Another mind trip to the Far East, in this case Vietnam has inspired me to look for some more healthy, fresh and taste bud exploding food. Trawling through Rick Steins ‘French Odyssey’, and Uyen Luu’s ‘My Vietnamese Kitchen’ produced a couple of interesting recipes, this is my adaption and interpretation of them both. France had a massive influence on Vietnam, it was a part of the French Colonial Empire until 1954, when Viet Minh (league for the independence of Vietnam) won a decisive victory against French forces at the gruelling Battle of Dien Bien Phu.
For this lip smacking recipe you are going to need a few ingredients, there are 3 stages to make this work. Buy THE BEST chicken you can afford, I chose two supremes from our local awesome farm shop Casey Fields, its not injected with anything so has great TEXTURE, unlike the stuff in supermarkets, its makes a difference in this dish, due to the very texture.
- 1 1/2 inches of Galangal or Ginger if you can’t get it
- 1 Stalk Lemongrass, bashed with a rolling pin and halved widthways
- 3 Star Anise
- 4 Kaffir Lime Leaves
- 1 Shallot, quartered
- 1 Red Thai Chilli
- 1 Green Thai Chilli
- 1 Garlic Clove, quartered
- 1 1/2 Litres water
Chuck all the poaching ingredients and water into a saucepan, bring to a boil and place the Chicken in the liquor, allowing to simmer gentle for 8 – 10 minutes lid on, then take off the heat and let cool right down which can take 2 – 3 hours. This ensures the Chicken is cooked, but remains moist and soaks up the flavours. You are going to use the liquor again, so DON’T throw it away!!
The next stage is to prepare the sauce, this imparts the Sour, Bitter, Sweet, Spicy, Salty which is typical of Vietnamese Cuisine, this is the balance of 5 elements, spicy (metal), sour (wood), bitter (fire), salty (water) and sweet (Earth), corresponding to: five organs the gall bladder, small intestine, large intestine, stomach, and urinary bladder. Its all about the Yin Yang balance and you can find more about is HERE.
- 4 Tbls Fish Sauce (Nam Pla)
- 2 Tbls Rice Wine Vinegar
- 1 Fresh Lime (juiced)
- 2 Tbls Palm Sugar
- 1/2 – 1 Garlic Clove very finely sliced
- 2 Finely Sliced Thai Red Chilli’s
- 1 Slivered Thai Green Chilli (add when finished as a colour balance)
- 1 Halved and Sliced Shallot
- 1/2 – 1 Tsp Corn Flour mixed with a little water
ALL +/- to taste.
Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan except the Corn Flour and heat until the Palm Sugar has melted into the sauce, then TASTE TASTE TASTE, you are looking to strike a balance between each of the elements, your palate will tell you what you need to add more off, in my case I needed more Lime Juice and more Palm Sugar, but keep adjusting CAREFULLY until its tastes right for you. When you are happy with the flavour and the sauce is hot (temperature wise!), thicken with some Corn Flour and Water, you are looking for a ‘gloomy’ slightly thickened texture that would coat the back of a spoon and stick. Finally, add the slivered Green Thai Chilli and set aside to cool.
We need to add some texture elements to the dish, which come in the form of Roasted and Salted Peanuts and Hoe Fun Rice Stick Noodles. I used raw peanuts, removed their skins by rubbing between fingers (a but laborious, but kind of relaxing), and then placing them in a hot frying pan with a SMALL amount of oil and sprinkled with sea salt cooking until they change colour from Pale blond, to light brown.
Hoe Fun Rice Stick Noodles are made from Rice Flour and Water, and readily available, similar to Vermicelli Noodles, just thicker and flat in shape. We are going to cook them two ways, the first requires a handful to be soaked in cold water for 15 minutes, this will soften them, but not noticeable. Remember the poaching liquor for the Chicken, well take the Chicken out and place the Liquor into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Plunge the Noodles in the boiling liquor for no MORE than 1 Minute, then remove, strain and sprinkle 4 – 5 DRIPS of Sesame Seed Oil to lubricate and prevent them from sticking together too much. Be CAUTIOUS with the Sesame Oil, its very pungent and its supposed to be a background flavour in this dish, too much and Yuch, so its no more than about 4 – 5 drops and mix in with the cooked Noodles, you have been warned.For the Salad you will need the following ingredients
- 1 Chicken Breast/Supreme per person (Poached as above and left to cool)
- 1 Handfull Roasted Salted Peanuts per person (cooked as above)
- 1 Half Cucumber, Seeds removed per 2 people (so 1/4 lengthways), thinly sliced
- 2 Spring Onions per person, cut at the angle
- 1 Handful Bean Sprouts per person
- 1 Handful Hoe Fun Rice Stick Noodles (cooked as above)
- 2 Tbls Sesame Seeds, toasted in a frying pan
- 5 Mint Leaves Chiffonade per person
- 1/2 Bunch Coriander thinly chopped per person
- 1 Handful Hoe Fun Rice Noodles (Deep Fry them at 190 Degrees and they puff up and go crispy, drain on kitchen paper)
- 10 Muntok White Peppercorns, freshly ground (pestle & mortar if you have one), and sprinkled over at the last minute
You can see most of the Ingredients in the picture above. Firstly take the Chicken, pull it apart into thin strips and place on a plate, drizzle some of the dressing over the Chicken and then add the thinly Sliced Cucumber and Spring Onion. Drizzle some more dressing and then the Chiffonade of Mint, it should look something like this.
Next job is to Spread over the Bean Sprout’s, Coriander, Peanuts, Sesame Seeds and the rest of the Sauce, take the handful of Rice Noodles straight from the packet and put into the fryer, they will cook in seconds, puffing up buzzing. Drain on Kitchen paper, sprinkle with some Sea Salt and place on top of the Salad. The last step is to season with WHITE pepper, I use Muntok Pepper from Steenbergs, freshly ground in a pestle and mortar seconds before serving, its adds another flavour dimension and really adds to the dish, adding a hot slightly Bitter element, so important in Vietnamese Cuisine.
So there you have it, Vietnamese Fragrant Spicy Chicken Salad with Noodles, it is a seriously tasty dish, takes a bit of effort but well worth it. Be warned though, it is quite spicy, not quite as much as the Weeping Tiger Salad I published recently but could still bring tears to your eyes so if you prefer it slightly milder, less Chilli.
My next feature is going to be a braised Pork Cheek dish I have been working on, Far Eastern influences but the main flavour profile is Tutts Clump Cider, should be on the blog later this week.