Vietnamese Ladyfish Fish Cakes – Cha Ca Ladyfish

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This is my family’s fool-proof recipe for Vietnamese fish cakes using ladyfish that my family and friends love. I walk you through visual step-by-step demonstrated by my little helpers.  This pictorial recipe was made possible thanks to my friend, Vivian Zheng, for donating the ladyfish for me to experiment with.

I didn’t know anything about ladyfish back in Texas.  When I came to Florida and saw ladyfish at the fish department in the Vietnamese market for the first time, the fishmonger told me it’s the best fish to make fish cakes (cha ca) because of it’s unique texture (dai dai) that does not require processing once you debone it.

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  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 10-15 minutes
  • Serving: one pound of ladyfish fish paste makes about 5-8 fish cakes/patties

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ladyfish meat
  • 2.5 Tbsp Viet Huong fish sauce*
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1.5 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 Tbsp lemongrass powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/5 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallion
  • extra vegetable for frying

Notes:  I recommend using anywhere from 2 to 2.5 tablespoon fish sauce per pound of ladyfish meat.  Anything less would be a bit bland and more than that would be too salty.  The black and white pepper doesn’t make it spicy enough for my 17-months-baby to detect it.

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Instructions: 

1. Clean, scale, gut, and filet the ladyfish. I used a stainless steel Asian soup spoon to scrape the meat off the skin and bones.  There are a lot of thin bones that reminds me of short white hair that sticks to the skin and vertebrae. When I scrape the flesh off gently with a spoon, the meat comes off easily and the bones would still be intact. The fish flesh scraped off are measured and stored in containers by the pound.

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2.  Measure out the seasoning ingredients.  Multiply it by the number of pounds of ladyfish meat you are working with.  Oh don’t forget the scallions!

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3.  Put the ladyfish meat into a bowl.  Pour all the seasoning ingredients in.

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4.  Wearing a latex glove, mix the fish paste together as if you are kneading dough, folding and pressing down the paste, and repeat again for about two minutes or until all ingredients are combined evenly well in the fish paste.

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5.  Heat up half an inch of vegetable oil in nonstick frying pan.  When the oil is hot, scoop up a ball of fish paste with the stainless steel Asian soup spoon.  As you carefully place the fish paste into the hot frying pan, press down to flatten the fish paste using the bottom of the soup spoon.  The fish cake is about one-inch thick. Fry the fish cakes on medium or medium-high heat. Fry each side for about 2 to 3 minutes or until golden.

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6.  Enjoy!

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Behind the scene:

We buried the fish heads and bones right where our future Bell starfruit tree will be.

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