Vietnamese Claypot Catfish

5 from 13 votes
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Vietnamese claypot catfish recipe in a bowl
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Other than Southerners, no culture loves catfish more than the Vietnamese. There are tons of Vietnamese catfish recipes, but this one, claypot catfish, may be the most famous.

And while it’s called claypot catfish, I confess I cooked it in a regular pot. The original dish, which I found in Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, calls for Asian caramel sauce, but it’s hard to find and a pain to make. So I used molasses instead, and it was really, really good.

Authentic? Maybe not, but hey, it was easy and good.

What sort of catfish to use? Well, catfish can be muddy tasting, especially bullheads, which can live in really stagnant water. Channel catfish, which is the variety you can buy as farmed catfish, tends to be cleaner. Blue and white catfish are also of higher quality, as are saltwater gafftopsail cats.

That’s not to say that bullheads are inedible. Just get them from clean water. You can also use any other fish you’d like in this recipe.

This recipe is for small cats, less than 18 inches long. You steak the cats without skinning them, which saves a lot of work, because while there is more than one way to skin a cat, all are a pain. You do have to flake the meat off the bones as you are eating it, but it comes right off. The skin helps thicken the sauce.

If this freaks you out, remove the skin. I won’t hate you for it.

The flavor? Meaty, sweet, salty, a little spicy, with a sauce that screams to be spread over steamed rice.

Vietnamese claypot catfish recipe in a bowl
5 from 13 votes

Vietnamese Claypot Catfish

You'll need Asian fish sauce for this recipe, but it is easily available in large supermarkets, and, obviously, in Asian markets. In a pinch you can substitute Worcestershire, but it's really not the same. I also call for lard, which really makes a difference in flavor; you can use oil if you must. Serve this with plain white rice and a beer.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Vietnamese
Servings: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

Ingredients 

  • 2 pounds catfish steaks
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lard
  • 3 garlic cloves, slivered
  • 3 scallions, cut into 1 inch lengths
  • 1-2 hot chiles, such as Thai or serrano

Instructions 

  • Mix the brown sugar, black pepper, molasses and fish sauce and coat the fish in it. Let this stand for 15-30 minutes.
  • In a pot just large enough to contain the fish, heat the lard over high heat and saute the garlic, chile and scallions for 1-2 minutes. Do not let them brown.
  • Add the catfish and all the marinade. Mix well, turn the heat down to medium-low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Pour in enough water to almost cover the catfish, then turn the heat to medium-high. Cook this uncovered until the sauce reduces by half, about 10-15 minutes. Be sure to turn over the fish a couple times so both sides get coated by the sauce.
  • Turn out the fish into a bowl, and serve with white rice. Have a bowl on the table for everyone's fish bones.

Nutrition

Calories: 317kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 38g | Fat: 12g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 147mg | Sodium: 861mg | Potassium: 1054mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin A: 485IU | Vitamin C: 20mg | Calcium: 67mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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14 Comments

  1. Served it with fried rice and garlic Chinese broccoli. Great way to break away from just fried catfish. Will make again for sure.

  2. Hank, I’m willing to leave the skin on to try this but what about Blue Cat slime. Is that just nature’s roux?

  3. So good! I used some king mack I had in the freezer and it worked great. I will definitely do this one again.

  4. Look at that ingredient list. What is not to love?
    This recipe was posted and I just so happened to have some fresh channel catfish from a recent river canoe trip that was already filleted and skinned, but it came out great. Even my four year old thought so.
    I did add just a tiny bit of corn starch at the end to slightly thicken the sauce before it became to concentrated.

  5. I have easier access right now to catfish fillets, and also my wife is really picky about fish with bones. Do you think this would be OK done with the fillets?

  6. This sounds very yummy! When I get catfish if I think they smell a bit too muddy I mix some vinegar (white or rice) with some water about 1/4 vinegar to a cup and a bit of clean water and let them soak for about 15 minutes. I rinse them after that and proceed, it seems to help, too. (My sister can’t do ginger or turmeric–but I bet the fish would taste even better that way.)

    Your site is so interesting! Thank you for it.

  7. Hank,

    I would say that the non- Blackstrap molasses (Grandma’s brand is widely available) made from sugar cane and light brown in color is the stuff to use to replace a caramel syrup. It is much milder than the dark stuff (Brer Rabbit) made using sulfuric acid and a byproduct of sugar refining.

    Check out the lit on Geosmin taint (also MIB or 2-methyl-iso-borneol) in farmed catfish. This taint or odor and taste causes much grief among fish farming operations and is a very easily detected taint caused by specific types of pond algae that may be consumed when catfish are not fed enough feed and start to consume algae and decaying vegetation in their environment. I have purchased catfish with “earthy,” “muddy,” “moldy,” or “musty” off flavors. Some wild harvested mud ducks will also take on these flavors if feeding on decaying vegetation.

    Using garlic, ginger and tumeric is a time tested way to reduce muddy flavors in catfish, carp and other warm water fish. For people who don’t like a ton of ginger or fresh turmeric in their seafood, a scrub with freshly grated ginger, tumeric and salt will often significantly reduce the odors associated with these fish. Rinse before cooking and the levels of ginger and turmeric are really reduced in the final dish. Remove the skin before cooking if you think the fish will be too muddy tasting after cooking.

    1. David: Excellent information, thanks! Did not know that about the herbs killing the mud taint.

  8. I have all the necessary in my cupboard, except the fish! I will get what is going in the supermarket. Your recipes are to die for