Susan Spicer’s Gulf Fish “Cha Ca La Vong”
- Total Time: 30 min
- Yield: 4 1x
Gulf Fish Cha Ca La Vong speaks to Susan’s commitment to preserving New Orleans’ culture while embracing new and innovative ways to ensure its survival and evolution.
ABOUT THE DISH
In August 1960, a plane from the Netherlands touched down in New Orleans carrying six-year-old Susan Spicer, her six siblings, and her parents. Louisiana was her father’s final post before retiring from the Navy. Susan was raised on the West Bank.
Her first memory of Southern Louisiana? “There’s a picture of all seven of us lined up on the stairway coming down from the plane to the tarmac, and you can see the heat waves rising behind us. And the mosquitos! They loved me—they still do!” Laughing, Susan says her love for New Orleans—from the cuisine to the people to the music—has grown deeper and deeper throughout the years.
Susan is chef-owner of Rosedale and Bayona, New Orleans restaurants offering traditional Louisiana cuisine with innovative twists. Susan came to cooking later than most, but went on to be named one of the Best Chefs in America by the James Beard Foundation in 1993.
In 2010, Susan and her business partner, Regina Keever, filed a lawsuit against BP following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. They were motivated not only by the damage done to the environment but also to Louisiana’s economy. As Susan explains, “New Orleans cuisine is based on seafood. It’s just a fact of life that we have in abundance, that’s what makes us a little bit different from the rest of the country.” She still sees the impacts of the oil spill to this day in New Orleans, noting that the oyster industry, for example, never fully bounced back.
Susan does her part to encourage and maintain the local economy, buying as much local seafood as possible for both of her restaurants. Her Gulf Fish Cha Ca La Vong is a nod to both the local fishing industry and the flavors brought by Southern Louisiana’s thriving Vietnamese community. Perusing local markets, Susan was surprised to learn that dill was a major ingredient in Vietnamese food. Her dish uses local fish “cut into pieces and dusted with a turmeric rice powder, then fried and served with peanuts, herbs—one being dill! —and scallions.”
Gulf Fish Cha Ca La Vong speaks to Susan’s commitment to preserving New Orleans’ culture while embracing new and innovative ways to ensure its survival and evolution. “It’s easy to get distracted by other things in life, but it’s something that’s with us all the time. It’s important to protect the fisheries, to protect this way of life, to protect the barriers to the Gulf.”
Reflecting on her lawsuit on the ten-year anniversary of the oil spill, Susan states, “I hope it’s brought more awareness of the vanishing coast and the delicacy and vulnerability of our coastline. We really have to fight and try to do what we can to rebuild, to save it, to bring back a lot of the wetlands.”
- 1 cup rice flour
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 lb. fish fillets, such as catfish, drum or snapper cut into 2” strips
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
1 bunch fresh dill, stems removed, picked into fronds
2 Tbsp. canola or peanut oil
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
1/2 bunch green onions (scallions), cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup fresh basil, stems removed, leaves chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, stems removed, leaves chopped
Lime, cut into quarters
- Nuoc cham sauce, to serve (3 tbsp. fish sauce, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup lime juice and 1 tsp. red chili paste or fresh thai chilies, finely minced)
- Mix the flour with the turmeric and toss the fish chunks in it until well coated.
- Heat the oil in a wok or heavy pan and cook the fish in batches until crisp and golden.
- Drain on kitchen paper.
- Scatter some of the dill fronds on a serving dish, arrange the fish on top and keep warm.
- Chop some of the remaining dill fronds and set aside for garnishing.
- Heat the 2 Tbsp. oil in a small pan or wok. Stir in the peanuts and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the spring onions, the remaining dill fronds, basil and cilantro.
- Stir fry for no more than 30 seconds, then spoon the herbs and peanuts over the fish.
- Garnish with the chopped dill and serve with lime wedges and nuoc cham to drizzle over the top.
“I hope [the oil spill] brought more awareness of the vanishing coast and the delicacy and vulnerability of our coastline. We really have to fight and try to do what we can to rebuild, to save it, to bring back a lot of the wetlands.”
– Susan Spicer
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I hope [the oil spill] brought more awareness of the vanishing coast and the delicacy and vulnerability of our coastline. We really have to fight and try to do what we can to rebuild, to save it, to bring back a lot of the wetlands.Susan Spicer