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Dec 15, 2017

Vietnamese-Style Pan Fried Halibut with Lemongrass and Nước Chấm Dipping Sauce

This Vietnamese-style pan fried halibut with lemongrass is so fresh and flavorful, and the lemongrass adds such a wonderful citrusy fragrance to the dish.

Vietnamese-Style Pan Fried Halibut with Lemongrass and Nước Chấm Dipping Sauce

This pan fried halibut with lemongrass is an adaptation of a fish dish common in Vietnamese cooking, called Cá Chiên Xã. You can use any firm fish, such as mackerel, sea bass, cod, rockfish, or catfish. I just happened to have a gorgeous Alaskan halibut filet that worked beautifully with this recipe.

To prepare this fish, you sprinkle it with a sugar and salt mixture and then refrigerate it overnight. Then you prepare a sauce with the lemongrass, along with some fish sauce, chili paste, and some lime juice.

Just before frying the fish, you fry minced garlic in the oil to add flavor. The fish is added to the pan with the hot garlicky oil, and then topped with the lemongrass sauce. When you add the sauce over the fish, the pan will splatter quite a bit, but don't worry. Everything will settle down, and the fish will fry to a gorgeous golden color.

Vietnamese-Style Pan Fried Halibut with Lemongrass and Nước Chấm Dipping Sauce

We had this Vietnamese-style fried halibut with jasmine rice, a salad platter, some pickled shallots, and Nước Chấm Dipping Sauce, which is a mixture of chiles, water, sugar, garlic, fish sauce, and lime juice. When you look at the ingredient list of the dipping sauce, you won't expect much, but when you try it, you will begin to imagine how many ways you can use it. Just add some of the dipping sauce to each bite of fish or rice, and you'll know what I mean.

Serving Note: To assemble a Vietnamese salad platter, place various fresh herbs (such as cilantro, mint, basil, coriander leaves), leafy greens, cucumbers, chiles, sprouts, and pickled shallots.

For the pickled shallots, I used the recipe from this post, and substituted rice vinegar for the distilled vinegar, and shallots for the red onions. I also added some slices of red peppers to the pickle. The shallots are delicious.

While I live about two miles from Little Saigon, I do not claim to be an expert in Vietnamese cooking. I just love the flavors. For this recipe, I consulted the book, The Little Saigon Cookbook: Vietnamese Cuisine and Culture in Southern California's Little Saigon. The recipes and stories are so appealing to a food nerd like me.

This month, the Fish Friday Foodies are preparing fish with Asian Flavors. After the recipe, check out the rest of the recipes with Asian Flavors.

Yield: 4 servingsPin it

Pan Fried Halibut with Lemongrass and Nước Chấm Dipping Sauce Recipe


  • 12 to 16 ounces halibut fillets or other firm fish (see note above)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon chili paste
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh lemongrass
  • 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
Dipping Sauce (Nước chấm)
  • 1/2 fresh Thai chile, red or green, finely chopped
  • 8 tablespoons warm water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice


For the Halibut
  1. Pat the halibut dry and place it in a shallow dish (I used a pie plate)
  2. Mix the salt and sugar together and sprinkle it evenly over both sides of the fish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours. 
  3. When ready to fry the fish, remove it from the refrigerator and drain off any excess liquid. 
  4. Whisk together the chili paste, fish sauce, lime juice, black pepper, and lemongrass in a small bowl. 
  5. Heat a 12 inch skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and let heat until it begins to shimmer. Add the garlic and stir for about a minute. 
  6. Add the fish fillet(s) and pour the fish sauce/lemongrass mixture over the fish. Fry the fish for five minutes per side. 
  7. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce (see notes above about serving suggestions). 
For the Nước Chấm Dipping Sauce
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients until the sugar is completely dissolved. 
  2. Let sit at room temperature for several hours for the flavors to meld. 
  3. Refrigerate any leftover sauce. Bring back to room temperature to serve. 
Inlinx code

Vietnamese-Style Pan Fried Halibut with Lemongrass and Nước Chấm Dipping Sauce

Would you like to comment?

  1. Yum! Thank you for this great recipe! I'll be trying it! P~

  2. I would love this in some lettuce leaves. I know the usual has a pan caramel, but this looks delicious!

    1. Thanks! That is one of the ways that this fish is eaten with the salad plate. Wrap pieces of fish in lettuce and dip it in the sauce. So good.

  3. I am actually drooling over here. This looks amazingly delicious.

  4. This sounds delicious, and love the sound of the dipping sauce too.

  5. LOVED this one Karen! So simple and yet, so delicious! Lemongrass is quite rare in Greece, so we'll have to use lemon zest perhaps instead:/ One small question: The reason for seasoning with salt and sugar overnight is to make the fish more firm? To retain its shape better later on?
    Thank you for the fantastic recipe dear!

    1. I'm not sure if there's a scientific reason and may be a Vietnamese technique. It actually flavors the fish and pulls off some water. I found the fish to be firmer but still moist when eaten. I do think that lemon zest might work. I have also seen dried lemongrass available. I bet you guys could actually grow lemongrass there =)

    2. We actually could, if we could get some seeds, that's true! :) Thanx for clarifying Karen, it sounds like a great idea, especially when using frozen fish fillets that hold too much water.
      Have a beautiful day ahead!

  6. Perfectly browned fish and wonderful dipping sauce , love the combo.

  7. Thanks so much for sharing this with First Monday Favorites, I think I need to try this out. I've got some grouper in the freezer, hmmmm....

  8. Karen, this looks simply amazing! Faith, Hope, Love, & Luck Survive Despite a Whiskered Accomplice


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