Photo Credit: Aubrie Pick
Tangy Seafood Stew
Refreshing and loaded with seafood, vegetables, and herbs, canh chua is a classic that evokes the bounty and easygoing rhythm of the Mekong Delta region.
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Shopping ToolsHow this works
- 1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 6 cups water
- 1 teaspoon packed light or dark brown sugar, plus more as needed
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (recipe follows), plus more as needed
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 8 ounces fresh or frozen pineapple chunks, cut into bite-sized chunks
- 10 ounces mild-tasting, firm fish fillet (such as snapper, tilapia, or catfish), cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
- 8 extra-large or 12 large shrimp, with or without shells, deveined
- 8 ounces small clams (such as Manila or littlenecks) or cockles (optional)
- 1 large or 2 small celery stalks, cut on a sharp diagonal into 1/2-inch-wide pieces
- 1 large unripe tomato, cut into wedges
- 2 cups bean sprouts
- 1/3 cup lightly packed roughly chopped fresh herbs, such as cilantro, Thai basil, and mint, as well as celery leaves
- Rounded 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 Fresno, jalapeño, or cayenne chile, thinly sliced
- 2 cups pomegranate juice
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon strained fresh lemon juice, plus more as needed
- 1/4 cup sugar
- In a 3-to 4-quart saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the canola oil and garlic and cook at a gentle sizzle, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, until the garlic is golden. Pour in the water to arrest the cooking, then add the brown sugar, pomegranate molasses, fish sauce, salt, and pineapple. Turn the heat to high to bring to a fast simmer, adjust the heat to maintain that pace, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes to develop flavor. (If not serving right away, remove from the heat and cover; return to a near boil before continuing.)
- Add the fish fillet, shrimp, and clams to the pan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, just until the fish is opaque, the shrimp curls, and the clams open. Add the celery and cook for about 2 minutes, until slightly softened. Add the tomato and bean sprouts and cook for 1 minute more, until slightly softened, then turn off the heat. Add the herbs, cumin, and chile to the pan and then let sit for 5 minutes. Taste and, if needed, adjust the flavor with additional brown sugar, fish sauce, or pomegranate molasses to arrive at a tart-sweet-savory balance.
- Using a two-handed approach with a ladle in one hand and chopsticks or tongs in the other, transfer the soup to a large bowl or divide among individual soup bowls. Serve immediately.
- To make in the microwave In a 4-cup glass measuring cup (or similar microwave-safe container), combine the pomegranate juice, lemon juice, and sugar and microwave on high in 4-to 5-minute intervals, until the mixture has reduced to ½ cup of syrup, 20 to 25 minutes.
- To make on the stove top In a 1½-or 2-quart saucepan over high heat, combine the pomegranate juice, lemon juice, and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Turn the heat to medium-high to maintain a vigorous simmer or a low boil and let the liquid bubble for 25 to 30 minutes, swirling the pan now and then for even cooking, until it’s reduced by 75 percent; you should have ½ cup of syrup. (The syrup should easily coat the back of a spoon with a thickish cabernet-colored film. If you run your finger through, the line should hold; but be careful, because it’s hot.)
- Regardless of your cooking method, let the hot syrup cool for 15 minutes, then transfer to a glass jar and let cool completely, uncovered, to further concentrate and thicken. Taste the molasses, and if a tart edge is needed, add more lemon juice, ½ teaspoon at a time, whisking or stirring well to combine.
- Store the molasses, refrigerated, for up to 6 months. If it firms up, warm it to liquify before using.
Most grocers sell farm-raised clams, which typically do not need to be purged of sand. Select small ones that you’d steam or use for linguine, such as sweet, tender Manilas smaller than 1½ inches wide. When using bigger clams, add them to the pot before the fish. Wait for one or two to open and then add the fish and shrimp. Instead of pomegranate molasses, you may use tamarind liquid, concentrate, or paste. Instead of celery, use 12 medium okra, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces; or 1 small zucchini, quartered and cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Reprinted with permission from Vietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors by Andrea Nguyen, copyright © 2019 Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.” Photography credit: Aubrie Pick © 2019
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