Friday, September 27, 2019

Rice and Fish Soup (Chao Ca)

rice and fish soup (chao ca)
I grew up eating rice porridge or soup, sometimes refers to as congee, known in Vietnamese as "cháo" or in Teochew as "mue". Sometimes it is simply cooked with just a little rice and lots of water and we (my family and I) would eat this along with salted duck eggs, Teochew omelets, pickled greens or radishes, and/or some salty dishes. Other times it is made with seafood, poultry or meat for a more substantial meal. We consume these soups anytime throughout the day or when we are ill. Many years ago when my husband fell ill after visiting Cambodia my mother made rice soup with ground pork for him to restore his health when we saw her in Vietnam. One time, in between jobs, I stayed with my late grandmother for 3 months in Vietnam. I made her a similar rice and fish soup but with chicken stock. I bought a whole snakehead fish, a popular local fresh water fish at the market. After scaling and gutting it I placed the entire fish in the pot to cook. I removed the fish once it had been cooked, separated the flesh and returned it to the pot. My grandmother complimented that it was very tasty and ate 2 bowls that night. Normally she would eat only 1/2 a bowl of plain rice soup with a small piece of fermented bean curd, a salted olive-like seed or half a salted duck egg in the evening.

For this recipe instead of the green crabs I used Asian shore crabs that I hand-harvested from coastal New Hampshire. They are also an invasive species found in this region of the US but are smaller than the green crabs. The largest I caught measured about an inch across the carapace. These have lots of eggs so my soup has a beautiful yellow orange hue. If you substitute green crabs in this recipe you may use 15-20 adults as they are larger.

Recently I was at the dock crabbing and came across Capt. Ralph and his son docking after a day out at sea. He generously gave me a bag of haddock. Thank you, Capt. Ralph! I ate half that evening and the other half I froze. I thawed them for this recipe as haddock is a great chowder fish. Use as much fish as you prefer. You can use either cooked or uncooked rice. Typically I use leftover rice to make this soup--a way to use old rice and decrease cooking time.

rice and fish soup (chao ca)
Rice and Fish Soup (Cháo Cá)


45 Asian shore crabs, crushed (the finer the better)
10 cups water
1 yellow or white onion, sliced or chopped
3 dried or fresh young kelp
1 thumb sized ginger, sliced, chopped or julienned
2 garlic cloves, smashed
About 5 sprigs of cilantro stems
1/3 cup uncooked rice
About 1 to 1 1/2 lbs of haddock or cod
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1/4 cup chopped scallion
Chopped fresh chives or scallions, garnish
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves, garnish
Fried shallots, garnish
Freshly ground black or white pepper, garnish


Place the crushed crabs, water, onion, kelp, ginger, garlic and cilantro in a large pot. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Scoop out any yellow orange bits (a combination of meat and roe) that float to the top and reserve for the later.

After 30 minutes, strain the broth into another pot. Add rice to the broth. Cook until the rice is soft and enlarged (takes about 30 minutes for uncooked rice). After about 15-20 minutes of cooking add the fish. Once the fish is cooked (it will flake off easily) remove it and separate it into pieces (however small or large you prefer) of flesh and return the pieces back to the pot. Add the yellow orange bits to the pot. About 5 minutes before done add scallion and season with fish sauce.

Serve hot and garnish with chives or scallion, cilantro leaves, fried shallots and ground pepper.

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