Lemongrass Chicken (for my mama)

I make lemongrass chicken almost every week: it’s healthy (for most diets), inexpensive, easy, and delicious. I was fortunate to spend some time in Vietnam, and I fell in love with the food. The properties in the ingredients are natural body coolants, so this dish, along with a nice cucumber salad, are always good on warmer days. My mother skyped me while I was making dinner, and she asked me to send her the recipe, as she usually does, so I decided to just post it here.

*A note to any blog visitors who may be Vietnam natives or who have had a lifetime of traditional Vietnamese food, I hope you will not judge the recipe for not following whatever system you would use: the flavors are spot on, and it’s my system, and it works. Feel free to tinker with it as you would prefer to do.*

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons raw sugar (or smashed, minced sugar cane)

1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons of canola or other cooking oil

1-1 1/2 lb. (.5+kg) cubed chicken (I use scissors so as to avoid a dirty board)

3-4 stalks lemongrass (bruised, peeled, chopped into small bits)

2 shallots (peeled and minced)

1-2 inches of ginger (peeled, smashed, and minced)

*optional* 2 garlic cloves (peeled and minced)

1-2 tablespoons nuoc mam– aka fish sauce (*see below)

*optional* pinch chili flakes

Lime

Cilantro (washed and leaves picked)

Nuoc cham (*recipe follows)

Process:

A note to readers who have never used fresh lemongrass before: peel off most of the outer hard, dry stalk, then use the back of your knife (not the blade side) to bruise the stalks. Once they are bruised, you can take off the rest of the harder leaves and then chop or mince it easily. 496

1. Place the 2 tablespoons of raw sugar (or cane) and 1 tablespoon of water into a small pan and heat at medium, swirling regularly, until the sugar is melted and the caramel liquid thickens just slightly. Take the pan off of the heat and set aside for later. 376 (1)

2. In a larger pan or wok on medium-high heat, put in the cooking oil. When the oil is just hot, put in the lemongrass, shallot, ginger (and garlic if you opt for it) and cook, stirring regularly, until just aromatic, about 3 minutes. 378386

3. Incorporate the chicken into the aromatics and cook, stirring a little less regularly, until the chicken is cooked thoroughly. This usually doesn’t take more than 10 minutes, sometimes only about 8 minutes depending on the size of your chicken pieces. 387

4. Once the chicken is cooked, season it with the fish sauce and chili flakes (*leave these out for sensitive palates, and you can always put them on the table) continue to cook, stirring regularly, until the aroma begins to dissipate (about 3 minutes).389

*Note: If you are not used to fish sauce, this is a very strong, but essential flavor in most Vietnamese cooking. The average Westerner unaccustomed to such pungent smells and flavors initially may be offended by fish sauce. However, this is necessary for the dish’s flavors to come together properly. The best fish sauce will be lighter, more clear than other ones, and it will have 2 or 3 ingredients only–anchovies, salt, and sugar (as the third). 813I like this one quite a bit. Once you cook it down–and if you find it unbearable, then turn on the vent and open a window394–it will taste delicious and you will understand why it is necessary. The Nuoc Cham recipe that follows at the end of this post also requires fish sauce as the main ingredient. Once you taste the nuoc cham, though, you will find it tasty and perfect for most Vietnamese dishes.

5. Finally, pour the liquefied sugar over the chicken, stirring regularly, until it has coated the chicken evenly. 395

Serve over rice with lime wedges and cilantro as a garnish. Place the nuoc cham on the table for personal dispensing. (I also add cut thai chilies to the table for extra heat.)400

*Note: In the photos presented here, I added chopped up bok choy to the dish because I like to put greens in everything. I also serve this with a cucumber salad–rice wine vinegar, raw sugar, lime juice, dash of sesame oil, minced shallot, cucumber–which is a standard compliment to most Vietnamese dishes too.

Nuoc cham Recipe

You can either make this by hand with some cutting and stirring, or you can put it in a small food processor if you have one available. I had one before I moved to New Zealand, but the plugs and the voltage don’t translate, so I have taken to making the sauce by hand. It’s not difficult at all.

Ingredients:

3 cloves of garlic (minced if doing by hand)

1 teaspoon of chili flakes

1 lime juiced

2 tablespoons raw sugar (or smashed and minced cane)

2-3 tablespoons of nuoc mam, aka fish sauce (the amount of fish sauce you use will depend upon the quality of the fish sauce you have and your personal taste. If you find you’ve made it too strong, then add more water or lime or sugar depending on what it needs)

water to taste

Process: 

1. Make as good of a paste as you can with the garlic, chili flakes, sugar, and lime.

2. Add the fish sauce and stir (or blend) until sugar is dissolved.

3. Taste and add water until you get desired strength. 401 (sorry, photo taken in a hurry)

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