I used to think of this as a soup but after sharing a hearty pot with fishermen, I realized that it was more like a Viet-style bouillabaisse seafood stew. This streamlined version, prepared with supermarket ingredients, is a knockout. For a one-dish meal, serve with warm corn or flour tortillas, or fried rice.
- 1 tbsp canola oil
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1.4l water
- 1 tsp packed light or dark brown sugar, plus more as needed
- 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses, plus more as needed
- About 1½ tbsp fish sauce, plus more as needed
- ½ tsp fine sea salt
- 225g fresh or frozen pineapple chunks, cut into bite-size chunks
- 280g mild-tasting, firm fish fillet (such as snapper or catfish), cut into 1½-inch chunks
- 8 extra-large or 12 large shrimp, with or without shells, deveined
- 225g small clams or cockles (optional)
- 1 large or 2 small celery stalks, cut on a diagonal into ½-inch-wide pieces
- 1 large unripe tomato, cut into wedges
- 200g beansprouts
- 10g roughly chopped fresh herbs, such as coriander, basil & mint
- ¼ tsp ground cumin
- 1 Fresno, jalapeño, or cayenne chili, thinly sliced
In a large 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 flavour. (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 beansprouts 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.
Tips and Tricks
Most grocers sell farm-raised clams, which typically do not need to be purged of sand. Select small ones, such as sweet, tender Manilas smaller than 1.5 iches 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 celery, try using 12 medium okra, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces, or 1 small courgette, quartered and cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces.
Mix and match and add in any extra veggies or herbs you have lying around to make it your own.
Andrea Nguyen’s Vietnamese Food Any Day, Ten Speed Press, £25.