Traditionally, Canh Chua is made with ca (fish), hence, Canh Chua Ca. This dish can alternatively be made with chicken (Canh Chua Ga) or shrimp (Can Chua Tom). All work very well, so use the meat your family enjoys.
The “sweet & sour” of this dish is nothing like that of Chinese sweet & sour sauce or hot & sour soup. Instead, Canh Chua is more akin to Thai cuisine’s tom yum soup.
One of my favorite things about Canh Chua is that it’s packed with vegetables. Every time you dip your chopsticks into a bowl of this soup, you’ll be greeted with a wonderful blend of colorful vegetables that strike a perfect balance of both sweet and sour flavors. Because the vegetables are such a big part of Canh Chua, there are specific instructions in this recipe on how to prep them.
Canh Chua Ca – Sweet & Sour Soup, with Catfish
INGREDIENTS – to serve 6, if served with another dish (if served alone with rice, serves 3-4):
- 2 stalks of elephant ear vegetable, about 1.5 cups
- 2 large roma tomatoes
- 2 C. okra
- 2 celery stalks
- 1 bunch of rau ngo/rau om herbs
- 2 C. mung bean sprouts
- 1 small 8 oz. can of pineapple chunks, or 1 C. of fresh pineapple
- 5 C. water
- 3.5 Tbsp. sugar
- 3 Tbsp. of tamarind soup mix (Knorr brand works best, per Mom)
- 2 Tbsp. nuoc mam (fish sauce)
- 2/3 lb. catfish fillets, cut into small 1″ chunks
- 2 Tbsp. of fried shallots, for garnish
- Optional: additional nuoc mam (fish sauce) and sliced jalapenos, for dipping.
STEP 1: PREPARE THE VEGETABLES
- Peel the elephant ears to remove the brightest green outer layer. To do so, hold the elephant ear stalk in one hand, and using your other hand’s thumb, gently pierce the end while grabbing the outer layer, and pull to peel.
- Slice the elephant ear stalks using diagonal cuts, yielding pieces about the size of your index finger.
- Slice the tomatoes into 1.5″ chunks.
- Cut the ends off the okra.
- Slice the celery stalks diagonally, similar to the elephant ears.
- Coarsely chop the rau ngo/rau om herbs into 1″-1.5″ pieces. This herb is a “must have” for Canh Chua because it lends the dish a distinct, sweet scent.
- Rinse and drain the mung bean sprouts.
- If using canned pineapple, drain the pineapple chunks. If using fresh pineapple, cut into 1″ chunks.
STEP 2: PREPARE THE BROTH
- Heat 5 C. of water in a large pot using high heat. Bring the water to a boil.
- Add to the boiling water 2 Tbsp. of nuoc mam (fish sauce), 3.5 Tbsp. of sugar, and 3 Tbsp. of the tamarind soup mix. Stir gently. This is a good time to taste your broth to adjust to your liking – add more sugar for additional “sweet” or more tamarind soup mix for additional “sour.” Just keep in mind that once the vegetables are added, the water in the vegetables will dilute the flavor slightly, so it’s okay if the flavor is a bit strong at this stage.
- Add to the broth your okra, pineapple, and catfish chunks. Once the broth begins to boil again, turn the heat down to maintain a low boil for 10 minutes. (Increase cooking time if using catfish steaks, or if using chicken.)
- Add to the broth the remaining vegetables – the elephant ears, celery, tomatoes, bean sprouts, and 1/2 of the rau ngo/rau om herbs. Gently stir the broth, just to blend the ingredients. Turn off the heat. Do not continue to heat the broth, or the vegetables will overcook.
STEP 3: LADLE, GARNISH, SERVE
- Ladle the Canh Chua Ca into a large serving bowl. Scoop gently to keep the fragile catfish pieces intact.
- Top the Canh Chua Ca with the remainder of the rau ngo/rau om herbs, as well as a generous sprinkle of fried shallots.
- Serve with jasmine rice. At the table Canh Chua Ca should be ladled onto individual servings of rice. For optional dipping of the catfish while eating, serve this dish with a plate of nuoc mam (see Fish Sauce 101), topped with sliced jalapenos, on the side.
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