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Vietnamese heritage flavors a fusion fish dish

RCBC culinary student Huy Hoang preparing Vietnamese caramelized & braised catfish

By: Huy Hoang

As a child growing up in Vietnam, I would watch my mother in our kitchen creating traditional dishes.

When I came to the United States, I was privileged to learn the nuances of French and Italian cuisine. I was excited to practice my new culinary skills with what I had learned from home, so I challenged myself to recreate one of my mother’s dishes without the recipe.

I became immersed in my memories of the flavors of Vietnam. As I started to remember, I would jot down the ingredients that I believed were in the dish.

The knowledge I have gained in Rowan College at Burlington County's culinary arts program allowed me to incorporate the French and Italian cuisine into my favorite traditional Vietnamese dish. The new recipe, caramelized braised catfish, is a fusion of cuisines.

The catfish is served sitting on a bed of sweet bean sprouts with micro leafs and edible flowers.

Accompanying the catfish is a lotus chip and a light touch of Asian fusion beurre blanc sauce.

The lotus root creates a smoky aroma that fills the air. When biting into the catfish, you receive the right balance of sweet and salty.

The catfish cooked to perfection gently melts in your mouth with every bite. The sweet bean sprout gives you that sweet crunchy taste.

As you generously dip the cat fish into the yellow sauce, your taste buds explode from the Asian, French, Italian fusion.

Huy Hoang is a culinary arts student at Rowan College at Burlington County’s Culinary Arts Center in Mount Holly. Visit rcbc.edu/culinary

Vietnamese Caramelized & Braised Catfish

Serves 2

1 pound Pangasius conchophilus or catfish

Salt to clean the fish

Aromatics

2 tablespoons peanut oil

5 cloves garlic, minced

½ yellow onion, sliced

Red Chinese peppercorn or Chinese peppercorn extract oil

1 teaspoon annatto seeds

1 or 2 lime leaf

Seasoning and cooking oil 

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon brown or white sugar

1.5 tablespoons fish sauce

About ½ teaspoon thick soy sauce

½ cup water and ½ cup coconut juice (OR 1 cup coconut soda)

1 chile, sliced (to taste, optional)

Freshly ground black pepper (you can add it here, or as a final topping when serving the fish)

Garnish

1 stalk chopped green onion (scallion)

Freshly ground black pepper

1 sliced red chile (optional)

2-3 chopped fried or steam Okra

Optional: Mix edible flowers

Generously salt fish and rinse under water to clean it. Set aside to dry.

Add peanut oil to a pan and saute garlic and shallot over medium heat until lightly browned.

Layer onion on top, then the fish, evenly spaced.

Combine the fish sauce, soy sauce and coconut milk in a separate bowl.

Add the seasonings (brown sugar, peppercorns, annatto seeds, lime leaf and black pepper) and cooking liquid. Add chiles (optional). Turn the heat to high until boiling. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning.

Bring it to a simmer for about 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning if needed.

Gently flip the filets of fish over and simmer for about 10 minutes with the lid partially covered.

Stand there to watch it for the final 10 minutes to prevent it from burning! During this time you can continually spoon the sauce over the fish.

Add green onion during last 2 minutes to wilt and top with sliced chiles, and sprinkle some freshly ground black pepper. Serve with chopped fried okra and/or edible flowers.

This article also appeared in the Courier Post on Monday, July 31, 2017.

Pictured: Huy Hoang plates a catfish dish inspired by his Vietnamese family, as well as his culinary training at Rowan College at Burlington County.