Growing up, our mom never measured her ingredients out. It was a toss of this, a pinch of that…..taste, adjust, and a few more shakes of whatever just for kicks. And even when she was coerced into documenting her dishes, they were vague amounts such as a “1/2 rice bowl of sugar” and a “handful of garlic”. Everything was “to taste”.
It made it difficult as heck to learn her “recipes” but I soon realized all of our aunties were like that too. And that’s what I’ve come to believe Vietnamese cooking to be. It’s pretty tricky as it’s all “to taste” and highly subjective.
You’ll find this quandary even more prominent in “simple” dishes as one slight off-balanced proportion will throw your taste buds for a spin. Things like nước chấm, soups, and even salads will have you repeatedly tasting and adjusting for the perfect balance.
Thịt Gà Bóp Rau Răm, is a perfect example of this challenge and was a staple in our household growing up. Popularized from the Huế region of Viet Nam, shredded poached chicken is tossed in a light vinaigrette and packed FULL of fresh herbs and thinly sliced onions. And although I’ve given some measurements in the recipe below, it really depends on your flavor palette to add as much or as little lemon juice and sugar or salt and pepper. Just keep in mind that it’s also served with the nước chấm dipping sauce so you’ll need to adjust accordingly.
With all that said, the rau răm (known as Vietnamese Cilantro or Vietnamese Coriander) is my favorite part of the dish. The uniquely bright and slightly peppery flavor this herb adds is something that is difficult to describe but must be experienced. In fact, I’d say that it’s my favorite herb, closely followed by fresh cilantro and Thai basil. The addition of the shredded red cabbage is my nod to the restaurant, Hue Rendezvous in Westminster, California. They serve their Gà Bóp on top of shredded green cabbage, which I think is such a great addition for the added crunch and texture. This time around, I chose to use red cabbage because it’s a little milder in flavor and because its beautiful color provided such a striking contrast.
Thịt Gà Bóp Rau Răm is best served at room temperature and would be a great addition to any summer picnic or luncheon. I’d even venture to say a light Rau Răm Mojito would be a great cocktail pairing for this dish. And that, my friends, is how I also come up with random cocktails
Thịt Gà Bóp Rau Răm (Huế Style Chicken Salad with Vietnamese Cilantro)
1 Whole Chicken, preferably Free-Range
2 Tablespoons Nước Mắm, fish sauce
2 Inches Fresh Ginger
3 Whole Garlic Cloves, lightly crushed
½ Tablespoon Black Pepper Corns
1 Small Sized Red Cabbage, shredded
1 Medium Sized White Onion, sliced paper thin
½ Cup Rice Wine Vinegar
1 Bunch (about 1½ cups) Rau Răm leaves, roughly chopped
¼ Cup Fresh Cilantro, roughly chopped
¼ Cup Fresh Lime Juice
1 Teaspoon Sugar
Optional: Nước chấm, fried shallots, crushed peanuts, and chilies
Thoroughly wash and clean the chicken. I usually lightly scrub several tablespoons of table salt all over the exterior body/interior cavity of the chicken and rub cut lemon wedges over the skin. This acts as a type of “exfoliant” and helps to reduce impurities and grit as the chicken is poaching. Trim any excess fat and skin as well as be sure to remove the bag of giblets and neck. Rinse the chicken well with cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Prick the skin of the chicken all over with the tines of a fork.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the nước mắm, ginger, garlic cloves, and pepper corns. Gently ease the chicken into the pot and lower the heat to an even simmer. Poach until cooked—about 25-30 minutes. (Skim off any impurities that may form and discard.) Carefully remove the chicken from the pot and cool to room temperature. *At this point, the poaching liquids can be strained and stored to be used as a light chicken broth at another time.
While the chicken is cooling, combine the sliced onions and rice vinegar in a small bowl. Toss to cover thoroughly and allow to sit for about 15 minutes. In another small bowl, dissolve the sugar into the lime juice.
When the chicken is cooled enough to handle, shred all the meat into bite sized pieces discarding the skin, bones, and fatty portions. Toss the shredded chicken with the pickled onions and add in the rau răm and cilantro. Add the lime juice mixture a little bit at a time to your taste preference. Season with salt and pepper.
To plate, spread the shredded cabbage on a large plate and top with a pile of the shredded chicken salad. Sprinkle the tops with fried shallots, chilies, crushed peanuts and serve with nước chấm on the side.
*It should be noted that Gà Đi Bộ (free range chicken) is preferred in this dish for its texture and flavor.
**This is my submission to Delicious Vietnam #14, a monthly blogging event celebrating Vietnamese cuisine which was started by Anh of A Food Lover’s Journey and Hong & Kim of Ravenous Couple. For more information, please visit Delicious Vietnam Thanks to Rau Om for hosting this month!**