We never had salmon in Vietnam but once my family tasted it for the first time in America, we immediately adopted it like it was a native fish to the Vietnamese kitchen. It oily flesh and skin are rich tasting, pretty and immensely useful. We steamed it, simmered it caramel sauce and galangal, featured it with tangy tomatoes in everyday soup, and made garlicky salmon patties with dill. This heady preparation is something my mom came up with recently. The recipe is based upon a paste that our cook in Saigon use to marinate whole fish in and then grill it over charcoal. It’s a simple and homey dish.
Salmon filet and the broiler ensure that none of the tasty lemongrass-inflected paste falls through the cracks. I tried this paste with a whole trout and grilled it but the result was not as intensely tasty as the salmon. For this recipe, I used filet that I cut from a whole salmon. It wasn’t a large fish and the filet were at most 3/4 inch thick at the thickest point. If you’re using a bigger fish then adjust the cooking time by cooking it longer. Don’t worry about the marinade time. I thought it would turn the fish mushy or partially cook it but it didn’t. The fish texture turned out fantastic.
Crisp Lemongrass Salmon
Ca Nuong Xa
1 pound skin-on salmon fillet, cut into 4 portions
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped lemongrass
1 1/2 teaspoons packed light brown sugar
Scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped shallot
1 1/2 teaspoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon Madras-style curry powder, such as Sun Brand
1 tablespoon oil
1. Run your finger along the flesh side of the salmon filet to check for any bones. Remove them with tweezers. Set aside.
2. In an electric mini food processor, grind the lemongrass, brown sugar, and salt to a minced texture. Add the shallot, fish sauce, curry powder, and oil. Run the machine, pausing to scrape down the sides, to arrive at a coarse paste. Taste it and adjust the flavors to create a heady paste that’s a little saltier than you’re comfortable with.
3. Coat both sides of the salmon filets with the paste, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or as much as 4 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you are ready to cook it.
4. Position a rack 5 to 6 inches from the broiler element (usually the upper third of the oven), and set the oven to broil. Let it heat up for 20 minutes so it’s really really hot.
5. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Drizzle a little oil on both sides of the salmon filets and position them skin side up. (Or oil the foil.) Broil for 3 minutes, until there is evidence of slight charring on the skin. Use a spatula to flip the filets over and then broil the flesh side up for 2 minutes. Now flip it again so that the skin is up. Broil for 30 to 60 seconds more to crisp the skin. Watch the fish carefully, lest the skin blacken too much. Transfer to a serving plate and enjoy with lots of rice.
If you something with salmon, do share your secrets!