The best part of Vietnamese food, to me, is not only the huge variety of flavors that are packed into a single bite -- but simply just the freshness that goes along with Vietnamese cuisine. The ca nuong cuon banh trang, or roasted fish wrapped in rice wraps, is a perfect example of this. Much like a standard spring roll, these fish wraps contain a lot of different herbs, mints and veggies, and with roasted fish as its protein -- it's got health, flavor and freshness in a bite. The best part? It's so easy to make. Get the other diners to clean the veggies and all you really need to do is season the fish a bit and toss it in the oven. Don't want guests helping out? Do it ahead of time to save you the trouble when guests are there.
You can use almost any firm fleshed fish here -- red snapper is a great alternative, but I like to use catfish. Just go to an Asian store and you can find catfish for a great price. Live fish is ideal, but over ice is a great (and cheaper) alternative. Get them to clean and gut the fish for you. They do a great job of it. Just rinse it again when you get home.
There are a lot of recipes that call for marinading the fish. I find that this is unnecessary and leaving it simple is the best. Of course you can marinade if you want, just marinade it with a teriyaki sauce type of recipe. (Soy sauce, garlic, honey or brown sugar, ginger, sake and mirin.) I just leave it simple. Some fish sauce, olive oil, s&p.
As for the wraps, this is the brand I like. I call it the rose brand. But watch out, there are a lot of knock offs.
To prepare the fish you'll need:
3 lb catfish, whole, clean and gutted
2 tbs fish sauce
3 green onions
2 inch knob ginger
Make sure the fish is cleaned and gutted. Cut about two or three deep slits onto each side of the fish. This will help it cook faster so it doesn't dry out. Baste with fish sauce and season with salt and pepper. Don't use too much salt as the fish sauce is very salty already. Finish with some olive oil to add flavor and help crisp the skin.
If you want, you can also cut 2" pieces of green onion and julienne some ginger and stuff it into the cavity of the fish. Stuff some lemongrass into it also, if you it pleases you. This flavors the fish from the inside while it's roasting. Adds to the freshness of the meal.
Throw in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes. It should reach an internal temperature of 150.
The fish will be nice and crispy. Let it rest for about 5-10 minutes. Top it with mo hanh, or scallion oil, just before serving. Recipe follows.
For mo hanh (scallion oil) you'll need:
1 bunch green onions
2 tablespoons oil (a neutral oil like vegetable oil is typically used... but I actually like to use olive oil)
Heat oil to medium low. Add in sliced scallions. Heat until oil becomes fragrant. Remove from heat.
Get your favorite wrap, and dip it in water so it becomes moist enough to wrap. Add in vermicelli noodles, your favorite veggies and some fish. Dip it in nuoc mam cham or a fermented fish dip that's mixed with crushed pineapples.