Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken Dinner

My husband and I recently established a Friday night ritual of going to our favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Randolph, MA – Pho 98 Cuisine – where we usually enjoy a first course of brightly colored and flavored cabbage salad garnished with duck, chicken or shrimp, and then a chicken or pork dish for each of us.  We missed doing that this past Friday, and my taste buds were feeling deprived.

I solved that matter yesterday with a stop at Kam Man market in Quincy after an appointment in the area, and stocked up on some of their beautiful produce and other staples that I keep on hand for Southeast Asian cooking at home.  My specific craving was for a lemongrass roasted chicken with spicy cucumber salad and sesame noodles on the side.

A quick search of the web led me to the Fine Cooking recipe archive for a truly spectacular recipe for Lemongrass Roast Chicken, which I found to be almost exactly the same as the recipe in my Mai Pham cookbook, Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table.

I rarely follow a recipe exactly as written, except when it comes to breads which can be tricky if you mess with them.  This one, however, spoke to me in a language I could taste and so, except for altering the method of roasting, I used the exact ingredients for the marinade, the added coating of lemongrass and cilantro, and the exquisite dipping sauce.

Rather than reproduce the whole recipe here, simply click on the link above to find detailed ingredients, and do try the method I mentioned in my review – butterfly the chicken and roast it in a 12″ cast iron skillet at 400 for 45 minutes.  When done, it will look like this and you’ll want to spoon the gorgeous sauce all over it after cutting it with poultry shears.  NOTE:  One long stalk of lemongrass produced the required 1/2 cup of minced…I did not need the 3 suggested in the recipe.

LEMONGRASS ROAST CHICKEN 

(from Fine Cooking)

Lemongrass chickenThe spicy cucumber salad and sesame noodles were perfect accompaniments.

SPICY CUCUMBER SALAD

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp water

1 tsp Thai chili sauce

1/2 very large English cucumber, sliced in half vertically, seeds lightly scooped out, and cut into thin half-moons

1 small shallot halved and thinly sliced

Several sprigs cilantro and mint leaves torn into small pieces, or chopped

In medium bowl combine first 5 ingredients until sugar is completely dissolved.  Add the cucumber, shallot, and herbs and stir to get everything covered with the dressing.  Refrigerate until time to serve.

SESAME NOODLES JORDAN

Follow the link to this recipe which I submitted years ago to Epicurious, and which appears in the cookbook they later published.  It’s best served warm or room temperature, but leftovers can be enjoyed right from the fridge.  I did not add the usual complement of optional vegetables such as snow peas, red pepper or mushrooms for this meal’s side dish – simply a handful of the Thai basil from Kam Man to keep it simple.

The resulting meal was as good as anything I’ve ever enjoyed at Pho 98 or any other Vietnamese establishment.  And the kitchen did smell like there was a restaurant in the neighborhood.IMG_3950

 

 

 

Thoughts on Lemons, Herbs and Spices

No new recipes to share this morning (except a couple that are linked), but as I was preparing the marinade for Roast Butterflied Middle Eastern Chicken (Posted December 6 last year – https://ronilovescooking.com/2016/12/05/roast-butterflied-middle-eastern-chicken), the inspiration for this post came as I was zesting and squeezing the juice from a lemon and reaching for my array of spices.

Lemons.  Anyone who discards a juiced lemon without first having used the zest is missing the essence of lemon flavor.  There are recipes both savory and sweet that just sing with lemon flavor, with only the zest – no juice – to bring that out.  Also, I’ve never found a lemon reamer that did a better job than my own fingers.  So easy to extract maximum juice just doing this:  after cutting the lemon in half, cradle each half skin side up between your palms, thumbs on top, and reach inside with the four fingers on both hands to wiggle and press that juice out.  Then you can invert that half to work the rest of it out, including some pulp – and nothing wasted.  The seeds can be easily removed with the tines of a small fork from whatever vessel you’re using.  Same goes for limes and oranges when you need just a small amount of OJ in a recipe.

Spice Rack

Herbs and Spices.  Whatever you use the most, buy it in bulk.  Those little jars at the supermarket may be fine for the items you use sparingly or only occasionally (think ground cloves, red chili flakes, saffron, to name a few), but there are so many excellent sources for buying in bulk.  Penzey’s or MySpiceSage, for example.  I use a whole lot of mint, oregano, cinnamon, paprika, cumin, za’atar, sesame, dry mustard, turmeric, curry powder, black peppercorns, and buy these and others online in 1 lb. foil bags from my former client, Frontier Natural Products in Iowa.  I have so many of these foil bags on the top shelf of the food pantry that the DEA might have me under surveillance.  This is both economical, and ensures freshness, because every time I re-open one of these foil bags to fill a jar on the 48-jar spice carousel, the aroma is just as fresh as the day it was first opened.

IMG_0760

There are a few herbs one should never dream of using in dried form: parsley, cilantro, basil, rosemary.  And please, when you buy parsley or cilantro, be sure to dry it off thoroughly before storing or you’ll have a mush-pile within a couple of days.  Do they really have to shower whose beautiful bunches with all that water?  And never refrigerate your basil, either.  It will turn black.  Treat it as you would a bunch of flowers, cutting off a bit of the stems and store on your kitchen counter in a glass of water.

I also love to use fresh oregano, mint, sage (the velvety touch of sage leaves makes me crazy in a good way), and thyme (whose leaves drive me crazy in a bad way), but don’t mind the dried versions at all in a marinade, dressing, rub, or soup.  Lucky if you can grow your own, but an indoor herb garden is tabu for me with four cats who’d find a way to attack it, and outdoors is more work than I’m willing to commit to.  As long as fresh herbs are available at a reasonable price (often at the Asian market) I’m good with that.

Spices are another matter entirely.  No one grows their own.  It pays to keep a multitude on hand for a broad palette of ethnic cuisines.  And if your collection is eclectic enough, you can usually make your own spice mixes, such as ras el hanout, garam masala, or even curry powder, as well as rubs for your meats and seafood.  I’ve never purchased any spice rub other than the Smoky Paprika Chipotle by Victoria (https://www.vgourmet.com/smoky-paprika-chipotle) that I found on sale at Homegoods.  This is essential in one of my favorite yogurt marinades for chicken that comes from the Epicurious site – http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/yogurt-marinated-chicken-kebabs-with-aleppo-pepper-353832.  I use it for ingredient #1 in the recipe – a mixture of Aleppo pepper and paprika.

Would love to hear your tips and thoughts on anything I’ve addressed here – thanks for reading!