Ultimate Chao Ca Recipe Guide: Prep, Serve, and Store Like a Pro

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Written By Hot Thai Restaurant

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We’ve all had those days when we crave something warm, comforting, and nourishing. That’s where the magic of Chao Ca comes into play. This traditional Vietnamese fish porridge isn’t just a dish; it’s a hug in a bowl. Originating from the vibrant streets of Vietnam, Chao Ca has warmed hearts and bellies, weaving its way into the fabric of Vietnamese culinary tradition.

What makes Chao Ca truly special is its simplicity and depth of flavor. With just a few ingredients, we’ll show you how to transform humble beginnings into a rich, flavorful experience. It’s not just about feeding the body but also soothing the soul. Whether you’re a seasoned home cook or new to the kitchen, this recipe promises a journey to the heart of Vietnamese comfort food. So, let’s get our pots ready and dive into the comforting embrace of Chao Ca.

Ingredients for Chao Ca

Diving right into the heart of this comforting recipe, we’ll start by gathering all the necessary ingredients for our Chao Ca. Ensuring we have everything on hand makes the cooking process smooth and enjoyable.

For the Fish Stock

  • 1 lb (450g) white fish fillets (such as tilapia, cod, or haddock), fresh or frozen
  • 6 cups (1.4 liters) of water
  • 2 slices of ginger
  • 1 onion, halved and unpeeled
  • 2 teaspoons (10ml) fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) salt

For the Rice Porridge

  • 1 cup (200g) jasmine rice, rinsed and drained
  • 6 cups (1.4 liters) of water or as needed to adjust the consistency
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) fish sauce, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon (5g) sugar, optional
  • ½ teaspoon (2.5g) ground white pepper
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 ginger section, julienned
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) fried shallots
  • Fresh dill, roughly chopped (optional but highly recommended for an authentic flavor)
  • 2-3 red chili peppers, sliced (adjust based on your heat preference)
  • Lemon or lime wedges, for serving

Gathering these ingredients is the first step in creating a flavorful and soul-soothing bowl of Chao Ca. Each element plays a vital role in building the dish’s depth and complexity. Ready your kitchen, and let’s embark on this culinary journey together, blending tradition with our personal touch for a memorable meal.

Tools and Equipment Needed

Embarking on the journey to create Chao Ca requires not just heart and soul but the right set of tools and equipment. With the right items at our disposal, we can transform simple ingredients into a comforting bowl of fish porridge that’s both nourishing and satisfying. Here’s what we need to get started:

For Preparing the Fish and Broth:

  • Large Pot or Dutch Oven: Ideal for simmering the broth and fish to create the flavorful base of our porridge.
  • Skimmer or Slotted Spoon: Helps to remove the fish and any impurities from the broth, ensuring a clear and clean base for our Chao Ca.
  • Fine Mesh Strainer: Useful for straining the broth to achieve a smooth and particulate-free texture.

For Cooking the Rice:

  • Medium Saucepan: To perfectly cook the rice until it’s just tender, forming the heart of our porridge.
  • Wooden Spoon: Essential for stirring the rice gently, preventing it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

For Serving:

  • Ladle: For serving the porridge into bowls evenly and efficiently.
  • Bowls: To present our delectable Chao Ca, welcoming everyone to savor this traditional Vietnamese comfort dish.
  • Chopping Board and Knife: For preparing garnishes such as spring onions, cilantro, and chillies, which add freshness and a pop of color to our dish.
  • Mortar and Pestle: For those who prefer to make their ginger and garlic paste from scratch, this tool will come in handy.
  • Rice Washer: To thoroughly rinse the rice, removing excess starch and ensuring the porridge has the perfect consistency.

Gathering these tools and equipment before we begin simplifies the cooking process, making it a seamless and enjoyable experience. With everything in place, we’re ready to dive into the heartwarming world of Chao Ca, crafting a dish that’s as soothing to make as it is to eat.

Make-Ahead Instructions

As we delve deeper into the art of crafting Chao Ca, let’s explore how to make parts of this nourishing dish ahead of time. It’s an excellent way to break the cooking process into manageable steps, ensuring that putting together this heartwarming meal is as relaxing as enjoying it.

