Sunday, May 13, 2012

Recipe: Bun Ga Nuong (Rice Vermicelli with Grilled Chicken)

Just because you can't pronounce something, doesn't mean you might not want to eat it.

Courtesy of Viet Taste. For some reason,
the pictures of my own cooking were erased.
When my sister and I were kiddos, our baby sitters were two sisters from Vietnam. One had grown up in the U.S., and the other, Ngo, had just arrived after waiting many years for permission to come to America. She and her father had been refugees in China all that time.

We adored the sisters, especially Ngo. She spoke almost no English, but was so loving and kind that the language barrier didn't matter. And she cooked us amazing food! I remember one day my mother was running out the door and told Ngo that we could have soup for lunch. My mom, like most of us, meant Progresso from a can. But Ngo wasn't yet familiar with the American love affair with processed food. She cooked us soup - made from scratch.

Since our summer days with Ngo, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Vietnamese food, especially noodle soups and salads that remind me of her. I usually order the same thing when I go out: bun, or rice vermicelli.

Because I don't eat red meat or pork, I usually get bun ga nuong, which is vermicelli with grilled chicken. I've recently discovered that it's incredibly easy and healthy to make at home, too.

This is a salad, so don't worry too much about proportions. Add more of what you like, less of what you don't like as much - just like when you make a regular salad.


For marinade:
Juice of 1 lime
Reduced-sodium soy sauce
Fish sauce (the Red Boat brand is far superior to others I've tried, and is available at Whole Foods. Plus, if you click that link, there's a funny video with Top Chef's Spike visiting the fish sauce factory)
Red chili flakes

1-1.5 lbs. Organic chicken breasts, sliced into strips, or chicken tenders. Each person should get 4-6 strips.

Make the marinade: Mix together the ingredients for the marinade. I never measure, but if you want some proportions, here's what you do: Squeeze the lime juice into a big bowl. Put in some soy sauce (only a couple of glugs, or it will be too salty). Then put in a couple of tablespoons of fish sauce (again, don't get crazy, or it will be too salty). Shake in the red pepper flakes. Skip them if you don't like spicy food.

If you're scared of not measuring, don't worry. Just taste the marinade before you put the chicken in it. It should be limey-spicey-fishy-salty. But not TOO salty. If you think the flavor needs adjusting, add more of what you like.

Marinate the chicken: Add the chicken to the bowl of marinade and turn to toss. Cover and put in the refrigerator for 30 min. to an hour.

For the salad:
Your favorite crunchy veg, sliced into shreds (think lettuce, carrots, pre-made broccoli slaw, cabbage, bean sprouts, cucumber ... pick whatever you like in your salad)
2 green onions, chopped fine
a handful of mint leaves
avocado (this isn't traditional, but I like to add avocado to almost everything).

Rice vermicelli noodles (You can find these at Asian markets or in the Asian foods section of many grocery stores. For each person, you want a handful; you should be able to hold each person's portion between your thumb and forefinger. )

Unsalted, roasted peanuts, chopped coarsely

For the dressing (this is for one person):
Juice of another lime
Fish sauce
Sesame, olive, or vegetable oil

Step 1: Chop the veg.
You want all of your veg chopped before anything else. You can add the crunchy veg, the green onion, and mint to the same bowl. Toss. 

Step 2: Make the dressing
In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, a tablespoon or two of fish sauce, a few drops of the oil, and a shake of pepper. You might also add chili flakes if you like your food spicy. If you have small prep bowls, it's nice to add each person's dressing to one bowl.

Step 3: Grill the chicken
I use a cast-iron grill pan. I coat it with a little oil, slowly heat it (you don't want to heat your cast-iron quickly) and put the chicken on. Grilling this way is an inexact science - I watch until the chicken has turned from pink to white halfway up; then flip the chicken. When the outside is completely white, I check to make sure that it's not pink on the inside.

If you don't have a grill pan, you can use an actual grill or saute the chicken. When it's done, transfer it to a plate.

Step 4: Cook the noodles (while you're grilling the chicken)
Follow the instructions on the noodle package. Rice vermicelli can get sticky, so make sure you follow the directions carefully. They cook longer than other types of rice noodles, however, so you'll want to test to make sure they're done to your liking. 

Step 5: Put it all together
Drain and rinse the noodles. Put each person's portion of noodles in the bottom of a bowl. Arrange the veg, grilled chicken, and avocado on top of the noodles. You can just arrange everything prettily. 

Step 6: Serve
Give each person their bowl of noodles, salad, and chicken; plus a small bowl of the dressing. The peanuts are a garnish -- you can put a bowl in the middle of the table, or give each person a small sprinkling.

Step 7: Eat
To eat, you dump the dressing into the bowl and mix everything up. Then you can slurp the noodles and eat the salad with chopsticks.

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