VIETNAMESE CHICKEN WITH NUOC CHAM
by Diana Henry
This is a quite ordinary dish in itself, basically an Eastern pilaf, the rice absorbing the stock in which it is cooked. But it is the accompaniment that makes it special. Hot, sour, salty, sweet, this dish ends up being much more than the sort of food you expect to throw together with leftovers. It is literally a blast for the tastebuds. I do add other ingredients I have on hand, perhaps mushrooms, green beans, or julienned carrot. But no corn, please!
For The Nuoc Cham
• 4 garlic cloves, chopped
• 2 fresh red chiles, halved, seeded and chopped
• good pinch of salt flakes
• juice of 1 lime
• 2 tbsp fish sauce
• 4 tsp superfine sugar
For The Chicken And Rice
• 2 cups long-grain rice
• 3 cups chicken stock
• 4 slices fresh ginger
• salt and pepper
• 1 tbsp peanut oil
• 3 shallots, very thinly sliced
• 2¾ cups leftover cooked chicken, shredded or in small chunks
• 6 scallions, chopped on the diagonal
• generous handful of mint leaves, torn
1. To make the Nuoc Cham, put the garlic and chiles in a mortar and pestle with the salt and grind until you almost have a paste. (It doesn't have to be perfectly smooth.) Add everything else and mix. Taste and adjust the balance of hot, sour, salty, and sweet to taste. It's very powerful, so dilute with a little water if you like, but remember it's going to be eaten with something starchy.
2. Put the rice into a saucepan and pour on the stock. Bring to a boil. Add the ginger and season. Boil until the rice starts to look "pitted" (about 4 minutes), then cover the pan and reduce the heat to very low. There will still be liquid left underneath the rice; it will be absorbed—and the steam will cook the rice—in about 15 minutes. Don't stir because this makes the rice sticky, but make sure it isn't sticking at the bottom (check gently with a fork) and add a little more boiling water if it is. The rice should be tender, light, and fluffy. Remove the bits of ginger. Keep the rice warm.
3. Heat the oil in a frying pan and quickly fry the shallots until pale gold. Add the chicken and cook until hot through. Carefully fork these into the rice with the scallions and mint. Serve with the Nuoc Cham—either drizzle it on top or let people help themselves.