Preparing the Broth

A soulful broth is the backbone of Chao Ca. Start by simmering your choice of fish bones or a small, whole fish with water on a low heat. Include slices of ginger and a few springs of green onions to infuse the broth with depth and aroma. After about 1 to 2 hours, strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer to ensure clarity. This broth can be prepared up to two days ahead and stored in the refrigerator. When ready to use, simply bring it to a simmer, and it’s good to go.

Marinating the Fish

Selecting fresh fish like tilapia, snapper, or catfish enhances the authenticity of Chao Ca. Cut the fish into thin slices or bite-sized chunks, depending on your preference. Marinate it with a mixture of fish sauce, a pinch of salt, and a dash of white pepper. Additionally, a bit of minced ginger can be added for an extra layer of flavor. Cover and let the fish marinate in the refrigerator. This step can be done the night before, allowing the fish to absorb all the wonderful flavors, making it even more delicious when cooked.

Pre-Cooking the Rice

For Chao Ca, using day-old rice brings out a better texture in the porridge. However, you can also rinse your rice, then partially cook it until it’s just beginning to soften but not yet fully cooked. Spread it out to cool and then store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This pre-cooking method saves you significant time on the day of and ensures your porridge acquires the perfect consistency more quickly.


In this section, we’ll walk through the essential steps of prepping our main ingredients—fish and rice. Paying close attention to these steps will ensure our Chao Ca turns out perfectly every time.

Cleaning and Preparing the Fish

First, we have our fish—any white, firm fish will do. We prefer using tilapia or cod for their mild flavor and tender texture. Begin by thoroughly rinsing the fish under cold water to remove any residue or scales. Then, gently pat the fish dry with paper towels. This step is crucial for the marination process to adhere more effectively.

Next, carefully remove the bones and skin if you haven’t yet purchased filleted fish. Once you have boneless, skinless fillets, cut them into bite-sized pieces. This makes the fish easier to eat once incorporated into the porridge. After cutting, place the fish pieces in a bowl and set them aside for marination. We’ll marinade the fish with a blend of minced ginger and a pinch of salt to infuse it with aromatic flavors that will enrich our Chao Ca.

Rinsing and Soaking the Rice

Now onto the rice. We recommend using jasmine rice for its fragrant and slightly sticky nature, which contributes beautifully to the porridge’s consistency. Start by measuring out 1 cup of jasmine rice. Then, rinse the rice under cold, running water. Stir the rice with your hand as you rinse, continuing this process until the water runs clear. This step removes excess starch and prevents the porridge from becoming too thick or gluey.

After rinsing, soak the rice in clean water for about 30 minutes. Soaking helps to soften the grains, ensuring they cook evenly and absorb flavors more effectively throughout the cooking process. Once soaked, drain the rice using a fine-mesh sieve and give it one final rinse under cold water. Now, the rice is ready to be cooked into the soothing and comforting bowl of Chao Ca we’re aiming for.

Cooking the Fish Stock

After preparing the fish and rice, the next pivotal step in creating the soulful Chao Ca is crafting the fish stock. This stock forms the base of our porridge, infusing it with depth and richness.

Steps to Simmer the Stock

  1. Prepare the Stock Ingredients:
  • Begin by gathering the bones and head of the fish you’ve set aside. These parts are packed with flavor, ideal for a robust stock.
  • Measure out 8 cups of water, ensuring you have enough to cover the fish parts completely.
  • Chop 1 large onion and 2 stalks of celery into rough pieces. These vegetables will add an aromatic sweetness to our stock.
  • Slice a 2-inch piece of ginger. This will contribute a warm, spicy undertone to the broth.

2. Combine Ingredients in a Pot:

    • In a large stockpot, arrange the fish bones and head at the bottom. Layer the chopped onion, celery, and ginger slices on top of the fish parts.
    • Pour the 8 cups of water over the ingredients in the pot. The water should fully submerge the ingredients, ensuring a balanced extraction of flavors.

    3. Bring to a Boil:

      • Place the pot over medium-high heat and wait for the mixture to reach a boil. This initial high heat helps to release the flavors from the fish and aromatics.

      4. Reduce Heat and Simmer:

        • Once boiling, lower the heat to a gentle simmer. This slower cooking process allows the flavors to meld together without overextracting, which could make the stock bitter.
        • Leave the pot uncovered, simmering for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Occasional skimming of any impurities that rise to the surface during simmering will result in a clearer, more appealing stock.

