Vietnamese Tamarind Salmon Soup with Chinese Celery – Canh Chua Ca Hoi voi Rau Can Tau

Whenever I cook this version of canh chua with salmon, I would think of the elderly couple who taught me to make this while they were waiting for their salmon at the fish department in Hiep Thai Market in Garland, Texas. The man told me to use Chinese celery and lots of scallions to ward off the salmon fishy smell. This version of soup works great with a large salmon head but salmon steaks can be used too. I cook this soup in a 10-quart pot.

Ever since the new Lotte Plaza Market opened up in Orlando, it has been my one-stop shop for all my cooking ingredients. They have the largest fish and Asian greens selection in the area now. No more shopping at multiple Asian markets to gather my ingredients and stopping by a western market to grab my dairy products.

  • Prep time: 30 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Servings: 8 quarts

Ingredients:

  • 2 large salmon heads or more
  • 2 bunches of Chinese celery
  • 2 bunches of scallions
  • 5 large roma tomatoes
  • 2 cups regular celery heart* (optional)
  • 30 okras
  • 2 bags (1/2 lb) of enoki mushrooms
  • 1/2 sweet pineapple
  • 1 cup mix of sawtooth and rau om herb
  • 5 quarts water
  • 3 oz seedless tamarind paste (block)
  • 2 Tbsp salt*
  • 4 Tbsp sugar*
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 2-4 Thai chili peppers or 1/2 tsp Thai chili paste
  • vermicelli rice noodle

Notes:

  • Canh chua broth is tricky to season since you need to balance out the sourness with the salt and sugar; thus, the amount of salt and sugar used depends on how sour your tamarind is. For every 2 ounces of tamarind paste, I would start off with 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of salt. I measured out exact ingredients for this pictorial recipe. I started off with about 2.5 ounces of tamarind paste but then added about another half ounce because the broth wasn’t sour enough.
  • I cook this in a 10-quart pot. I froze three quarts, share a quart with a friend , and had 3 quarts in a small pot to eat for two days. The amount of salmon heads/steaks are enough for three quarts. Add more salmon heads/steaks if this pot is intended for a larger family.
  • There are sweet and sour variety of tamarinds. I used the reddish brown Thai tamarind block. It’s softer and the tamarind pulp is not too sour like the dark colored tamarind block.
  • I added regular celery because there weren’t enough Chinese celery. I normally buy two bags of Chinese celery but it was too mature; thus, the stems are very hard. If the stems can be easily snapped off into segments, it’s a good selection.
  • You must make sure the broth is seasoned to your preference BEFORE adding the fish or vegetables into the soup.
  • Pictorial recipe was made possible thanks to 10-months-old baby Ethan who loves to eat salmon heads which made me motivated to document a recipe for this soup. If you have never cook with salmon heads, make sure to try the delicious soft and fatty tissue in the eye socket, the tender fish cheeks, and the soft cartilage.

Directions:

1. Prep the vegetables and salmon. I had the fishmonger clean and chop the salmon heads into 4 pieces per head for me. I added regular celery because the two bunches of Chinese celery I bought for this pictorial were too mature; thus, the stems are very hard. If the stems can be easily snapped off into segments, it’s a good one.

2. In a 10-quart pot, heat up the oil and sizzle the minced garlic until you can smell it on high heat. Pour in the water and add in the sweet pineapple chunks. Put the tamarind piece cut out from the block into a mesh spoon. As the water gets hotter, it’s easier to smash the tamarind pulp with the back of the ladle to extract the pulp. Discard any remains. I kinda added a bit too much garlic so I scooped it out. Add in 4 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of salt. Make sure the seasoning is to your preference. Bring the broth to a boil.

3. Once the broth starts boiling, set timer to 20 minutes and turn to medium high heat (#7 setting). Add in the salmon head and or salmon steaks. Cook the fish for about 5 minutes and then transfer the fish heads or meat into a large bowl. I have learned doing this is much more convenient and prevents the fish from breaking or falling apart.

4. Turn to high heat to bring broth back to a boil and then pour in the regular celery. Cook on high heat for about 5 minutes. This regular celery takes the longest to cook.

5. Last, add in the okras, Chinese celery, enoki mushrooms, tomatoes, herbs, and chili peppers. I stir the soup and add these ingredients in one at a time. Turn off stove, cover the pot with a lid for about 5 to 10 minutes so the vegetables continue to cook.

6. Enjoy this with steamed jasmine rice or with vermicelli rice noodles!

This is a picture of my tamarind salmon soup I cook last time use salmon steaks. My family prefers eating the salmon heads when it’s available at the market.

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