Chao Ca

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Recipe by Thy Tran. Chao Ca is a Vietnamese rice and fish soup. Served simply or garnished elaborately, chao is the both weekday breakfast and weekend brunch food of many an Asian family. The fish counter at Asian markets always have large fish heads on ice. As always when selecting fish, look for one with bright, clear eyes and very red gills. Ask them to split the head for you or, if preferred, cut it into large chunks.

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 large fish head 3-5 pounds, split and rinsed well
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 large cloves garlic minced
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion diced
  • 1/2 cup uncooked long-grain rice
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • Garnish
  • 1/4 cup fresh ginger slivers
  • 1/4 cup sliced scallions
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup fried shallots
  • Red chile oil or sliced red chiles
  • 1 lime cut into wedges

Directions

  1. Rub the fish head well with the fish sauce and garlic. Let marinate 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large heavy pot. Add the onions and sauté until softened. Add the rice and sauté for 3 minutes, taking care not to let the onion brown (or the soup will become muddy in color). Add the chicken broth and 8 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours, or until creamy smooth. Stir occasionally and add water, if needed, to maintain a creamy consistency.
  3. In a large skillet, heat the remaining oil. Add the fish head and cook about 5 minutes on each side. When the garlic is fragrant but not yet browned, transfer the fish head with the garlicky oil to the simmering rice soup.
  4. Arrange the garnishes in small bowls at the table. Adjust the flavor of the soup, adding fish sauce to taste, and flake off bits of meat from the fish head into the broth. Serve hot in large bowls.
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