        5. Monitor the Pot:

          • Keep an eye on the pot, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain a steady, gentle simmer. The slow bubbling ensures that the stock extracts maximum flavor from the fish bones and aromatics.

          6. Prepare for Straining:

            • After simmering, remove the pot from heat. Have a large bowl handy, along with a fine-mesh strainer to ensure a smooth, debris-free stock.

            7. Strain the Stock:

              • Place the strainer over the bowl. Carefully pour the stock through the strainer, capturing the clear liquid and leaving behind the solid pieces.
              • Press softly on the solids with the back of a spoon to squeeze out any remaining flavorful liquid.
              • Discard the solids after straining. What remains is a vibrant, aromatic fish stock, the heart of our Chao Ca.

              8. Cooling the Stock:

                • Allow the strained stock to cool slightly. If not using immediately, you can store the cooled stock

                Preparing the Rice Porridge

                Now that our fish is marinated and our stock is rich and ready, let’s move on to preparing the body of our Chao Ca—the rice porridge itself. This step is crucial for achieving that creamy, comforting consistency that makes this dish a beloved comfort food.

                Cooking the Rice

                First, we’ll start by cooking the rice. If you followed our preparation steps, you should have your jasmine rice rinsed and soaked. Draining the rice, we’ll move it to a large pot. For this step, precise water measurement is key—add about four cups of water to the pot for every cup of rice. This ratio ensures our porridge has the perfect texture, not too thick and not too runny.

                Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer. Stir occasionally to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot. This is a good time to watch as the rice grains begin to swell and burst slightly, gradually transforming into a soft and creamy porridge.

                Keep an eye on the consistency; it usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes for the rice to fully cook and reach a porridge-like consistency. Should the porridge become too thick for your liking, feel free to adjust by adding a little more water until you reach your desired thickness.

                Combining with the Fish Stock

                With our rice porridge base ready, it’s time to infuse it with the flavors of our aromatic fish stock. Slowly pour the strained fish stock into the pot with the rice. The golden rule here is to add enough stock to marry the flavors while maintaining the creamy consistency of the porridge—you’ll want about a 2:1 ratio of stock to rice.

                Stir the mixture well to ensure the stock and rice porridge are fully combined. Bring the pot back to a gentle simmer. This simmering process allows the flavors from the fish stock to seep into the rice, enhancing the overall taste of the Chao Ca. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain a low simmer; we don’t want to rush this step as the gentle cooking melds the flavors together beautifully.

                As the porridge simmers, taste and adjust the seasoning according to your preference. Some might prefer a bit more salt or a dash of fish sauce for an umami kick. Continue to simmer for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the porridge reaches a rich and creamy consistency that envelops your spoon in a velvety coat.

                Assembling the Chao Ca

                Having prepared the creamy rice porridge and the aromatic fish stock, it’s time to bring all the elements together. This final step transforms simple ingredients into the comforting bowl of Chao Ca, a dish that’s as nourishing as it is delicious.

                Adding the Fish to the Porridge

                After the rice porridge has achieved its creamy consistency, gently fold in the marinated fish. This is a delicate process, as you want to ensure the fish remains as intact as possible to maintain its texture and flavor. Slowly incorporate the fish into the porridge, using a folding motion rather than stirring, to avoid breaking the fish pieces.

                Heat the porridge over a low flame, allowing the fish to cook through while absorbing the flavors of the porridge. This should take approximately 5-7 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish fillets. You’ll know it’s ready when the fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork. It’s essential to maintain a gentle simmer, as vigorous boiling can cause the fish to disintegrate and the porridge to lose its creamy consistency.

                Final Seasoning Adjustments

                Once the fish is fully cooked and tender, it’s time for the final taste test. Seasoning adjustments are crucial at this stage to ensure the Chao Ca is perfectly balanced. Start by tasting a small spoonful. If it needs more depth, add a pinch of salt or a splash of fish sauce. For a bit of brightness, a squeeze of lime juice can work wonders. Remember, the key is to add seasonings gradually, tasting as you go, until it suits your palate perfectly.

