The slow sexy summer way to eat Vietnamese

Rolls of a type.

We start off with a Stephanie Alexander recipe for chicken and mint salad:

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts, skinned and gently poached, then thinly sliced
4 cups of finely sliced Chinese cabbage
1 cup grated carrot
½ cup freshly chopped mint leaves
fresh coriander leaves
crisp-fried shallots or fried peanuts

Dressing

2 fresh chillies, seeded and finely chopped. DO seed…I’m on the manly side about these things and I promise you, seeded is good.
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tblsp of palm sugar or brown sugar
1 tblsp rice vinegar
3 tblsp fresh lime or lemon juice
3 tblsp fish sauce
3 tblsp vegetable oil
2 spring onions, white only, finely sliced

Method

Combine the dressing ingredients and let sit for 30 minutes. Toss the salad ingredients apart from the coriander and shallots with the dressing. These are garnish for the dish once in a serving plate of some sort.

Okay. So, first how to cook the chicken breasts. Chicken breasts are evil unless you treat them with about twice the care and delicacy you’d treat a girl’s breast if you really liked it. Just an inch or so of water at the bottom of a saucepan, flavoured with a couple of fresh slices of ginger and sesame oil. Once at a simmer, add the breasts, cover and after a few minutes turn. After another few minutes, turn off heat and let sit to cool in the lightly seasoned stock.

I use iceberg lettuce instead of Chinese cabbage.

Now. This is a really lovely summer salad, but some time I had the idea of turning into something that is much, much better. Something that is fun and civilised and sexy. It goes like this…

Vietnamese chicken salad....is just the beginning....
Vietnamese chicken salad….is just the beginning….

Vietnamese rolls. Acquire from a supermarket, or Asian grocer if necessary, rice paper, which is flat, circular and in see-through plastic containers. It comes in a variety of sizes, you don’t want the smallest, but I leave it to your judgement.

(1) Mix the chicken breasts, mint and coriander with the dressing – do not include the spring onions, we are doing something different with them.

(2) In separate plates/bowls you want one each for:

grated carrot
finely sliced iceberg lettuce
spring onions, including the green part, in thin strips of maybe 2-3 inches and no more than a few mm wide.
peanuts, coarsely chopped
shallots, crispy fried. Yes, you can buy them, but they aren’t nearly as nice. Stop being lazy.
bean thread noodles, cooked and cold
matchsticks of cucumber
You have the chicken in the dressing in a bowl as well.

If you are cooking for 4+ then you want at least two lots of each ingredient so that everything is within easy reach.

(3) At least one wide bowl of boiling water: one per two people.

This is what you do. The rice paper, a piece at a time, goes in the water. After maybe 30 seconds it will be soft enough to pull out and put on your plate. You then assemble – don’t overfill, this is no time to be hastily greedy, you can make as many of these as you like and they will fall apart if you put too much on a piece of the rice paper – according to taste. You can make these up as you like, but make sure you leave room at top and bottom to tuck over the filling and then fold the roll itself up…

This is just such a lovely way to eat.

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