RECIPE: Cá kho tộ (Vietnamese Braised Catfish)

There were no cookbooks in our house growing up, and my mom never consulted a recipe to make her meals of Chinese, Vietnamese, and American-inspired dishes. My mom passed before I became interested in cooking, so I never got to apprentice alongside her in the kitchen. 

What she did pass along was the ritual of home-cooked family dinners every single weeknight.
Watercress soup, braised pork belly with egg, kai-lan with oyster sauce...all served family-style with a big pot full of steamed rice. There was nothing better than the slurry of cooked egg yolk and salty-sweet caramel sauce from the braised pork belly.

When I’m homesick, I make this catfish version to satiate the craving. It’s traditionally made in a claypot but works just as well without.

- Christina, San Francisco

Ingredients: 

Coat and marinate 6–8 one-inch catfish steaks in the following for a half hour or more:

  • 1 tbsp chopped green onion (white part only) 
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp chopped ginger
  • 3–4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 1⁄2 tbsp of sugar
  • 1 tsp chili peppers, chopped (optional) 
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions: 

  1. Make a caramel sauce by reducing about 2 tbsp of sugar or brown sugar in 1⁄4 cup of water at a rolling simmer, stirring until dark brown. Set aside.
  2. Heat a few glugs of cooking oil on high heat in a large thick-bottomed pan. Add the fish in one layer and brown on both sides (the centers will still be uncooked). 
  3. Add in the rest of the marinade liquid and the caramel sauce. Once that boils, reduce heat to low, cover with a lid, and simmer for 30–40 minutes. The dish is done when the sauce is thickened, and the fish steaks are a rich brown color.
  4. Toss in some more chopped green onions and whole red chili peppers toward the end of cooking for garnish. 
  5. Serve family-style with steamed jasmine rice, a seasonal vegetable stir-fried with garlic, and a brothy soup of your choice.

RITUAL: READING ALONG -- When Their Story Is Your Story

This piece appears in Finding What Feeds Us: Rituals & Recipes for Living Well After Loss