                This final step not only enhances the flavors but also personalizes the dish to your taste preferences. Adjusting seasonings is an art that elevates this humble bowl of fish porridge into a gourmet experience. With the fish tender and the porridge rich and flavorful, your Chao Ca is now ready to be served. Ladle it into bowls, garnish as desired, and enjoy the warmth and comfort it brings.

                Serving Suggestions

                After carefully crafting our Chao Ca to perfection, it’s time to discuss how to best serve this comforting bowl of fish porridge. The right garnishes and presentation can elevate this dish from a simple meal to an elegant dining experience.

                Plating the Chao Ca

                When it comes to plating the Chao Ca, choose a deep bowl that will cradle the porridge and keep it warm. Ladle a generous serving of the creamy rice porridge into the bowl, ensuring there are ample pieces of the tender fish scattered throughout. The goal is to create a visually appealing bowl that invites diners to dive in. The warmth and aroma wafting from the porridge should be the first sign of the comforting meal that awaits.

                Recommended Garnishes

                Garnishes are not just decorative; they’re transformative. For Chao Ca, we recommend a selection of fresh herbs and other toppings to complement the flavors:

                • Fresh Herbs: A sprinkle of finely chopped green onions and cilantro can add a fresh, herbaceous flavor that balances the richness of the fish.
                • Crispy Shallots: For a bit of crunch and a hint of sweetness, crispy fried shallots are a delightful addition.
                • Fresh Chili: For those who enjoy a bit of heat, thinly sliced fresh chili peppers can add a vibrant kick.
                • Lime Wedges: Serving Chao Ca with lime wedges on the side allows diners to adjust the acidity to their liking, brightening the overall flavors.
                • Fish Sauce: A small dish of fish sauce on the side for diners to season their porridge to their taste is a thoughtful touch.

                These garnishes not only add layers of flavor and texture but also make the dish visually appealing, inviting everyone to tuck in and enjoy the comforting goodness of Chao Ca.

                Storage and Reheating Tips

                After indulging in the comfort and sophistication of Chao Ca, it’s often the case that we find ourselves with leftovers. Proper storage and reheating are crucial to maintaining the taste and texture of this delightful dish for another meal. Here are our top tips to ensure your Chao Ca remains just as delicious the next day.

                Storing Leftover Chao Ca

                1. Cool Down Quickly: Allow the Chao Ca to cool to room temperature quickly to prevent bacterial growth. Do not leave it out for more than 2 hours after cooking.
                2. Separate Components: If possible, store the broth and fish separately. This helps in preserving the fish’s texture and makes reheating more manageable.
                3. Airtight Containers Are Crucial: Transfer the cooled Chao Ca or its components into airtight containers. This will keep out moisture and other contaminants.
                4. Refrigerate or Freeze: For short-term storage, keep your Chao Ca in the refrigerator, where it’ll stay fresh for up to 3 days. For longer storage, freezing is an option. Frozen Chao Ca can last for up to 1 month. Remember to label the containers with the date of storage.
                5. Thaw If Frozen: If you’ve frozen your Chao Ca, allow it to thaw in the refrigerator overnight. This gradual thawing helps maintain the integrity of the dish.
                6. Opt for Stovetop Reheating: Gently reheat the Chao Ca on the stovetop over low heat. This method allows you to control the temperature closely, preventing the porridge from becoming too thick or the fish from overcooking. Stir occasionally to ensure even warmth.
                7. Add a Little Water or Broth: Upon reheating, the Chao Ca might have thickened. If so, add a little water or additional broth to bring back its original consistency. Adjust the seasoning as needed, as flavors can mellow with storage.
                8. Avoid Microwaving If Possible: While quick, microwaving can unevenly heat the Chao Ca and adversely affect the texture of the fish. If the microwave is your only option, do so in short intervals at a low setting, stirring in between to distribute heat evenly.


                We’ve walked through the delightful journey of making Chao Ca, from preparation to the perfect way to serve it. Our guide on storing and reheating ensures that not a single spoonful goes to waste, keeping the flavors as vibrant as when it was first cooked. Remember, it’s all about preserving the essence of this traditional dish while making it work for your lifestyle. So, go ahead, give it a try and let this comforting bowl of fish porridge warm your heart and home. Happy cooking!

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