I’ve never cooked before my whole life but since I’m getting married and my fiance loves the home cooked meal, I decided to venture into this scary yet fun realm that I’ve never stepped foot into.

Last night, I made one of the hardest dishes and surprisingly it wasn’t even hard at all. It’s a traditional Vietnamese oven-baked catfish that you normally see at a restaurant that specializes in it. My favorite restaurant in San Diego for this dish is called Anh Hong Bo 7 Mon which locates in Linda Vista. You can even call to order ahead of time since it takes 45 minutes to make.

Ingredients (what you will need to buy): catfish, fish sauce, honey, olive oil, black pepper, salt, ginger, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, scallion (green onion), vermicelli (optional), rice paper, peanuts, herbs (mint, perilla, lettuce, basil, cucumber, pineapple, pickled daikon) depending on what you like, and mam nem (if you’re not making it from scratch).

First you will need to get a whole catfish from the supermarket. I recommend getting a live fish because you can taste the freshness in the fish. I bought mine yesterday at the Asian supermarket for $4.99 a pound. Mine was a small fish so it was roughly 3 lbs. You can ask them to make the fish white, clean the inside and butterfly it for you.

From here, you will make a couple small incisions on the outside of the fish, this is to allow the marinade to soak in and for the skin to not tear apart due to heat and pressure (you will notice the fish curls up inside the oven as it’s being cooked).

To make the marinade, we will need:

  • 2 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoon honey (I use raw organic honey)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon minced lemongrass

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine all of the above in a small mixing bowl. Take the fish and lay it on a tray with the skin facing upward, then use 1/4 tablespoon of honey to lather all over the skin of the fish (this is to make it crispy when broil). Once done, spread the marinade over the fish and allow it to soak in either overnight or at least 3 hours in the fridge.

When ready, pop the fish in the oven on a rack that sits on top of a tray. This is for the juice from the fish to drip down and not soak back into the fish, which will end up making it soggy. For my 3 lbs fish, I baked it for 40 minutes and then switched it over to “broil” and let it broil for another 3 minutes. Make sure you stand there and watch it as it could easily burn at this step.

While waiting for the fish to bake, we can make the scallion oil and the peanuts to garnish the fish when it’s done.

To make the scallion oil, we will need:

  • 4 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of chopped scallion
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced shallots
  • a pinch of salt

First, we pour the oil onto a pan and allow it to heat up on medium heat. Once it’s hot, throw all the ingredients above onto the pan and turn off the heat. You just want it to slightly cook, not burn; the hot oil will do just that.

For the peanuts, I generally just use raw peanuts and roast it on a pan (no oil). When you see the skin starts peeling, then the peanuts are ready. Remove the skin by squeezing the peanuts lightly and then crush the peanuts with a nut grinder.

Once the fish is nicely cooked and crispy, remove it from the oven and drizzle it with the scallion oil and the crushed peanuts.

I get lazy so I didn’t make the “mam nem” sauce that was supposed to go with it. I just buy it from a restaurant near my house called Pho Ban Mai. But if you would like to make it from scratch, there are a lot of recipes online for that.

And ta da, here is the final product! Enjoy!