distribute the stock evenly.
– When the stock is almost gone, leaving 1/3 in the pot, add old boiling water to continue braising.
– Braise the fish for 2 – 3 hours or longer if desiring softer bones.
– Finish by sprinkling a little lard for shine and a beautiful color.
Pork belly brings a richness in terms of fat content and imparts a meaty flavor to the dish. Photo by VnExpress/Bui Thuy
– The braised fish boasts vibrant colors and enticing aromas, with firm meat, edible bones, and the delightful fragrance of galangal.
The completed dish showcases fish with a light brown hue, enhanced by the red tones of chili peppers. Photo by VnExpress/Bui Thuy
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