Friday, 30 May 2008

Southeast Asian Sojourn 2: Chargrilled lemongrass chicken with vermicelli salad

The Young Man got very excited about this one, and told me to say that you really, really have to try it!!

Like he says, it's a super healthy Vietnamese-style (or possibly Thai? I'm happy to be corrected) noodle salad with a great deal going for it: Munchy cucumber and bean shoots, check! Cool, fresh-tasting herbs, check! Vietnam's signature lime, fish sauce and garlic flavours, check! Flavourful crispy-skinned grilled chicken, check! Slippery rice noodles that glide right down the throat, check! It's all here.

You might want to start this in the morning, as you'll want the chicken to marinate for at least a few hours. If you make the nuoc cham in advance (or at least before you prep the salad), you'll have time to chill it in the fridge before serving. Then it will be super easy to put everything together once the chicken is cooked. Since I haven't seen red chillies in Yokohama shops for a while (and the YM would resist them in any case), I substituted a sprinkle of cayenne pepper, and added some quartered nanachan tomatoes for a bit of color. Even if they're not traditional, I think they are a nice addition.

Nuoc cham is the near ubiquitous Vietnamese dipping sauce/condiment. I made mine with Thai fish sauce, which is what I had on hand. It is, I think, a little less salty than its Vietnamese cousin. See this lovely book excerpt at the recklessly enticing The Global Gourmet site for more on this and other Vietnamese flavourings and condiments.

This recipe comes from my latest favourite cookbook, Blue Ginger by Les Huynh. I've adjusted it to feed 4.

Oh, and when Les advises a small food processor, he means small! I used my trusty (but) tiny Braun Multimix (which is perfect for a shoe-box sized kitchen), and even then ended up finishing the marinade off with a mortar and pestle. Since I wasn't using chillies, I didn't need the food processor at all for the nuoc cham.

Chargrilled lemongrass chicken with rice vermicelli salad

(Note: Australian tablespoons (20 ml) are used in this recipe. Add an extra 1 tsp for each tbsp if using non-Australian measuring spoons)

For 4

2 boned chicken thighs
1 tbsp vegetable oil

3 lemongrass stems (white part only), chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled
white pepper, to taste
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp fish sauce
4 tbsp vegetable oil

200 g dried rice vermicelli
1 double handful bean sprouts
2 small handfuls mint leaves, sliced if spearmint, whole if peppermint, or a mix of both
2 handfuls Thai basil leaves [S: or regular basil leaves if Thai variety is unavailable]
2 Japanese cucumbers or 200 g of other kinds, deseeded and julienned
200 ml nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce; see below)

Spring onion oil:
2 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 spring onions, finely sliced

To make the marinade, use a mortar and pestle to pound the lemongrass, pepper and a pinch of salt into a paste. Work in the sugar, fish sauce and oil, pounding until the sugar dissolves. Alternatively, chop the ingredients into a paste using a small food processor. Scoop the marinade into a non-metallic bowl with the chicken. Coat the chicken in the marinade, then marinate in the refrigerator overnight [S: I think doing it in the morning for cooking in the evening is plenty].

To make the salad, put the vermicelli in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to soften for 5-7 minutes. Drain, refresh under cold water, then drain again. Transfer to a large bowl, add the remaining salad ingredients and mix well.

To make the spring onion oil, heat the oil until hot, then add the spring onions and a pinch of salt and cook for 30 seconds. Take the pan off the heat and set aside.

Preheat a chargrill pan or barbecue hotplate over medium-high heat. Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in the pan. Remove the chicken from the marinade and cook it for 7 minute on each side, or until cooked, occasionally pressing firmly on the chicken with a spatula. Remove from the pan, rest in a warm place for 5 minutes, then slice.

To serve, pile the salad into a serving bowl and top with the chicken slices. Drizzle with the spring onion oil. Serve with lime wedges.

Nuoc cham

2 long red chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped
[S: or to taste. I substituted with a sprinkle of cayenne]
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp lime juice
3 tbsp fish sauce [S: I used less. Add gradually to your taste]
1 tbsp rice vinegar
3 tbsp water

Makes 200 ml

Use a mortar and pestle to pound the chillies and garlic into a paste. Alternatively, chop the ingredients in a small food processor. Add the sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, vinegar and 3 tbsp water. Stir until the sugar dissolves.


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