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How One New Orleans Chef Makes Canh Chua Cá, a Vietnamese Sweet and Sour Soup

One of many traditional Vietnamese soups, it’s Peter Nguyen’s favorite to make when cooking at home

As indelibly essential to New Orleans as gumbo and jambalaya is the city’s Vietnamese soul. Just as visitors seek out beignets at Cafe Du Monde, they should be looking for banh mi, banh xeo, and bowls of pho — and they won’t be hard to find. One popular purveyor is Peter Nguyen, the owner of Banh Mi Boys, a sandwich shop serving Nguyen’s take on traditional — and some less traditional — po boys and banh mi.

Nguyen is joining Instagram Live as part of our Eater at Home series, to show how he whips up one of his favorite Vietnamese dishes for cooking at home: canh chua cá, a sweet and sour catfish soup. He’s also got tips on where you can find the speciality herbs the soup calls for (and substitutions if you can’t). Check out the recipe below.

Canh Chua Cá

Makes 5 to 6 servings

4 catfish steaks (can be done with any fish or tofu for vegetarian substitute, if catfish is not available)
Chicken base powder
13 cup of tamarind soup base
8 cups of water
⅓ cup of vegetable oil
¼ cup of sugar
¼ cup of fish sauce
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 red Thai chili pepper, chopped (Tip: Use gloves)
8 pieces of okra
4 sprigs of culantro, chopped
Small bundle of rice paddy herbs (ngo om), chopped
1 elephant ear stem (taro stem), peeled & diagonally chopped
2 medium tomatoes, cut into quarter wedges
2 stalks of celery, diagonally chopped
1 cup of diced pineapples
1 handful of bean sprouts
4 green onions, chopped
Juice from 1 lemon
14 cup Tabasco Sauce
Salt and ground pepper

* Note: Some of the specialty herbs may be hard to find if you do not have a local Asian market in your area. If so, the recipe can still be made substituting those herbs with cilantro.

Season the catfish steaks on both sides with salt, pepper, and chicken base powder and set aside.

In a medium pot over medium-high heat, add the vegetable oil then add the minced garlic and fry until it’s a light golden-brown. Set aside in a small bowl to use to garnish the broth at the end.

Add 8 cups of water to the pot along with the tamarind soup base, sugar, lemon juice, Tabasco Sauce, and fish sauce. Bring to a boil and cook the catfish for about 6 to 8 minutes until the catfish is tender. Remove the catfish and set aside to be added back in later.

Add the tomatoes, pineapples, elephant ear stem, okra, and celery. Cook down to medium tenderness and then add the green onions, rice paddy herbs, culantro, chili pepper, and bean sprouts. Cook for 2 minutes and add the catfish back into the soup and continue cooking for an additional 2 minutes. Taste the broth and season with fish sauce and tamarind soup base as needed.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the fried garlic. Serve with a bowl of rice and enjoy!

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