I’ve been addicted to the grill since the onset of warmer weather, but the hardwood grilling setup can be a bit of a production on work nights, especially with the super-appealing thought of schlepping a bag of all-natural charcoal home on my back in addition to carrying groceries on a sultry, eighty seven degree evening.
Yesterday I suffered food paralysis in the produce section of Whole Foods. The recipe for this salad, that I was totally feeling early that morning when I’d emailed it to myself, was all illuminated on the screen of my phone. The game plan was there, and still, I hesitated.
It was partially because I was not feeling up for the challenge of what I was starting to realize was a not-quite-simple recipe. What had once seemed like a pleasant evening of cooking, suddenly felt like a huge, post-work drag.
But I persevered. I dealt with the mob scene in the isles, and was patient with the slightly slow woman at the checkout who couldn’t find the grocery codes for four of my purchases. I sweat all the way home – thank god I had changed into sensible flip flops for my travels. Then, as soon as I had stowed everything in the fridge, I opened a bottle of wine and ordered us some delicious sushi.
Tonight I came at this recipe with renewed vigor, and my what delicious victory. This recipe comes with two warning labels:
1 – It takes awhile, but it might be worth cooking for an audience if you are not into involved cooking projects for your average weeknight meal.
2 – If you use the tiny, green Thai chili peppers, DO NOT TOUCH THEM. I did, and then I touched my face, and both areas are still burning hours later. Be sure to wash with hot water and soap immediately if you do touch them.
I’m really happy with the results of this recipe. I made some tweaks to the original – using a combination of the Thai chilies and Sriracha sauce rather than red chilies, adding lemongrass to the boiling water for the chicken, reducing the fish sauce, and finally, finishing the chicken with a round of roasting, to crisp the skin and evaporate some of the water.
This salad was a delicious flavor bombardment – hot and spicy balanced with sweet, with the fresh flavor of the mint and basil. It was so worth the steps it took to get to the end, and I’ll be enjoying some sweet leftovers at my desk tomorrow.
Vietnamese Chicken Salad
Adapted from Gourmet, August 2008
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled ginger
2 tablespoons Sriracha hot chili pepper sauce
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh green Thai chiles, or to taste
1 whole chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds)
1 (2-pound) green cabbage
1/2 pound carrots
1 tablespoon sugar
1 stalk of lemongrass, sliced through into quarters
For dressing and topping:
4 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 finely chopped fresh green thai chili
2 teaspoon finely chopped peeled ginger
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons sriracha hot chili sauce
1/2 cup packed torn basil leaves
1/2 cup packed torn mint leaves
an adjustable-blade slicer
lime wedges; thinly sliced fresh red chiles (optional)
Make chicken and vegetables for salad:
Stir together lime juice, garlic, ginger, chiles, Sriracha, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, then rub all over chicken, inside and out. Marinate, covered, at room temperature while cooking vegetables.
Thinly slice cabbage with slicer. Cut carrots into thin matchsticks (1/8 inch) with a knife. Cook vegetables in a large pot of salted boiling water (2 tablespoons salt for 6 quarts water) until crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a large sieve or colander with a slotted spoon (return water to a boil) and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Drain well.
Add sugar to boiling water, then add chicken and lemongrass with marinade and cook, covered, 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let chicken stand in cooking liquid, covered, 30 minutes. Carefully transfer chicken with tongs to a cutting board and let stand until cool enough to handle. Coarsely shred meat (and skin if desired), transferring to a large bowl.
Make dressing while chicken cools:
Bring fish sauce and brown sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Blend mixture in a blender along with chiles, Sriracha, ginger, and garlic (use caution when blending hot liquids). Stir in lime juice.
Transfer to a large sieve or colander with a slotted spoon (return water to a boil) and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Drain well.
Add sugar to boiling water, then add chicken with marinade and cook, covered, 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let chicken stand in cooking liquid, covered, 30 minutes. (Note: here is the point where I roasted the chicken at 400 degrees for 15 minutes – it did not yield the crispness I was hoping for. You may want to try for longer if you have time, I would not bother again). Carefully transfer chicken with tongs to a cutting board and let stand until cool enough to handle. Coarsely shred meat (and skin if desired), transferring to a large bowl.
Make dressing while chicken cools:
Bring fish sauce and brown sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Blend mixture in a blender along with chiles, ginger, and garlic (use caution when blending hot liquids). Stir in lime juice.
Toss vegetables with half of dressing and chicken with remainder. Serve chicken over vegetables and sprinkle with basil and mint. Or mix everything together, as I did. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Chicken can be marinated up to 1 hour.
Chicken and vegetables can be cooked 1 day ahead. Chill separately (covered once cool).
Dressing can be made 1 day ahead and chilled in an airtight container.