Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Vietnamese Salad with Chicken / “Goi Ga”

We are very good friends with an English/Vietnamese couple and I have been pestering her for ages to teach me some Vietnamese dishes. Well finally I was obviously becoming too annoying and so invited me around last week and showed me two delicious recipes. She has also promised me a demonstration on Vietnamese spring rolls (both the cooked and uncooked types) and I can’t wait.

We were very regular visitors to a cheap and cheerful Vietnamese restaurant in Hong Kong called Perfume River and I was always surprised, and in fact I still am, about how both Thai and Vietnamese food share a lot of the same basic ingredients but how different their foods are.

Anyway, dear readers, I am going to share with you one of the recipes today and the others will follow.

I cannot help myself and I have already played around a little bit with her recipe and so this is my plagiarised version which may or may not be as good as the original.

Ingredients (for four)

300g chicken breast
5 carrots, peeled
5 small local cucumbers, washed, halved lengthways and seeds scraped out. Don’t peel.
2 red (Spanish) onions
A good sized handful of fresh coriander
A good sized handful of fresh mint
50g raw peanuts, roasted for five minutes then roughly crushed in mortar and pestle
2 cloves garlic
50g shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tsp oyster sauce
2 tsp light soy sauce
Also salt, pepper, sugar, oil

For the pickling mixture:

200ml white (or rice) vinegar
200ml water
2 tbsp sugar
4 tsp fish sauce

For the dressing:

200ml boiled water from the kettle
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
2 Thai chillis, chopped fine (or more if you are brave)
2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)
2 tsp fresh lime juice

As with a lot of Asian salads, actually Asian food in general, the hard work and the time is in the preparation, the assembling of the salad is a work of minutes.

Place the chicken fillets on a wooden board, cover with cling film and using a rolling pin gently bash it to flatten and thin it slightly. Don’t go mad!

Place chicken into a shallow dish and sprinkle with salt, pepper, 1 tsp brown sugar, 2 tsp oyster sauce and 2 tsp light soy sauce, chopped garlic. Leave to marinade for 45 minutes.

In a saucepan put the pickling mixture ingredients, bring to a gentle boil, stir to make sure all the sugar has dissolved, remove from heat and set to one side to cool down.

Using a potato peeler or a mandolin on the thinnest setting cut into very thin strips the carrots, cucumber and the onions.

Put them into a glass bowl and pour the cooled pickling liquid on. Give it a very good stir and set to one side for at least 45 minutes. Give it another good stir every ten minutes or so to make sure all the vegetables get a good soaking.

Make the dressing by combining boiled water with the sugar and stirring until dissolved, then add the rest of the ingredients. Set to one side to cool.

Take a clean tea towel and place about a quarter of the chopped vegetables (carrot, cucumber and onions) in the middle. Fold the towel and giving it a number of very tight twists squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Tip the squeezed vegetables onto a large flat platter, and repeat until all the vegetables are done.

In a small frying pan with about 1 tbsp groundnut oil (no one said Vietnamese salads were healthy) fry the chopped shallots until nicely browned and a little bit crispy. Do be careful here, there is an incredibly fine line between brown and crispy and burnt!

Wash and chop very fine the mint and coriander (it will look like a lot but don’t worry) and spread on top of the vegetables.

Get a grill or a griddle pan nice and hot and quickly cook the chicken. It won’t take long as they are quite thin. Once cooked chop into small pieces and spread on top of the rest of the salad ingredients.

Spoon the cooked shallots on top, no need to drain.

Pour the dressing all over the salad and serve.

Now here are a couple of other thoughts that I have:

Chinese cabbage would be great in this, after all being pickled is the best way to treat this vegetable as any Korean will tell you!

I also think some Chinese vermicelli noodles would be good. I would boil them as per instructions, refresh under cold water, drain and then put down on the platter first before placing all the other ingredients on top.

The chicken could very easily be substituted with prawns and / or pork. In fact I think this would be a great salad with left-over turkey.

I would also like to try substituting the crushed nuts with toasted rice. In a dry frying pan put about 1 tbsp uncooked rice and over a medium heat cook until nice and brown. Place in mortar & pestle and grind until you are left with a pretty coarse powder. Sprinkle over the salad instead of the nuts.

I would like to add this dish to my BBQ repertoire. It would be nice to have the whole salad prepared and on the table, then to quickly BBQ the chicken, chopped it up, throw it on top, spoon on the dressing and serve straightaway.


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