Vietnamese tomato fish (cá sốt cà chua) is dairy free, protein rich, and very healthy. I learned about it from my daughter when we visited her in Vietnam. She took us to this placed dubbed "the ration restaurant". It was done up in 70's Vietnam style. It was decorated with radios, letters, clothes, and decor from a bygone era. But most important, the food was WOW! She explained to us that the Vietnamese recipes in this restaurant were along the lines of traditional home food. Unlike many restaurants, this was the food that mom and grandma cooked.
Seafood is abundant in Vietnamese cuisine. Consider that the country is bordered by an ocean, and the rest is crisscrossed by rivers and lakes. Literally everywhere you go there is a body of water. Vietnamese are out fishing at all times of the day. Most of their fishing poles are made from bamboo or organic materials. You'll rarely see a store-bought pole. If you happen to be by a lake in the early hours of the morning you will see fishermen casting out, or pulling in nets. You can actually buy a fresh fish right from the sidewalk if you want. Vietnamese tomato fish could be yours within hours!
The Tomato Fish Was the Star at this Restaurant
But let's get back to the restaurant! We tried many dishes that day, but one that stood out was the Vietnamese tomato fish topped with dill. It came out steaming, you could tell by looking at it that it was freshly made. There were two thick fillets topped with a rich tomato sauce and dill. It was paired with rice and tasted so rich and creamy. At once I could catch all the flavors: dill, tangy shallots, and sweet tomatoes. I decided I had to duplicate the flavors of this delightful Vietnamese food at home. My daughter helped, albeit remotely.
A popular accompaniment at dinner in Vietnam is the boiled cabbage. It is cut into bit-sized squares and served on a separate plate. Often, the water from the boiled cabbage is served alongside the other dishes. This broth is said be very nutritious. Meals will also come out with a small bowl of soy sauce with chili slices for dipping. There are other alternatives like fish sauce, but my daughter insisted that tomato fish goes deliciously with the soy.
My daughter did tell me that you can use either dill or cilantro for your herb. For this recipe I prefer the dill even though I am a fan of cilantro. Another question I had for her, had to do with the type of fish. You see some of the Vietnamese fish cannot be found in the US. So she said that for Vietnamese tomato fish I can use cod, but it has to be a thicker fillet, so it wouldn't fall apart. She also mentioned that I can use catfish.
Steps to make Vietnamese Tomato Fish:
- Gather all your ingredients and have then measured, chopped and ready to go: fish fillets, tomatoes, shallots, water, vegetable oil, salt, pepper and dill.
- Add the oil to a skillet on medium heat and add the fillets once it is hot. Fry the fillets for 3 minutes per side them remove and set aside on a plate lined with a paper towel.
- Add the cherry tomatoes that have been cut in half. Tip: If you remove the little green stem circle, it makes removing the skins easier later. Add the water to keep them from burning.
- Cover the tomatoes but leave the lid slightly open to vent for 4 minutes.
- After 4 minutes remove the lid and start crushing the tomatoes with a fork into a chunky sauce. Remove the skins and discard.
- Add the shallots and cook for 3 minutes until they turn translucent.
- Add the fish fillets back to the skillet and simmer in the liquid for 7-10 minutes until they reach an internal temperature of 145°F.
- When the fish is almost done add the dill. Serve with rice and a side of cilantro.
Frequently Asked Questions:
- How long can I save the Vietnamese tomato fish? You can store in the refrigerator for 3-4 days in an airtight container after it has completely cooled.
- What other kinds of fish can I use? This dish works well with any type of flaky white fish so try it with cod, haddock, grouper, red snapper, catfish, bass or tilapia.
- Can I freeze the leftover fish after it has been cooked? It is best eaten fresh but you can freeze it sealed in freezer bags. Expel as much air as possible and it will store for 2-3 months. Thaw it out completely in the refrigerator and reheat in the microwave.
Want to pair your tomato fish with another Vietnamese delight? Try my Coconut Braised Pork
Want to cool off after dinner? Try my Vietnamese Coconut Coffee
Vietnamese Tomato Fish with Dill (Cá Sốt Cà Chua)
This hearty, yet very healthy Vietnamese tomato fish with dill is easy enough to make that you can prepare it any night of the week. For your herbs, dill or cilantro will do, whatever your preference is.
In a non-stick pan on medium heat add the vegetable oil. Fry fish fillets in oil 3 minutes on each side them remove and set aside on a paper towel. Some liquid will remain in the pan.
Add the diced tomatoes to the same pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until they begin to soften. Add ½ cup water to keep the tomatoes from burning.
Cover the tomatoes with a vented lid and allow to cook for 4 minutes. Start crushing the tomatoes with a fork to make a chunky sauce. Remove the tomato skins.
Stir in the shallots. Cook for about 3 minutes them add the fish fillets back to the pan.
Allow the fish to simmer in the liquid for 7-10 minutes until it reaches 145°F
When the fish are almost fully cooked stir in the dill and allow the it to sit for 3 minutes. Serve with rice and a side of cilantro. Some boiled diced cabbage is also a traditional side dish.